What is Trauma?

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event like experiencing an accident, being the victim of a crime, or enduring a natural disaster. The variety of individual responses to trauma can make it challenging to define. In the face of these difficulties, it is essential to understand the meaning and effects of such distress.

Trauma: Sudden and Unpredictable

Trauma can stem from a multitude of experiences in which a person finds them emotionally or physically threatening and beyond their control. The more fearful and helpless an individual feels, the more traumatic the situation becomes. These situations may lead to distressing emotions, painful memories and anxiety. Widely perceived causes of trauma are generally associated with horrific crimes or war.

However, more commonly overlooked causes include bullying, abandonment, harassment, psychological abuse, childbirth and losing a loved one. In fact, these types of traumas may cause an exponentially negative impact on other situations such not achieving a goal, birthing, parenting or maintaining healthy relationships.

Trauma impacts a person’s control over their life, leading to emotional dysregulation. Regardless of the type of event, trauma distorts the way a person thinks, acts, feels and interferes with daily functioning.


Types of Trauma

Various types of traumas include acute, chronic, complex trauma and vicarious.

  • Acute Trauma
    Acute trauma results from a single incident or dangerous events, such as a car accident, death of a loved one, mass shooting, or natural disaster (hurricane, flood, earthquake)
  • Chronic Trauma

    Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged, such as domestic abuse or child abuse.

  • Complex Trauma

    Complex trauma is exposure to multiple traumatic events, usually affecting a person’s overall health, relationships, and daily functioning. For example, ongoing sexual, physical, or emotional abuse combined with medical abuse or abandonment.

  • Vicarious Trauma

    Vicarious trauma, also known as secondary trauma, occurs when a person has close contact with someone who has experienced a traumatic event. For example, people who work in victim services such as law enforcement, medical services or fire services.

type of trauma

The Emotional And Physical Distress of Trauma

A tragic event is heart-wrenching. The challenge continues even as an individual who tries to cope with the emotional reactions.

Experiencing trauma can increase anger, fear, shame, denial, confusion, guilt and irritability. This is not only because of the traumatic event itself but because victims often brush off the emotional experience of the event. Unlike most memories, trauma makes the memories recurring. The trauma brings the sensations and emotions back into the present.

Trauma can also have physical effects such as digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, racing heart, shaking, and becoming easily startled.

A counselor who is trained in trauma is mindful of these consequences when discussing trauma.

What affects one person may not affect another to the same degree. Physical effects correlate with the human fight, flight or freeze responses. When in the triggered condition, a person will fight back, run away or standstill. These responses are common to all people.

emotional trauma

Trauma Might Lead to PTSD

The combination of those emotional responses and physical effects can lead to what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly known as PTSD. It is defined as a disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or severe injury.

Read our next blog to learn more about PTSD.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to Ammirati Counseling to ask and inquire about support services that you can receive to help with overcoming feelings of depression, loneliness, stress or anxiety.

Ammirati Counseling is a boutique counseling group with an office in Bannockburnn serving Chicago. Therapists also offer private therapy via remote online. They provide comprehensive care to children, teens, adults, couples, families, and the LGBTQ community.
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor at Ammirati Counseling
Terri A. Ammirati, LCPC, has 25+ years of clinical experience. She is a Certified Gottman Therapist and presents Gottman's "The Art and Science of Love" couples workshop.

Terri specializes in empowering clients to strengthen their relationships. She works with all aspects of relational distress and provides solution-focused therapy.
Terri A. Ammirati