Many people think that the term “trauma” is limited to horrific events like a near-death experience, a kidnapping, or an assault. In reality, trauma extends beyond surviving life-threatening situations. It is a broad term that encompasses any experience that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope and integrate. Since most of us suffer from one type of trauma or another, understanding what trauma is can be important for promoting recognition, healing, and resilience.
Trauma is a psychological response to distressing events that deeply affect our thoughts, emotions, and physical well-being. It is a survival mechanism; your brain is trying to keep you ready to avoid or be prepared to survive the perceived danger that instilled the trauma. It is a subjective experience, and its impact varies from person to person. When we encounter a traumatic event, it can shake our sense of safety, disrupt our belief systems, and leave lasting imprints on our lives.
Acute trauma refers to a single, time-limited traumatic event. It can include experiences such as natural disasters, accidents, or physical assault. The immediate impact of acute trauma can be intense and overwhelming. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, constant thoughts about the event, and avoidance behaviors.
Complex trauma occurs as a result of repeated or prolonged exposure to traumatic events. It often takes place within interpersonal relationships with ongoing abuse, as a result of long-term neglect, or as a result of living in a war zone. Complex trauma can have profound and long-lasting effects, leading to difficulties with trust, self-esteem, emotional regulation, and establishing healthy relationships.
Developmental trauma refers to trauma experienced during childhood or adolescence. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can shape a person's development and have long-term consequences. Examples of ACEs include: experiencing violence, abuse or neglect, witnessing violence in the home or community, growing up in a household with substance abuse problems, instability due to parental separation or absence, bullying, and many more. ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adolescence and adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential.
Vicarious trauma occurs when individuals are indirectly exposed to traumatic events through witnessing or hearing about others' experiences. Professionals in helping fields, such as healthcare workers or therapists, are particularly susceptible to vicarious trauma. Continual exposure to others' trauma can lead to emotional exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and a sense of helplessness.
Collective trauma refers to traumatic events that impact larger communities or societies. Examples include natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or social injustices. The COVID-19 pandemic and the 9/11 terrorist attacks are recent examples of collective traumas in American society. Collective trauma can have far-reaching effects, shaking societal structures and affecting the well-being of individuals within the community. The process of collective healing and resilience is crucial in such cases.
Trauma has a profound impact on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. Additionally, trauma may manifest in physical symptoms such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, or increased vulnerability to physical illnesses. Cognitive abilities, relationships, job prospects, self-esteem, and overall quality of life can be significantly affected by trauma.
To heal from trauma, a person needs to integrate the traumatic experience(s). Integrating an experience refers to the process of assimilating and making sense of a particular event or set of circumstances within our psychological framework. It involves incorporating the experience into our understanding of ourselves, the world, and how we relate to others. Integration allows us to effectively process and adapt to the impact of the experience on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Sometimes, this can happen when enough time has passed after the traumatic event. This can be months, years, or even decades - and in many cases, never.
Instead of leaving it to time, we recommend therapy to help you process and integrate your trauma. Therapeutic interventions such as trauma-focused therapy, mindfulness practices, and creative therapies can aid in the healing process and significantly shorten the time needed to integrate the traumatic experience(s). Your therapist will have professional training and resources to help you recover from trauma so that it no longer affects your quality of life to such a large degree. Engaging in self-care, building healthy relationships, and developing healthy coping strategies are also vital steps towards recovery.
At Medens Health, our diverse staff of mental health professionals includes therapists who can provide trauma-informed care to support you on your journey of recovery. If you live in California or Nevada, you can meet with your therapist in one of our locations or opt for video visits in the comfort of your own home. Reach out to us by phone or text at (833) 624-5400, send us a message using our online contact form, or to register as a new patient get started here.
The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.
If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.