Trauma is the result of stressful events that causes people to lose their sense of security, making them feel helpless and lost, not able to function properly, as they used to before the traumatic event took place. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but a situation doesn’t need to involve physical harm to be traumatic: even a situation that makes you feel overwhelmed, powerless and alone can be traumatic. Your emotional experience mainly determines if an event is traumatic or not. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.
Traumatic events can be accidents, injuries, natural disasters, life-threatening illnesses, sexual abuse, the death of someone close and so on. An event like these might lead to trauma if:
- You weren’t prepared for it.
- It felt overwhelming.
- You feel powerless to prevent it.
- It happened in childhood.
- It happened unexpectedly.
- It happened repeatedly.
People are different and everyone reacts in their own way when it comes to trauma. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel, think or respond when something traumatic happens. We react the best way possible with the resources we have at that moment in time. Here are some of the symptoms (emotional, psychological, physical) of trauma:
Trauma has a strong impact regarding the functionality of brain and situations leading after the trauma occurred will be perceived differently and more extreme than before. For example, if someone has been robbed or raped, when they walk on the street at night and see a man or a person approaching, their brain will react quite intensely looking for information regarding a possible threat. Meanwhile, a person that hasn’t gone through trauma might not even pay attention to this. While it might seem that people can control it, first they have to understand what’s happening with them and why their reactions are extreme to situations or stimuli that generally don’t have any threat attached to them.
People that have suffered from trauma will develop hypervigilance, being hyper-vigilant regarding their surroundings and will over-analyse situations to make sure they prevent any harmful events. Left feeling powerless after the trauma, they try to control future situations by predicting what will happen. Analysing the environment gives the person a certain sense of security and predictability.
In my next article I’ll look at different recovery ways for people that have faced trauma and their process.
The body keeps the score – Bessel Van Der Kolk