Trauma can sometimes be difficult to identify. If you or a loved one is struggling, this post might help as we describe the different causes and types of trauma, warning signs and symptoms.

What is trauma?

Trauma is defined as a physically or emotionally painful, distressing or shocking experience that causes lasting effects. Trauma is generally separated into two categories: discrete traumas (sometimes referred to as big “T” trauma) and chronic, insidious traumas (referred to as small “t” trauma). Discrete trauma is generally associated with a catastrophic event such as assault, rape, extreme injury, natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, witnessing violence, or the unexpected death of someone. There are often vivid or explicit memories attached to the traumatic event, but not always.

Chronic trauma is not associated with one, powerful event, but is more about reoccurring painful situations or experiences. These events might include childhood neglect or abuse, being bullied or teased, severe parental criticism, addiction or illness in the family, or domestic violence. Sometimes these traumas are more difficult to identify and treat because of the ongoing nature of these events.

What is important to keep in mind is that it is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the person’s experience of the event. No matter the situation, those who experienced trauma often felt unprepared, powerless to prevent it or stop it, and felt the event was unexpected.

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

It is estimated that 30% of people exposed to trauma will develop PTSD. Rates are higher for women, first responders and military/veterans. PTSD is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological or spiritual trauma.

It is normal to experience a stressful response immediately after a traumatic event. In fact, the initial fight-flight-freeze response is adaptive and helpful in the first few days following a trauma. But if the symptoms persist beyond 3 days, it is likely the individual is struggling with an Acute Stress Disorder and can benefit from treatment to potentially prevent the progression of symptoms to PTSD.

If after a few months, an individual is still demonstrating symptoms that are beginning to impair their ability to function at work, school, or home, it is possible they are struggling with PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

The symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person. But in general, they include:

Cognitive Symptoms:

  • Distraction/Attention problems
  • Decrease in concentration
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty making decisions

Physical Signs:

  • Unexplained sensations (including pain)
  • Sleeplessness/Insomnia
  • Low energy/Fatigue
  • Sudden increase in heart rate or breathing
  • Hypervigilance

Emotional Symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Fear
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Numbness
  • Irritability and anger

Behavioral Signs:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Substance misuse or abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Impulsive, self-destructive behavior
  • Dissociation
  • Isolation/Avoidance/Withdrawal
  • Sexual disruption or promiscuity
  • Hostile/Argumentative

Re-experiencing Symptoms:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts of the event
  • Sudden emotional or physical flooding
  • Co-occurring disorders (like depression or substance use disorder)

If you or your loved one is struggling with signs or symptoms of trauma, help is available! Contact us to schedule an appointment and engage in healing today.