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Understanding Trauma

Updated: Sep 25, 2023



Trauma is an event that causes significant physical or emotional harm and/or is life-threatening. Lasting effects from trauma can impact mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, and may also impact social wellbeing. Trauma is diverse, and it knows no boundaries. It spans across gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability, or spiritual affiliation. Examples of some traumatic events include:

  • Poverty

  • Growing up with an alcoholic parent

  • Neglect

  • Physical abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • War

  • Witnessing a violent act

  • Racism

  • Oppression

  • Human Trafficking

  • Human Smuggling


Trauma can affect both the individual experiencing it, as well as the friends and family around them. In the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., trauma is defined as “unbearable and intolerable.” When someone experiences a trauma, they often try to forget what happened. Sometimes it is by sheer willpower, trying to push the trauma out of their mind using incredible amounts of energy. Others will try to numb through the use of alcohol, drugs, self-harm, and other self-destructive behaviors. The brain cannot deny the trauma, even through the use of these maladaptive coping skills. The brain will try to protect and survive at all costs. This can lead to reactions of perceived threat through releasing excessive stress hormones, which is also where the fight, flight, and freeze reactions come into play.


Experiencing a trauma is overwhelming, as is the aftermath of the trauma. Many people experience memories, triggers, flashbacks, and nightmares as the brain tries to process what has occurred and survive. It may feel like there is no end in sight to the painful reality of dealing with trauma, but there are success stories out there. It is important to hold on to hope, because you can come out on the other side. There are therapies and techniques available that are backed by research that show a great deal of promise and success. While some of these will be explored in future blog posts, it is also important to know that your therapist can help you in discerning what will be most beneficial for you. Healing from trauma is messy and hard. It is a process that takes time. While it is not an immediate fix, it is something that can help lessen the effects of trauma through exploring healthy coping strategies, providing education, and alleviating distress.


1: The Body Keeps the Score – Bessel Can Der Kolk, M.D.

2: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration: https://www.samhsa.gov/trauma-violence

3: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/

4: Trauma-Informed Care Implementation Resource Center: https://www.traumainformedcare.chcs.org/what-is-trauma/

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