Medical Trauma: How to Cope When Treatment Hurt You

Do you feel traumatized after a particularly dreadful medical event? Do you feel like a doctor or other medical professional discriminated against you? Does it ever feel like people aren’t taking your medical concerns seriously?

If so, you may have symptoms of medical trauma. At first, this notion may seem somewhat odd. After all, most people consider healthcare professionals compassionate, intelligent, capable people who help their patients heal from their distress.

But even the best attempts to heal can sometimes be harmful. Furthermore, some medical issues can undoubtedly trigger trauma symptoms.

While medical trauma isn’t always talked about, it’s a very real phenomenon impacting many people. Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Is Medical Trauma?

There are two common versions of medical trauma.

The first version consists of experiencing trauma symptoms after a specific medical event or life-threatening diagnosis. These events are often catastrophic and may disrupt your preexisting concept of a “normal life.” Such events may include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Stroke
  • Cancer diagnosis
  • Severe allergy attacks
  • Paralysis
  • Broken limbs or amputation

This version of medical trauma can be challenging because you will likely need to make significant adjustments to your life. Making those adjustments may feel insurmountable, especially if you lack a healthy support system or adequate resources.

The second version of medical trauma refers to the discomfort associated with adverse medical treatment. Such experiences may include:

  • Being discriminated against due to age, race, ethnicity, or presenting problem
  • Feeling like healthcare professionals aren’t taking your needs seriously
  • Experiencing higher levels of pain or longer periods of recovery than intended
  • Being the victim of medical negligence or malpractice
  • Being gaslit or disregarded by healthcare professionals

Sometimes, both versions coincide. For example, a person may suspect something is seriously wrong, only for several doctors to conclude they can’t find anything. Then, several months and tests later, a provider discovers that person has cancer. As a result, the individual may feel betrayed, scared, and resentful towards his healthcare team.

How Do You Know If You Have Medical Trauma?

Medical trauma isn’t an official diagnosis, although its symptoms commonly overlap with PTSD.

First, it’s important to remember that most people feel some anxiety and depression symptoms after facing a severe medical issue. But, usually, these symptoms feel less intense as time goes on.

In the event of medical trauma, symptoms don’t go away on their own. Many times, they actually become more intensified. In addition, the more distance you have away from the event, the more frustrated or anxious you might feel.

Other common symptoms associated with medical trauma include:

  • Avoiding doctors or follow-up appointments altogether.
  • Socially withdrawing from your friends and family.
  • Experiencing immense hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Making elaborate plans to seek revenge towards the people who wronged you.
  • Feeling paranoid about your safety with others.
  • Feeling more depressed than usual.
  • Assuming that nobody can or will help you in the future.
  • Feeling hypervigilant over certain symptoms.

These symptoms are usually severe enough to affect your daily functioning. Subsequently, they take a significant toll on your relationships, self-esteem, and typical responsibilities.

How Do You Manage Medical Trauma?

Medical trauma can be frustrating, but it is possible to reduce the intensity of your symptoms. Here are some strategies that may help.

Accept Your Intense Emotions

Try to identify and embrace how you feel right now. Your feelings are perfectly valid, and trying to rationalize, suppress, or deny yourself of them will only make things worse. If you’re unsure how to accept your feelings, it may be helpful to start journaling or discussing them in therapy.

Focus on Finding Proactive Solutions

Whether it’s switching doctors or adopting a healthier lifestyle to manage distressing symptoms, try to shift your thinking into focusing on viable solutions. While this strategy does not eliminate your problems, it allows you to embrace a more forward-thinking approach.

Implement More Stress Management

Medical trauma often coincides with exacerbated anxiety, and you may feel more tense, alert, or ‘on edge’ than usual. Relaxation strategies, like breathing or yoga, can help you feel calmer. Managing your stress also allows you to think more clearly, which can help with rational decision-making.

Limit Rumination

Dwelling on the past can keep you stuck in your symptoms. When you notice yourself spiraling in this negative mindset, try to distract yourself. It may be helpful to have a list of healthy coping skills you can refer to when feeling activated.

Final Thoughts

It’s no secret that experiencing a medical trauma can be a frightening and isolating experience. As a result, you may struggle and believe that you’re overreacting. Or, you might find yourself feeling increasingly angry or mistrusting about receiving proper care moving forward.

Seeking support can be incredibly beneficial during this time. All trauma can be challenging, but working with a therapist offers you a safe place to explore your feelings and embrace a new path towards healing. Contact me today to learn more.

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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