Trauma and PTSD


What is trauma?

In the field of psychology, “trauma” is the term used to describe any experience that is so overwhelming that we are unable to make sense of it at the time it happens. Examples of traumatic experiences include (but are not limited to): childhood abuse and neglect, physical or sexual assault, accidents, illness and medical procedures, the death of a loved one, losing one's job or livelihood, and ongoing discrimination/marginalization, such as occurs with systemic racism and homophobia.


Trauma can also occur as a result of ongoing emotional abuse during childhood as well as in adult relationships. People often don't realize the impact of emotional and verbal abuse on one's psyche, because these experiences are more subtle than the more dramatic examples listed above. Just a few examples of emotional & verbal abuse include: frequent criticisms and invalidations, contempt, blaming, boundary intrusions, indifference, neglect, and denials of one's perception of reality.


Experiences of alcoholism/addiction in the family system, being put in a caretaker role, and other stressful family dynamics during one's childhood can also contribute to unresolved trauma.


Symptoms of trauma

Unprocessed trauma can live in our bodies long past the time of the original occurrence. Its symptoms often overlap with, manifest as, or may be mistaken for, symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some common symptoms include:

  • Negative thoughts about self/others

  • Intrusive memories or flashbacks

  • Recurrent nightmares

  • Feeling emotionally numb

  • "Fight-flight-freeze" responses to everyday stimuli

  • Easily startled; jumpiness

  • Hypervigilance

  • Feeling detached from self or body

  • Freezing up or shutting down easily

  • Hopelessness about the future

  • Indecision

  • Confusion

  • Persistent fear, guilt, shame

  • Sadness, depressed mood

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Trouble sleeping​

  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities

  • Social withdrawal

If you've experienced any of these symptoms, it is possible that they are trauma-related. The good news is that it is also possible to reduce these symptoms, and to find more calmness and contentment in your life. 

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© 2020 Kerri Green, M.A., LMFT   |   Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #100413

Somatic & EMDR Psychotherapist, Certified Telemental Health Provider

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