This is part 1 of a multi-series piece on emotional trauma in animals. Future pieces will cover how to identify emotional trauma, and what you can do to help animals recover.
As a trauma survivor I understand that we as individuals experience trauma differently and not everyone or every animal is traumatized by the same events. Symptoms and triggers also manifest themselves differently from animal-to-animal and person-to-person. However, there are common identifying factors of trauma, that I will cover in my next post.
Trauma is defined as the unreleased energy experienced during a stressful or threatening event. Traumas can be formed from episodic exposures such as, multiple small emotional abuses, and this would be classified as Small t trauma or they can be easily identifiable, like the case of war, commonly called Big T traumas’. Whether or not an experience forms an emotional and psychological trauma is subjectively based on the individual and how the event is negotiated.
All animals, including we humans, experience a flight, fight or freeze response when traumatized. But, if our bodies stay “locked” in that state of being, we are unable to move through it, release it, and heal.
Similarly, our animal companions can experience disturbing life events that keep them “stuck” in a traumatized state; their fight, flight, or freeze responses remain locked in their bodies. Logically, they may know they are here with you and are safe, however their nervous systems continue to experience their past traumas, even now.
As a result, animals experience traumas that they are unable to “let go of” and move forward from. What this looks like in your animal companions are patterns of negative, disturbing and/or maladaptive behavior patterns, many of which may not “make sense” and oftentimes these behaviors cannot just be “trained” out of them.
It is now being recognized in the mainstream that animals, specifically mammals, are experiencing the psychological effects of trauma and displaying characteristics of PTSD symptoms.
A study published in 2011 that concluded: “Chimpanzees display behavioral clusters similar to PTSD and depression in their key diagnostic criteria….” Read the study here: Signs of Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Chimpanzees.
It is my hope that we will begin to assist our animals in recovery from trauma, just as we do our human partners.
Resources I recommend to learn more about Trauma: