What is Trauma?

Trauma is the experience of an out of the ordinary event that is life-threatening, perceived as life-threatening, or challenging the perception of reality. Examples of traumatic events include physical abuse, sexual abuse, natural disasters, war, and homicide.

After the experience of trauma, people often have the following reactions:

  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Grief

People may also experience physical reactions such as:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hypervigilence (constant checking to ensure safety, locking all doors and windows, not letting children out of sight)
  • Hyperarousal (increased anxiety to a level of constant alert, startling very easily)

Who Experiences Trauma?

Anyone can experience trauma, regardless of age, gender, or race. The experience of trauma is very personal. Two people may experience the same event and have different reactions to it. A person’s reaction to trauma is not an indicator of their strength or weakness, it is simply their personal reaction to a traumatic event.

Do I have to directly experience the trauma to Feel traumatized?

No. Trauma reactions occur in people who have directly experienced the event as well as people who witnessed it. For example, witnessing a deadly car crash may be very traumatic, even if you were not directly involved in the crash.

People who are in ongoing contact with people who have experienced trauma (medical professionals, law enforcement, social service employees, etc.) often experience the trauma vicariously. Vicarious trauma is a real experience that can be dealt with the right tools and interventions to manage the symptoms.