Most of us, during our lifetimes, will experience a jarring event that sends us reeling. While some of us are fortunate enough to have the shock eventually wear off, for others, traumatic situations leave a significant amount of emotional shock and pain.
Emotional shock is a very real response to a very surreal-seeming horrific event. If you think you might be suffering from emotional shock, carefully read on to learn more about its symptoms and treatments. Remember, if you feel you are in the middle of a crisis, do not hesitate to seek help from a trained professional. There is no shame in reaching out.
What Is Emotional Shock?
Emotional shock is also known as acute stress disorder, emotional trauma, psychological shock, mental shock, or shock. It is a profound and persistent psychological condition that arises in the aftermath of a terrifying or otherwise traumatic event a person experiences in their life. The damage dealt to the psyche impedes or challenges a person’s functioning and/or coping abilities. Problems might be short-lived. But some people experience much more persistent emotional shock which can develop immediately or even several months following the distressing or traumatic event.
Events that cause emotional shock are often life-threatening in nature. But they can also be any event that causes a person to feel vulnerable, afraid, and/or alone. Events that cause or threaten physical harm can lead to emotional shock. So can events that involve mental or emotional harm. The more threatened or harmed a person feels, the more traumatized they will generally be.
Examples of Emotional Shock
Examples of events that could potentially cause emotional shock include
- An event that occurred during childhood;
- An unanticipated event (such as a housefire);
- An accidentally or intentionally violent event (such as being in a car crash or the victim of an armed robbery);
- An event that the individual had no power over to control or influence;
- An event that repeatedly occurred (such as physical or mental abuse).
Relationships falling apart, major surgeries or health complications, sports-related injuries, the sudden death of a loved one, or an extremely embarrassing situation can all lead to emotional shock. These can be more difficult to recover from if there are multiple traumatic events like these that happen in a person’s life.
Some of these situations get overlooked since they seem so commonplace for most people. However, we all handle these difficult situations differently. So the impact these events can potentially have on an individual should not the subject of trivialization.
Symptoms of Emotional Shock
Symptoms of emotional shock are about as varied as the traumatic events themselves. After a traumatic event occurs, symptoms of shock tend to dwindle after a few days or weeks. If symptoms persist, they can become exacerbated, especially if there is a lack of an emotional support system or coping mechanisms. Or maybe there are more life stress factors adding up.
Some of the most common symptoms of emotional shock build up into four categories of symptoms – cognitive, behavioral, physical, and psychological.
- Cognitive symptoms include having nightmares, feeling confused, inability to concentrate, or flashbacks to the event.
- Avoiding anything that is reminiscent of the traumatic event, losing joy in activities, or refusing social contact are all common behavioral symptoms.
- Psychological symptoms of emotional shock might include an overpowering sense of fear, emotional numbness, shame, guilt, anger, irritability, anxiety, or disbelief/denial.
- While many symptoms manifest internally, physical symptoms also emerge. Being easily startled, heart palpitations, insomnia, being hyper-alert, erratic changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and immense fatigue are just a few of numerous physical symptoms that can manifest in the aftermath of a traumatic event.
There is no sequential process for how these symptoms might occur and dissipate.
Causes of Emotional Shock
Emotional shock can come from any type of traumatic life event. Some of the most common causes of emotional shock which specialists treated include:
- Bearing witness to an extremely violent or deadly act (such as a murder);
- Being the victim of domestic violence or sexual violence;
- The death of a loved one;
- Experiencing an unpredictable natural disaster;
- Receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness;
- Having an accidental injury.
One can either witness the scene of a traumatic event or feel it from any distance. Children can be the most vulnerable population. So traumatic events endured in childhood (especially if they are repetitious in nature) can cause emotional shock to persist well into adulthood.
Emotional Shock Treatment Options
If a specialist does not treat it or the patient ignores it, mental shock can lead to a plethora of serious issues, including substance abuse, persistent anger that one projects onto loved ones, self-isolation and even compulsive behavioral problems. One may feel like damaged goods or being irreparably broken. They may also abandon a former belief system or activities that were once enjoyable, and embrace self-destructive behaviors.
There is hope. There are multiple types of treatment available for emotional shock.
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy;
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR);
- Adjunct therapies.
These have all been successfully used to treat this type of shock. A therapist with a license can provide guidance and support through various therapeutic mediums. These may include meditation, mindfulness coaching, art therapy, and writing therapy.
Emotional Shock in Popular Culture
It is important to know that you are not alone, even though your experience with emotional shock is unique to you. Many well-known public figures have successfully dealt with traumatic events that produced some emotional shock. Abraham Lincoln is thought to have suffered from symptoms of mental shock after nearly drowning as a child. He also endured multiple tragic deaths of loved ones throughout his life.
Both Bill Clinton and Marilyn Manson were victims of childhood abuse. Also, tennis player Monica Seles struggled with PTSD after someone stabbed her in the back in 1993 during a tennis match. Seles finally worked through her symptoms and returned to playing professional tennis.
To Sum It Up
If you or someone you love is experiencing emotional shock, be sure to seek proper professional assistance. This article is simply an overview and you should not use it as a diagnose tool.
It is important to remember that there is hope and that it is okay to reach out and ask for help.
The images are from depositphotos.com.