Understanding Emotions: Part II


Trauma leaves a lasting mark on a person’s life. Whether it’s a traumatic event from the past or a series of smaller traumas that have accumulated over time, it can take a toll on mental well-being and leave people feeling overwhelmed and unable to control their emotions.

Our last blog looked at what emotions are and the six basic emotions all humans experience. In the second part of our series, we will focus on how trauma can affect emotional regulation and how we can reconnect with our emotions. 

How Trauma Affects Emotions

Traumatic events challenge a person’s sense of safety. Where once the world felt safe and secure, trauma rattles this perspective, and people can begin to see the world as inherently dangerous. Additionally, they may see themselves negatively for how they respond to events or perceive themselves as being weak. 

But trauma is much more than just mental. It contributes to significant physical changes, especially within the nervous system. After trauma, the body’s fight, flight and freeze response can remain on high alert, flooding the body with stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. High levels of these hormones contribute to persistent feelings of fear, anxiety, and hypervigilance. 

Trauma also affects the brain, particularly in regions that regulate emotions. The amygdala, an area associated with processing emotions such as fear and anxiety, can become overactive, resulting in increased sensitivity to triggers and heightened emotional reactions. 

After a traumatic event, people can struggle with their emotions in several ways:

  • Intensity and duration of emotions – Trauma can cause emotions to become more intense and last longer than they usually would. For example, a person may feel overwhelmed by sadness or anger for extended periods.
    Difficulty regulating emotions – Past trauma can make it difficult for a person to control their emotions, leading to emotional outbursts or poor stress management.
  • Hyperarousal – Trauma can cause a person to become hyperaroused, which means they are always on high alert for danger, even in safe situations. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions – After a traumatic event, it can be difficult for a person to experience positive emotions, such as happiness or contentment. This can lead to feelings of numbness or apathy.
  • Flashbacks and nightmares – Flashbacks, nightmares, and other intrusive memories of the event are common after trauma. These memories can be triggered by sights, sounds, or other sensory cues that remind the person of the trauma.

Emotional Detachment

Past trauma can contribute to what is known as emotional detachment. Children who grow up in abusive or neglectful households may detach themselves from their emotions to cope with physical or mental pain. 

The signs of emotional detachment include:

  • Ambivalence towards other people
  • Difficulty empathising with others
  • Losing interest in hobbies, activities, and friends 
  • Trouble forming and maintaining relationships 
  • Struggling to feel positive emotions 

Bottling Up Emotions

Some people keep their emotions close to their chest and are reluctant to open up about them. Growing up in a household where expressing emotions, especially negative ones such as sadness or anger, is discouraged can teach children to repress their feelings. Parents minimising or dismissing emotions or not responding to a child’s distress puts a huge strain on people as adults. 

This can lead to severe effects such as:

  • Physical health problems – Suppressing emotions can lead to physical health problems. Research has found that bottling up emotions can lead to increased stress, leading to various health issues such as headaches, high blood pressure, and even heart disease.
  • Mental health conditions – Bottling up emotions can harm mental health. Repressing emotions can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, and anger. It can also contribute to the development of mental health disorders such as PTSD.
  • Relationship difficulties – Not expressing emotions can lead to problems in relationships. When emotions are not acknowledged or expressed, it can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and even estrangement.

Improving Emotional Regulation

Improving emotional regulation has many benefits, including increased resilience, better mental health, and improved relationships. There are several strategies people can take to get back in touch with their emotions:


Mindfulness involves being present and fully engaged in the current moment without judgement. It involves paying attention to any thoughts that arise, while increasing self-awareness and focus on the present. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing, work to reduce stress and improve emotional regulation.

Identifying and Labelling Emotions 

One way to get in touch with emotions is to identify and label them. This can be done by noticing physical sensations in the body, such as a tightness in the chest or a knot in the stomach, and then identifying the emotion that is associated with those sensations. Labelling emotions can help to increase self-awareness and understanding of emotions.


Keeping a journal can help to increase self-awareness and understanding of emotions. Creating a list of when specific emotions occur and why can help to identify patterns and triggers and be a useful tool for processing difficult emotions.

Journals provide a safe, private place to explore difficult emotions and reflect on their experiences. It is also a healthy coping skill that allows people to focus on positive experiences and gratitude as well as negative feelings, promoting a shift to more positive thinking. 


Being compassionate towards oneself can help to improve emotional regulation. Treating oneself with kindness and understanding, rather than self-criticism or judgement, encourages people to be gentle with themselves and reduce negative thoughts and emotions. 

Trauma Treatment 

Targeting the root causes of trauma can address emotional dysregulation and improve many other negative symptoms. Treatments such as neurofeedback, somatic experiencing, and Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy can help individuals gain control over their emotional responses and build resilience against future stressors and triggers. 

Trauma heightens emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, and sadness. Although intense and overwhelming, they can be regulated with soothing techniques and professional trauma treatment. People can take back control over their emotions and begin the healing process.

If you have a client or know of someone struggling with anything you have read in this blog, reach out to us at Khiron Clinics. We believe that we can improve therapeutic outcomes and avoid misdiagnosis by providing an effective residential program and outpatient therapies addressing underlying psychological trauma. Allow us to help you find the path to realistic, long-lasting recovery. For more information, call us today. UK: 020 3811 2575 (24 hours). USA: (866) 801 6184 (24 hours).