Do you really know what is trauma? Find out what it is, how to treat it, and how to live a more fulfilling life in this article!
In this article:
- What Is Trauma?
- What Are the Different Types of Trauma?
- What Can Cause Trauma?
- What Are the Symptoms of Trauma?
- How Does Trauma Affect the Body?
- Can Traumatic Events Cause Mental Illness?
- Is There a Cure for Trauma?
What Is Trauma and Other FAQs
What Is Trauma?
Let’s begin with the most basic question: what is trauma? There are many ways to define it.
It may refer to a deeply or extremely depressing and disturbing experience. It may also imply a physical injury, which can range from a bruise to traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The general trauma definition is a person’s response to a distressing or disturbing experience in which a person has a hard time coping.
The feeling of being overwhelmed and the subsequent symptoms and effects can lead to the following:
- Potential loss of self-identity
- Irrational fears and behaviors
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Inability to feel other emotions, especially positive ones such as joy and satisfaction
What Are the Different Types of Trauma?
Trauma can fall into many different categories, and it’s possible for a person to experience many of them at once. The most common types of trauma are:
It is a traumatic response to a single event or incident. For example, after hitting a barrier while driving intoxicated, you avoid driving even if you’re already sober.
It is a result of repeated or prolonged exposure to the source of the trauma. These can include sexual or physical abuse, neglect, or bullying.
This is a traumatic response that arises when you experience prolonged multiple types of distressing experiences which can begin as early as childhood. It is also invasive and interpersonal in nature, which means other people may have caused or worsened the trauma.
For example, as a child, you experienced neglect or abandonment from your parents so you ended up in foster homes. There, you went through emotional and physical abuse from the other children or your foster parents.
When you grew up, your traumatic experiences might have influenced your choice of partners in relationships. From them, you experienced rejection and abuse so it seems you’re stuck in a cycle.
What Can Cause Trauma?
We cannot fully define “What is trauma?” until we also mention the causes. In general, there’s no single underlying cause for it.
In fact, anything can be a potential source of negative response. What clearly defines it is how you react to a particular situation.
The following are some of the major causes of trauma:
- Man-made disasters such as wars or terrorism
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods
- Assault, including sexual and physical
- Neglect and maltreatment
- Rejection and abandonment
- Serious illness or injury
- Death in the family or even a pet
- Divorce and relationship problems
- Crimes, whether you’re a witness or the victim
- Significant personal changes such as job loss or relocation
What Are the Symptoms of Trauma?
Some of the most common symptoms of trauma are:
- Changes in appetite or sleeping patterns
- Increased levels of stress and anxiety
- Depressive symptoms
- Changes in behavior (e.g., becoming more reckless)
- Inability to talk or to communicate properly
- Disorientation or periods of blackouts
- Inability to remember certain significant events or memory loss
- Mood swings
- Suicidal ideations or thoughts
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt, fear, and anxiety
- Feelings of numbness or disconnection
- Avoidance of possible triggers
The symptoms can range from mild to severe. They can also develop over time, and the changes can be subtle so you may never know you are traumatized.
It’s also possible these symptoms last for only a short while, especially when you develop coping strategies.
How Does Trauma Affect the Body?
There’s no doubt trauma can affect you psychologically. What you may not be aware of is it can also manifest in your body.
It’s even possible that you’ll learn your emotional or psychological trauma because of the changes happening in your body.
In a 2006 study published in the Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, the researchers established a connection between trauma and permanent changes to certain parts of the brain. These are the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus.
The amygdala is part of the medial frontal lobe and plays a critical role in emotion regulation. The hippocampus, meanwhile, is a small organ that helps form new memories and promotes learning.
The prefrontal cortex covers a bigger region than the two, and so its role is wider. It manages social behavior, decision making, and personality expression, among others.
2011 research in Current Biology revealed those who had a less-active prefrontal cortex were more likely to be impulsive or have less control over their social behavior.
The 2006 study also said that traumatic stress, or the stress that arises because of a trauma, and increased cortisol may have a link.
Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It regulates many bodily functions:
- Blood sugar (or glucose)
- Memory formulation
- Increased heart rate
When you’re under severe stress like suffering from trauma, your body may end up producing more of the stress hormone. In turn, it can lead to higher glucose, poorer metabolism, memory loss, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Can Traumatic Events Cause Mental Illness?
The Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders may define “What is trauma?” as a mental health problem. They all fall under trauma disorders:
- Adjustment disorder (AD), which means you are having a hard time coping with significant changes in your life
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which develops after a traumatic experience
- Reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which is a childhood trauma arising from a child’s disconnection with the parent or caregiver who did not meet their needs
- Acute stress disorder (AD), which is similar to PTSD, although the symptoms are more sudden but shorter
If you experienced trauma but your symptoms don’t fall into any of these categories, you may have an unspecified trauma.
Is There a Cure for Trauma?
Does trauma ever go away? The answer is yes, but you shouldn’t confuse this with a cure.
So far, there’s no evidence that suggests it. What you can do is manage your symptoms, keep them at bay for as long as you can, and learn to cope with the stressors and triggers.
How do you heal yourself from trauma? Here are some ways:
One of the most popular is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a limited-session therapy that focuses on changing your negative thought patterns so you can be more productive and live a more fulfilling life.
There’s also prolonged exposure therapy, which works like desensitization. As its name implies, you expose yourself to the triggers of your trauma until you can learn to control your symptoms and responses toward them.
The doctor may also provide you with medications to complement your therapy and help you deal with the symptoms.
When you come face-to-face with your trigger or experience a flashback, you may develop symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack. Learning some relaxation techniques can therefore help.
Relaxation can also be in the form of arts, including writing. Many trauma survivors usually don’t want to talk about their experience to the public, so writing can become an alternative to release pent-up emotions and thoughts.
Trauma and stress can impact your relationship with others. In some cases, your social relationships can worsen the symptoms.
On the same breath, social support can help you cope with these events. 2005 research showed those who received social support, even an informal one, experienced fewer depressive symptoms.
Knowing what trauma is can be vital in helping you achieve a meaningful life. You will fear less and know how to conquer your fears, which can help you cope with distressing situations better.
How do you deal with stressful events in your life? Share your tips in the comments section below.