What is Trauma? (Handout+ PDF)


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Page last updated: 13/09/2022

What is Trauma? (Handout+ PDF)

The present blogspot will answer the question “what is trauma?”. It will be based on topics: what are the types of trauma? What are the symptoms of trauma? What is the neurological basis behind trauma? What are the physical, psychological and social responses of the body to trauma? What is childhood trauma? How trauma can be treated?

What is trauma? (Trauma defined)

Trauma is an extraordinary, unpredictable, uncertain experience that leaves a person with a high sense of insecurity and mixed emotions that are usually negative. As a result of any severely stressful event, a person gets into the state of trauma that is a pervasive problem and tends to impair an individual’s cognitive, behavioral and social functioning. 

Trauma is a subjective experience and varies from one person to another upon the degree to which a certain event or situation is considered stressful by an individual. It is not an objective experience that could be defined by a natural response to any usual situation. 

For example, death of a family pet is a subjective experience for every member of the family. For some it might not even provoke any anxiety whereas for others it could be a source of lifelong longing to get back to the pet and play with it.

What are the various types of trauma?

The various types of trauma are:

  • Acute Trauma

Acute trauma is a type of trauma that is related to subjective experience of a single stressful or dangerous event. For example, the death of a friend.

  • Chronic Trauma

Chronic trauma results from repeated exposure to a life threatening or emotionally disturbing event. The recurrent exposure adds to the feelings of insecurity and helplessness. An example of chronic trauma is bullying at school, sexual partner violence or domestic abuse.

  • Complex Trauma

Complex Trauma results in an individual from being exposed to multiple stressful and uncertain events simultaneously. Complex trauma could result from catastrophe events that result in potential loss of life, loss of relations and distorted post event functioning. An example of complex trauma could be losing home, family members, job and friends due to an earthquake or tsunami. 

  • Secondary Trauma

Secondary trauma is also known as vicarious trauma. It is a traumatic experience that develops as a result of close contact with someone who has suffered a traumatic event.  Family members or close relatives of people who have gone through a traumatic event are usually at a greater risk of experiencing secondary trauma.

What are the symptoms of trauma?

The symptoms of trauma are divided into mild, moderate and severe on the basis of severity level. Since trauma is a subjective experience, the related symptoms are also specific and vary from person to person. The trauma symptoms are divided into:

  • Physiological Symptoms of Trauma

The physiological symptoms of trauma majorly include hyperarousal and a constant state of cautiousness. Other bodily responses to traumatic events include headache, migraine, lightheadedness, disturbed digestive system, pounding heart, tachycardia/bradycardia, sweating, hot flashes and limbic numbness

  • Psychological Symptoms of Trauma

The psychological symptoms of trauma include depression, anxiety, hopelessness, loss of interest in life, lack of pleasure, disturbed sleep, disturbed eating pattern, loss of memory, poor judgment ability, declined executive functioning and low focus.

  • Emotional Symptoms of Trauma

The emotional symptoms of trauma majorly include mood swings, denial, anger, irritability, fear, numbness and guilt. Trauma often results in emotional breakdown of an individual based on the severity of subjective experience of trauma.

What is Trauma? (Handout+ PDF)

What are the short term effects of trauma?

The short term effects of trauma include 

  • Intense mental shock
  • Denial
  • Numbness
  • Sudden unconsciousness
  • Nervous breakdown

What are the long term effects of trauma?

The long term effects of trauma include

  • Strained relationships
  • Unpredictable emotions
  • Negative thinking
  • Persistent feeling of fear
  • Fearful dreams
  • Declined adaptive functioning

What is the neurological basis behind trauma? 

The trauma effect can greatly impact the parts of the brain that are related to cognitive abilities. It impairs the judgement abilities, emotional regulation, decision making abilities, short term memory and executive functioning.trauma tends to produce increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body that further help the body to deal with the feelings of persistent stress in times of trauma. 

What is childhood trauma?

Childhood trauma is an emotional set back that is generated as a  result of any negative, uncertain, unpredictable negative event or episode that the child has witnessed or has happened to the child once or for a longer time period. 

The increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline produced by the body in response to traumatic experiences are harmful for the regular brain development of the child. 

Examples of childhood trauma include sexual abuse, emotional abuse, conflict between parents, bullying at school, loss of a close pet, loss of a friend and losss of a family member.

How can trauma be treated?

Treating the trauma is related to treating the associated symptoms and the root cause of trauma. The trauma feelings are pervasive and can be managed by following healthy coping mechanisms as below:

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This blogspot defined trauma and explained various physical, social and psychological symptoms of trauma. It also discussed the various types of trauma among human beings and their short term and long term effects among humans. Further the effect of trauma on human brain development was also discussed along its impact on childhood brain development.  The ways to cope with trauma were also discussed.

Frequently Asked Questions: What is Trauma?

What is trauma in mental health?

In mental health, trauma is defined as any physical, emotional or psychological set back to a person’s existence that leaves lasting negative impact on their cognitive, social and personal functioning. The pervasive influence of emotional, physical or psychological abuse to a person’s existence often leads to mental health issues and emotional anxieties.

What are the 3 types of trauma?

The three types of trauma are :
Acute Trauma
Chronic Trauma
Complex Trauma

What are the symptoms of trauma?

The symptoms of trauma include:
Physiological Symptoms
Psychological Symptoms
Emotional Symptoms

What  trauma can do to a  person?

A trauma can result in many short term and long term effects in a person. From experiencing pounding heart, racing thoughts, denial, shock and numbness the trauma effects can lead to death of a person from cardiac arrest or nervous breakdown.

Does trauma ever go away?

Trauma consists of a negative emotional state that has pervasive feelings associated with it. Trauma doesn’t go away but with effective symptomatic treatment, grief counseling and healthy coping strategies, the negative impact of trauma on an individual’s life can be minimized.