What Are The More Subtle Effects of Trauma?

When people think about trauma, they often consider the more classic PTSD symptoms like hypervigilance, flashbacks, or anger outbursts. And while these reactions are typical, they do not always accurately show the full picture.

The subtle effects of trauma can be more insidious, and they can also be more challenging to overcome. That’s because it’s easy for people to dismiss or overlook them altogether. They might not even recognize the complete impact they have on their life. 

If you’ve experienced trauma, it’s crucial to know how it might be affecting you today. Developing this insight is the first step towards making healthy changes. Here are some subtle signs you should know. 

Apathy or Anhedonia 

Apathy refers to having a lack of interest or enthusiasm, and anhedonia refers to being unable to experience pleasure. Both apathy and anhedonia are common depression symptoms, but they can also result from trauma. 

Of course, life isn’t always enjoyable. But if you perpetually feel blah, it could be because of your past experiences. 

If you endured something horrific or life-threatening, the idea of feeling joy might seem foreign. In that same vein, concepts like gratitude or optimism might also feel unnatural. 


There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a good job and excel in your responsibilities. But some people cope with their trauma by compartmentalizing their feelings and focusing instead on outward achievements. So they work, work, work in the attempt that doing will yield a success that makes them worthy and lovable.

As a trauma response, you might struggle with perfectionism if you had very high expectations as a child. As a result, you may assume that your accomplishments define your worth.  

You might also struggle with perfectionism if you carry high levels of shame (which is a common trauma symptom). Shame makes it hard to validate ourselves. Therefore, instead of feeling comfortable with who you are, you place enormous pressure on yourself to do more. 

People-Pleasing Tendencies

Trauma can make it difficult to trust feeling safe with others. You might feel very afraid at the thought of being abandoned or rejected- even if those thoughts are entirely subconscious.

People-pleasing can emerge in numerous ways. For example, you might avoid telling people how you feel because you don’t want to offend them. Or, you may try to act like a martyr in your relationships, rescuing others and avoiding conflict as means of keeping the peace. 

As a trauma symptom, people-pleasing often arises because you don’t think you’re worth having your own needs and preferences. As a result, you focus your attention on satisfying others.


Most people face indecisiveness from time to time. We all want to make appropriate choices, and nobody likes the feeling of regret. But if you perpetually struggle with knowing what to do next, this uncertainty may represent a deeper issue. 

Trauma often affects how people trust their intuitions and recognize their internal needs. As a result, you may find it extremely hard to make decisions or go after what you want. 

For example, you might need constant reassurance from others that you are making the right choice. Or, you may avoid making significant decisions and feel perpetually “stuck” with where you are in life. 

Furthermore, some people overcompensate for their indecisiveness by acting impulsively. Instead of thinking about the best logical action, you might be quick to react based on a feeling. You might decide something just to get it over with. But, over time, this pattern may cause you to feel even more anxious and depressed.

Lack of Identity

Healthy, confident people have a core idea of who they are. They know their values and desires. They can assert limits in relationships and pursue activities that feel meaningful.

Unfortunately, trauma can disrupt identity formation. In many ways, trauma stunts emotional growth and can keep people frozen in a state of fear or helplessness. After all, it’s hard to explore your innermost needs when you’re focused on survival.

And so, if you struggle with this symptom, you might feel somewhat directionless. You don’t have a clear purpose for who you are or what you want to achieve. You may be very susceptible to conforming to what you think others want from you.

Final Thoughts on the Subtle Effects of Trauma 

Trauma is a complex issue, but its symptoms can affect every area of your functioning. However, even if you feel stuck or discouraged, it doesn’t have to be this way forever! 

Therapy can help you better understand both the obvious and subtle effects of trauma. It also provides a working roadmap for healing from your past and moving forward.

At Willow Counseling, we specialize in trauma and EMDR therapy, and we are here to help you on your journey. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation

Willow Counseling, PLLC, Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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