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  • Writer's pictureSusan Pitler

Understanding Trauma

Updated: May 29, 2020

Trauma is anything that is defined as too much, too fast, or too soon for our nervous systems to handle.

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Understanding Trauma

If you feel you have experienced a trauma, you are not alone. By current estimates, more than 7-8% of Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lives. Many people think that trauma is the result of a catastrophe, sexual assault or military campaign, but trauma can be experienced by anyone at any age, and for a wide variety of reasons. If you've lived through something that was too much, too fast, or too soon for your nervous system to handle, you've had a trauma.

Types of Trauma

There are three main types of trauma. Acute trauma is the result of a single incident -- any experience that is distressing or disturbing enough that it overwhelms your ability to cope. Chronic trauma is an event that is repeated and prolonged, often developing from regular exposure to domestic violence or abuse, for example. Finally, complex trauma is the result of multiple and varied traumatic events, often of an invasive or interpersonal nature.

Individual Responses to Trauma

Individuals can demonstrate a wide variety of responses to trauma, and their symptoms may vary in severity, but many struggle with emotional regulation. Symptoms can include, among other things:

  • Shock, denial, disbelief

  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating

  • Anger, irritability, mood swings

  • Anxiety and fear

  • Depression

  • Dissociation

  • Panic attacks

  • Guilt, shame, self-blame

  • Withdrawing from others

  • Feeling sad or hopeless

  • Feeling disconnected or numb

  • Extreme emotional distress

  • Chronic physical pain

  • Problems with interpersonal relationships

How Therapy Can Help

Experiencing trauma neurologically embeds dysfunctional and ineffective responses into your brain that can be triggered well after the disturbing event(s) take place. Working with a reputable therapist can help you identify and mute the responses that are affecting your ability to cope. Regular sessions will allow you to alter your dysfunctional and ineffective patterns of behavior, and lead to an increased sense of safety and stabilization.

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