What Is Trauma

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Written By:

Counselling Psychologist - M.Sc. Clinical Psychology

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Reviewed By:

Clinical Dietitian -

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Trauma refers to the impact caused by exposure to a distressing event or situation that hinders a person’s ability to cope. It has a long-lasting effect that spreads to every area of one’s life. 

Imagine that your brain is represented by a piece of beautiful glass. Something unfortunate occurs and the glass shatters. Your brain has now a fragmented sense of itself. Trauma works in similar ways. It shatters our sense of self and fragments our sense of trust and safety. The effect of trauma is long-lasting in the sense that we start to view the world through the shards of glass. This creates a fragmented sense of reality overtime. 

Causes of trauma

  1. Childhood Abuse - 

This is one of the foremost causes of trauma. Children are the most vulnerable and require the help of others to fulfil their emotional and physical needs. If a child has been constantly neglected or abandoned, they are likely to develop severe trauma of trust. This has a longer lasting impact because the child grows up to see the fractured version of reality and believes it to be true. 

Other forms of childhood abuse can occur in the form of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse. These cause deep wounds in the children and can hinder their chances of having optimal well-being. A child’s brain is very vulnerable and very little trauma can also cause the glass to break and so it is important to understand that they need supportive environments to not have a fragmented sense of reality.

  1. Physical Abuse - 

Physical Abuse is when a person’s physical self is harmed as a result of the traumatic event. During the account of physical abuse, a person’s body is shaken up and it leaves them in severe pain. The wounds in such cases are visible and take a long time to heal. Examples could be physical abuse as a result of domestic abuse, physical injury obtained in accidents etc. 

War can also cause immense physical as well as psychological trauma. War and violence expose the person to danger and threaten their physical being as well as their psychological sense of reality. 

  1. Sexual Abuse - 

Sexual abuse refers to the non-consensual sexual activity that is forced onto an individual. Examples of these include, rape, harrassment, and exploitation. Sexual abuse can cause the person to develop trauma of boundaries due to the repeated breaching of them. It also threatens their emotional and physical self and hampers their overall well-being. 

  1. Emotional Abuse - 

Have you ever had a person in your life who constantly belittles you? They are just not happy with anything you do and always criticise you? They constantly put you down and don’t acknowledge your feelings. Now imagine what you would feel like if this happened to you? Would you be trustworthy or confident? This is an example of emotional abuse. 

This type of emotional abuse often is called “the voice inside your head”. You will find yourself to become overly critical of yourself and might even put yourself down. The wounds of emotional abuse are very subtle that is why it is important to carefully notice and correct them with the help of the right professionals. 

  1. Secondary Trauma - 

Many overlook the aspect that witnessing someone else go through a traumatic event can also cause trauma. This is known as secondary trauma. It is vicarious in nature and occurs when a person gets distressed by listening to another person’s trauma. A phenomena also known as Compassion Fatigue, it mostly occurs amongst caregivers who work with people undergoing trauma. 

People who undergo secondary trauma are often like sponges. They keep absorbing, they absorb the pain of others, they absorb the stress of others. Over time, the sponge will get saturated and will begin erupting. This is how compassion fatigue occurs. It can be addressed. With the help of the right professional, the sponge can be drained and the pent up emotions of the person can be released in a healthy manner. 

Impact of Trauma 

When we experience trauma, our amygdala, which is the bedrock of emotion regulation. Trauma can cause damage to our ability to regulate emotion, our ability to remember information accurately, and our stress response system. When we experience trauma and do nothing about it for a long period of time our body is constantly living in survival mode. The survival mode causes the fight-flight button to stay activated. This in turn causes a continuous release of stress hormones like cortisol. Some physical symptoms we might experience are headaches, dizzy spells, fatigue, racing heart among many. 

Emotionally, trauma can leave us feeling numb, and overwhelmed. We might experience constant moods of irritability, sadness and find it hard to be in control of our emotions. Cognitively, trauma can cause rumination negative thoughts. People who have trauma often re-experience the incident in the form of nightmares, flashbacks or memory attacks. This again triggers our neurobiological response and puts us in survival mode. 

Our body is hypervigilant because it feels that it is under threat. Even in the absence of a threat, we are in survival mode. This is because when we are experiencing trauma we perceive our thoughts, memory as a threat. This makes it difficult for us to practise regular self-care and self-compassion. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing trauma, we encourage you to reach out to us so that we can help you boost your self-compassion skills.

Ms. Priyanka Walia
Ms. Priyanka Walia M.A. Counselling Psychology Counselling Psychologist 05 years of experience

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Ms. Muskan Maheshwari
Ms. Muskan Maheshwari M.Sc. Clinical Psychology Clinical Psychologist 02 years of experience

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Mr. Nishant Sharma M.Phil. Clinical Psychology Clinical Psychologist 07 years of experience

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