What Is Trauma?
According to an article in Psychology Today, “Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience.” That’s a simple enough definition, and it certainly captures the essence of what trauma is, but to truly grasp how trauma develops and what its consequences are, we need to delve a little deeper. Suffice it to say that trauma is oftentimes consequent of experiencing first- or second-hand events that undermine our sense of security and control. We are subject to, or witness, something that is harrowing and leaves us feeling vulnerable to threats we perceive ourselves as helpless against.
So, what exactly is meant by a “distressing experience?” Certainly, different types of events will have varying impacts on the myriad people who endure them, but here’s a list, widely accepted within the mental health community, of events that commonly lead to trauma:
- Abuse (physical, sexual, and verbal)
- Serious illness
- Sudden loss
- Natural disasters
- Severe accidents
It’s totally understandable that anybody subjected to domestic violence, the loss of a loved one, or a diagnosis of cancer would feel that the world can become a powerfully dangerous place at any time, because it can. As well, seeing as how there’s only so much any of us can do to protect ourselves against wars or hurricanes or drunk drivers, a sense of acute vulnerability can creep into our psyches and cripple our ability to go about our daily lives.
Three Primary Types of Trauma
There are three primary types of trauma that people are susceptible to and knowing which one you’re in the grip of helps in treating it.
- Acute Trauma
Acute trauma can lead to what’s known as acute stress disorder and occurs immediately after a one-time traumatic event. An example would be the death of a close friend. Acute trauma is typically short-term.
- Chronic Trauma
Chronic trauma results from numerous traumatic events that an individual is subject to, whether of the same nature or different. An example of a like-kind traumatic event would be repeated bullying at school, while an illustration of varietal events would be domestic violence, plus a car accident, in addition to a medical diagnosis of a tumor, but in no particular order.
- Complex Trauma
Complex trauma is similar to chronic trauma in that it arises from exposure to repeated traumatic events. However, the difference is that complex trauma is oftentimes interpersonal in nature, and there seems to be no escape from it. An example would be severe neglect of a child by a parent.
Symptoms of Psychological Trauma
Individual human beings are unique, so it comes as no surprise that we all react to traumatic events in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to respond to harmful incidents. Whereas some people unconsciously blunt the emotional impact of such events and move on with their lives, others are affected deeply and are unable to cope in constructive ways. There’s no right or wrong in how we deal with the stuff that life throws at us. However, some strategies are healthier than others. The first step in working through the trauma, though, is realizing that we’re affected by it at all. Below is a list of the main symptoms of psychological trauma.
- Guilt or shame
- Inability to concentrate
- Sadness or hopelessness
- Easily agitated
- Muscle tension
- Withdrawing from others
- Difficulty sleeping
- Accelerated heartbeat
Is There Hope for Trauma Sufferers?
Suffering from the psychological impact of traumatic events can wear down a person both emotionally and physically. But please know you can make a positive change in your life. There are ways to successfully treat trauma, even in its most severe forms.
If you’ve been subject to traumatic events, whether in the distant or recent past, and recognize that you’re experiencing any of the above-listed symptoms on a regular basis, it’s probably time to seek professional help. Fortunately, many therapists offer sessions online, so you won’t have to leave your home to get the help you need. Find a therapist who seems like a good fit for you, someone you feel you can trust and confide in, and give them a call or send them an email. The sooner you reach out for help, the faster you can make changes toward feeling and living the way you want.