June is "PTSD Awareness Month" and it would take every day in a whole month - and maybe more - to properly cover all the ways trauma happens and how it impacts its victims.
The word trauma feels intense. It feels like a big, obvious flag flying over the head of the person experiencing it. If you have trauma, you have experienced a catastrophic event that society agrees to be traumatic. You are ‘allowed’ to feel traumatized. But what about the things that happen quietly? In private? In secret? Right out in the open but nobody sees it? What do we call the negative events that have had a detrimental impact in shaping who we are? We call that trauma too.
Trauma is an emotional response to an event that has caused an overwhelming amount of stress in which the person affected is unable to cope with it in an effective way. Events may cause trauma for some people and not for others, the event itself is not the deciding factor, trauma is caused when a person experiences the event as traumatic and is unable to work through it effectively.
Trauma can be very sneaky. Hiding in your body and taking over unexpectedly. You might be left asking yourself, what just happened? Why did I react that way? You might consciously or unconsciously avoid certain people, places, events and you don’t really have an answer as to why you do. You might have always done things like this and so, you continue, even though you desperately want to stop. Our bodies try to protect us from harm. When a traumatic event occurs, we build defences. These defences build up layers of protection and when something triggers them, they automatically deploy. When the defence works, it gets stronger.
There are three main types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex.
Acute trauma usually occurs from a single event that caused significant distress. A couple of examples might be: witnessing a violent act, car accident, assault/abuse, sudden death of a loved one, loss of safety, divorce, etc. If left untreated, acute trauma can evolve into post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Follow our series on trauma - next post: Trauma Defined
Author: Jen Millar
Jen has been invited to contribute to the WACS blog for June - PTSD Awareness Month. She is a student in a counselling psychology program, a volunteer with William & Associates, and an aspiring writer.