Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Trauma is usually the result of an event that is out of the control of the person experiencing it. This could be an event such as a natural disaster, an accident or the sudden loss of someone close. Other trauma inducing events could be when another individual inflicts violence or abuse on another person such as a physical, sexual, or verbal assault. Each event is unique in its own way, but commonalities can be found in how our bodies react to traumatic events and how they affect our bodies both immediately and over time.

What is trauma?

We all respond to injury or tragic life events in different ways. Trauma is the emotional response when an injury or event overwhelms us.

The injury or event could be physical, sexual, or emotional. Some of the most common traumatic events in the lives of individuals include:

  • sudden loss
  • natural disaster or accident
  • physical assault
  • sexual assault, including childhood sexual abuse
  • verbal assault
  • being threatened with physical or sexual assault
  • witnessing violence against others
  • long-term neglect in childhood.

How Can Trauma Affect People?

Trauma can affect the way you feel.

You might experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • too much emotion
  • too little or no emotion
  • depression
  • feeling hopeless, helpless, worthless
  • shame, fear
  • anger, rage
  • grief, sadness
  • anxiety, panic attacks.

Trauma can affect your ability to have satisfying relationships with others.

You might experience some of the following:

  • not knowing how to trust
  • difficulty being close to people
  • problems in sexual relationships
  • fear of others
  • isolation and withdrawal
  • not recognizing when you are in a dangerous situation
  • not knowing how to give and take in relationships
  • repeatedly searching for someone to rescue you.

Trauma can affect your body.

You might experience:

  • body memories and flashbacks (feeling as if you were reliving the traumatic experience. This can include seeing images, hearing voices or sounds, smelling odours, as well unexplained tastes and physical sensations in your body.)
  • sleep problems, including nightmares
  • physical complaints (e.g., headaches, nausea, stomach aches, pelvic pain, stomach/digestive problems) for which no medical cause can be identified
  • physical exhaustion.

Trauma can affect the way you think.

You may have:

  • problems with attention and concentration
  • confused thinking
  • thoughts that get in the way of daily activities
  • memory problems.

Trauma can affect the way you behave.

It could lead you to:

  • inflict self-injury (e.g., cutting, burning)
  • engage in addictive behaviours such as self-starvation, binge-eating, drug/alcohol misuse
  • constantly look for sexual relationships, or avoid sexual relationships
  • be abusive towards others.

People who experience repeated trauma tend to suffer more severe symptoms. Also, the earlier the trauma, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. Can people “forget” that they experienced trauma, and later remember?

Yes. Research has shown that some people “forget” that they were abused or traumatized. Often, when something is too traumatic, it is forgotten but not lost from memory. This is especially so when the source of the trauma is another person. Sometimes, the traumatic event is later remembered. When this happens, the person has often experienced something that reminds her or him of the original traumatic event(s).

For many people who receive mental health services, trauma remains unrecognized as an important factor in their mental illness.

People can and do recover from trauma.

Related Articles:

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Grief Responses

How to Help a Grieving Friend

Signs of Unresolved Trauma