Tacoma Christian Counselor
Trauma is defined as a response to an extremely stressful event or situation – sometimes many of them at once. While the effect can last a long time, people have been known to heal over time.
Definition of traumaTrauma affects your physical and mental health and can happen to someone regardless of age. Just as each of us is a unique individual, we experience the extreme stress of trauma situations in unique ways.
However, many causes of trauma are the same and many people will share similar symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Some of these symptoms are disturbed sleep, flashbacks, or post-traumatic stress.
There is some dispute among medical professionals about how to exactly define trauma, and as discoveries are made by researchers and therapists the conversation about the definition of trauma evolves based on new peer-reviewed evidence.
How else can the definition of trauma be explained?
Put another way, trauma is your physical and mental response after experiencing an event that psychologically overwhelms you. This will often result in shock, denial, and distinct changes in a person’s body, mindset, and behavior.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as an event a person experiences that hurts or threatens your life. The trauma will have a detrimental effect on your mind and body, as well as your emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
Normally, trauma is associated with one-time significant events such as accidents, violence, and physical or sexual assault. It can also be linked to repeated events, which can be witnessed by ongoing emotional abuse or neglect experienced during childhood.
Not every person who experiences a traumatic event will have long-lasting effects. Studies find that about one-fifth of people who are traumatized by an experience they have will develop post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD.
How to understand complex trauma
Understanding a definition of trauma can include complex trauma. This is created when trauma is experienced repeatedly over time and has a cumulative effect. For this reason, complex trauma is often ascribed to traumatic events experienced in childhood.
Trauma that is experienced at an early age can more easily leave a significant indentation on a person’s worldview and their sense of self as well as relationships as they grow up.
Definition of trauma from a mental and physical view
Trauma affects the whole life of a person and impacts his or her emotional, social, and physical well-being. In these moments of significant stress, the body and mind become overwhelmed, and the instinctual reaction is known as our fight or flight response. As part of this reaction, our bodies dump adrenaline into our bloodstream so that we can fight against the danger or run away from it. We also often freeze, not reacting physically at all for a while.
PTSD symptoms are understood to be the aftershocks of when your nervous system is flooded by traumatic events. Your body and mind are unable to fully process the earthquake of events as they happen.
Common symptoms of PTSD include the following:
- Being hyper-aware of danger and always on the lookout.
- A change in your self-image, sometimes believing you are now “bad,” or feeling an unreasonable level of guilt or shame.
- Unwelcome thoughts come uninvited, sometimes in the form of flashbacks or while you are sleeping through nightmares.
- Staying away from anything that reminds you of the traumatic experience. This can include people, places, or objects.
- You are much more easily shaken, and your tolerance level is very low. As a result, you will easily feel overwhelmed and have difficulty controlling your emotions.
- Being easily startled and nervous.
- Whether you are aware of it or not you are triggered by things that remind you of the traumatic event.
Physical health can also be affected by the trauma of too much stress and these body-based effects are known as somatic symptoms.
Some of these include:
- Frequent and prolonged pain
- Sleep problems
- Chronic pain
- Chest pain
Trauma is tragically commonWith the many ills our communities experience, trauma is unfortunately relatively common. The Sidran Institute, a sector leader in traumatic stress education and advocacy focused on helping people who have experienced traumatic life events, says that 70% of U.S. adults experience a traumatic event at least once in their lives.
While not each person who experiences trauma will develop PTSD, about 20% do. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men. This is often due to the level of trauma experienced. The risk of developing PTSD varies in line with the severity of the trauma experienced, which is especially high after rape, physical assault, and other sexual assaults.
Children also experience PTSD through adverse childhood experiences (ACE). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that these harmful experiences children undergo are common. Almost two-thirds of U.S. adults surveyed across 25 states reporting experiences of at least one adverse childhood experience. ACEs happen through neglect, violence, physical and sexual abuse, or substance abuse in their childhood home.
Tragically nearly one in six adults reported that they experienced four or more types of ACE. Most of these adults were either women or from an ethnic minority group – making it clear where the risk lies in our communities.
What causes different types of trauma?
Remembering that trauma is a response to an extremely stressful event or situation, it is understood that trauma is not so much about the actual event but more about how individuals respond to it. Some events are likely to be more traumatizing than others.
In this list, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network identifies events that will likely lead to trauma:
- Trauma experienced individually in a natural disaster, medical, sexual, refugee, or family context.
- Violence – whether from terrorism or violence inflicted by an intimate partner.
- Childhood neglect is also found to be traumatic.
A nonprofit foundation that works with teens to protect their emotional health and prevent suicides separates trauma into three groups – emotional trauma, complex trauma, and secondary trauma.
Emotional trauma is understood to be the feelings that these traumatic events leave us with. Many times these feelings are those of not being safe in your own body. Emotional trauma can change how our brains are wired, leading to a broad sense of despair.
Complex trauma is series of traumatic events that has a lasting impact on a person.
Secondary trauma is when a person experiences trauma simply by witnessing a traumatic incident. The emotional health of secondary trauma victims is especially vulnerable and a kind response to provide them with support, empathy, and compassion is very impactful for these individuals.
Definition of “big T” and “little t” trauma
Some in the sector look at the trauma that is associated with PTSD, typically things like combat or sexual assault, and refer to them as “big T” events. By contrast, “little t” events are characteristically traumas that involve significant life changes, such as the divorce of your parents, emotional abuse, or falling prey to bullies.
This splitting up of types of trauma is not without controversy. Subject specialists will say that if exposed to “little t” traumas over an extended period they can cause as much or perhaps more significant emotional harm as “big T” traumas. Without a doubt, all emotional wounds are deserving of compassion and help. If any event causes someone harm, then he or she should be able to receive validation and care.
Trying to understand the definition of trauma?
Coming to a deeper understanding of trauma and how to define it for yourself is a significant journey. If you are looking for additional help to properly understand trauma and make a good decision regarding possible treatment, please browse our online counselor directory, or contact our office to schedule an appointment. We would be honored to walk with you on this journey.
“Grief and Shame”, Courtesy of Anthony Tran, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; Courtesy of Francesca Zama, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Crying Girl”, Courtesy of Francesca Zama, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Fearless”, Courtesy of Tegan Mierle, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hug”, Courtesy of Igor Erico, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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