What is Trauma?

Trauma can have many faces – on a psychological level it means witnessing or being involved in an overwhelming  or life-threatening situation.  Trauma is usually accompanied by intense fear, helplessness, loss of control and a fear of annihilation.  It can shatter a person’s sense of safety, identity, trust, relationship to self and others and religious and spiritual beliefs.

New neurological research has shown that trauma creates changes in the brain and nervous system which means trauma survivors will respond to life in a different way as before.  Commonly intense emotions are experienced often without any memory of traumatic events or details or on the opposite spectrum traumatic events will be recalled without any emotion.  People having survived trauma often alternate between numbness and a reliving of past traumatic events in the present time.  This means the nervous system is chronically activated and constantly vigilant for any sign of danger.

A person in this state will be familiar with the following:


* hypervigilance, panic attacks, increased startle response, anger attacks, chronic anxiety

* triggers of traumatic events (smells, sounds, feelings, body sensations, images) can intrude at any moment and create sensations similar in intensity to the original event

*nightmares, flashbacks, somatic symptoms, paralysis and behavioral enactments

*dissociated aspects of the original trauma may appear on a somatic or physical level (for example feeling left gasping for air, not being able to breathe, unexplained stomach pains)

*unconscious, repetitive and destructive patterns of engagement with others  (repeated victimization, acting out or in sexually)

*withdrawing and isolation from regular life and avoidance of interpersonal relationships. Drugs and Alcohol to numb.

*Disconnection and Dissociation between thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors and images

*Rigidity in responding to life situations – loss of choice and flexibility – responding to current situations as if they held the same danger as the past traumatic experience.

*Avoidance of relationships and intimacy.  Difficulty trusting others.

*Repeated abusive or traumatic relationships.

*A sense of stuckness, frozenness, numbness, immobility, lack of motivation, inability to move forward.

*A sense of shame or pervading guilt.  Feeling weak or helpless.