Everyone is likely to experience a traumatic event in their life. It’s almost unavoidable. Trauma is anything that negatively impacts your daily life or well-being. Individuals who experience trauma are at greater risk of physical and mental health issues.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is what we experience when something very painful or frightening happens to us. Trauma results from exposure to a single or series of experiences or ongoing experiences that are deeply disturbing or when our safety or that of a loved one is threatened.
We all face some kind of adversity or stress in our life, but some experiences are so painful, they impact our daily life and well-being. For many reasons, people respond to trauma in different ways. Trauma is not just the upsetting event itself – it is how one responds.
It can have a devastating effect on individuals, families and entire communities.
When we understand what can cause trauma and recognize its impact – in ourselves and in others – we realize there is hope. Then the journey to healing can begin.
What Causes Trauma?
Trauma looks different for everyone. It can be caused by:
- A single event or a series of events, such as physical or sexual assault, or abuse or harm from a life partner. It can be caused by a death of a child or loved one, as well as unavoidable things that happen in life, such as a devastating accident, natural disaster, divorce or miscarriage.
- Prolonged and ongoing stressors, considered “chronic stress,” can also cause trauma. We feel trapped or hopeless over a loss of a job, financial insecurity, or a serious or incurable illness. We may be living in uncertainty or isolation or in an unhappy or hurtful relationship and feel unable to leave.
- Adverse childhood experiences can have long-lasting impact throughout adulthood. Violence in the home, even if it wasn’t directed at you, can cause trauma. Examples include being abused or neglected, growing up in a home with alcohol or drug problems or mental illness. These experiences are especially impactful because they can cause “toxic stress” if the child feels like they have no control over the situation. In fact, such stress can even change the “wiring” in the brain, which can impact the way one sees the world and the people around them.
What’s important to remember is that it’s never too soon or too late to deal with the impact of trauma.
What Does Trauma Look Like?
Trauma knows no boundaries. Anyone can have traumatic symptoms. It has nothing to do with your age, race, occupation or income. People can experience the same traumatic and stressful life events and react differently. It is important to recognize the impact of trauma and its symptoms and understand how community supports helps shape our recovery.
Research shows that trauma causes lasting changes in brain chemistry – and can impact a person mentally, emotionally, physically and socially. Unresolved trauma can make it difficult to manage our emotional responses, which means emotions and reactions don’t match the situation. One person may be overwhelmed and experience sadness, grief or anger. Another may simply feel numb to any pain or pleasure.
When we feel threatened or under pressure – our body releases a “stress hormone” called cortisol, which can result in anxiety, depression and headaches. This can lead to a weakened immune system, heart disease, high blood pressure, digestive issues, nerve problems and chronic disease.
All of this can make us feel worthless, helpless or alone.
And that can lead us to harm ourselves or others – through alcohol or drug abuse, over- or undereating, high-risk behaviors, or unhealthy and abusive relationships.