Trauma Guides & Articles

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is Trauma?

Trauma refers to an individual's emotional or psychological response to a distressing event or series of events. The effects of trauma can manifest in many ways and may lead to chronic anxiety, depression, overall distrust of other people, and even physical aches and pains. Some individuals with past or recent trauma may startle or anger easily, while others may feel numb and disconnected from the traumatic event.

Some examples of trauma-inducing experiences include physical or sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, severe illness, parental separation, and witnessing domestic violence. Ongoing emotional stressors, such as bullying or intentional mental cruelty, are also linked to trauma.

The length of time someone experiences the effects of trauma can vary. Some people may exhibit symptoms for a few days following the triggering event, while others may have lingering feelings of fear, anxiety, and sadness for several months. Individuals who were constantly exposed to abuse or violence as children may have symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma well into adulthood.

When symptoms don't dissipate or they worsen over time, this can indicate a mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In some cases, a traumatic incident or series of events can put a person at risk for similar trauma in the future. 1

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Trauma Symptoms, Causes and Effects
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Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help […]

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Trauma Management Treatment Program Options
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Many trauma management treatment program options are available to the average person. Given the unpredictable and almost random nature of trauma, it just isn’t possible to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to recovery. Each patient will arrive at treatment with not only different physical needs but also a unique perspective, history and set of assumptions that […]

PTSD and Addiction
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If exposure to a life-threatening event leads to long-term distress, or if your reaction to it becomes chronically and significantly disabling, you might have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people with PTSD may use drugs and alcohol to manage their symptoms and go on to develop addiction. Ideally, people with PTSD and addiction should have […]

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Share on Twitter Share on Facebook For most young adults, heading off to college is a rite of passage filled with exciting opportunities, new friends, and fresh challenges. But for victims of sexual assault, the dream can become a nightmare in an instant. Statistics show that more than six in 1,000 women will be sexually […]

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding refers to individuals who are emotionally attached to the people in their lives who are responsible for causing trauma. When a child feels protected and cared for by a parent or caregiver on whom they depend for their survival, the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone is actually nicknamed "the love hormone" because it increases feelings of attachment and security.

Children who are abused by parents also look to them as their protectors and caregivers. They may minimize a parent's abusive behavior because they need them to survive, especially if the parent apologizes and shows them a small amount of love and affection. To keep the peace and continue to receive care and protection, the child may also start to rationalize or justify the parent's behavior. They may tell themselves that the abuse isn't "so bad," or they might even believe that the abuse is their own fault.

Trauma bonding can also occur in spousal and romantic partner relationships. For example, one spouse may be physically or emotionally abusive with their partner in one moment, then show remorse shortly after. This can be very confusing to a victim of abuse, as they're emotionally vulnerable and have a trauma bond attachment to the abuser. 3

How to Break a Trauma Bond

For some people, trauma bonds are deeply ingrained, especially if the cycle of abuse or dysfunction began in childhood. Once a person recognizes that they're in a trauma-bonded relationship, they can take the first step toward breaking free by consulting a professional counselor or psychotherapist.

With therapy, individuals can learn to strengthen their coping tools and set healthy boundaries with the abuser or abusers. Leaning on good friends and family members during the transition out of the abusive relationship can also help the individual feel safe and supported along their healing journey. 3

What Is Emotional Trauma?

Emotional trauma, sometimes called psychological trauma, is an emotional response to situations that cause significant distress. When a person is continually abused, experiences physical or sexual assault, or witnesses a frightening incident, they may be unable to function or cope in day-to-day life.

While it's completely normal and expected for people to feel varying emotions for several days or weeks after a traumatic event, long-term emotional trauma occurs when an individual struggles to recover. 4 Signs that a person may be experiencing severe emotional trauma include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic incident
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Avoidance of situations that may bring back distressing memories of the incident
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances

What Is Physical Trauma?

Physical trauma is a type of trauma that results from bodily injury. The events that lead up to the injury and the specific cause of the injury can also cause psychological or emotional trauma. Types of physical injury that can lead to symptoms of emotional trauma include broken bones and injuries from auto accidents, physical abuse, and assault.

Frequently, the shock and pain that accompany a severe injury along with the treatment and rehabilitation following the incident can cause significant emotional distress. A person with physical trauma may require hospitalization to receive treatment or undergo surgery, which can also contribute to psychological symptoms. 5

What Is Generational Trauma?

Generational trauma is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals react to distressing and frightening events in the same way a relative or descendent reacted to similar events in the past. Sometimes referred to as intergenerational trauma, the exact cause of this type of trauma reaction isn't completely understood. However, some experts believe that the behaviors and beliefs of a parent or relative who experienced a traumatic event can be transmitted to younger generations.

Some common behaviors in situations of generational trauma include anxiousness, depression, suicidal thoughts, and hypervigilance (a state of increased alertness ). Generational trauma can affect the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of parents or grandparents who experienced trauma or witnessed traumatic events as children or adults. 6

What Is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma occurs in individuals who had traumatic experiences involving multiple events with interpersonal threats that occurred during childhood or adolescence. This type of trauma causes severe, lasting symptoms that can interfere with a person's ability to function. When continually exposed to physical violence and emotional abuse inflicted by other individuals, an individual mentally develops coping tools and ways to adapt so that they can survive. 7

Individuals with complex trauma often exhibit a wide range of psychological behaviors. Some common behaviors and actions of complex trauma include:

  • Aggression
  • Fragmented sense of self or self-hatred
  • Hopelessness
  • Addictive behaviors

How to Heal From Trauma

Individuals who are hoping to heal and recover from trauma must be patient with themselves and understand that healing can take time. Whether a person witnessed a single distressing event or was continually exposed to abuse, the first step in healing is recognizing that they need help. It’s important to remember that trauma treatment looks different for everyone.

Working with a skilled counselor or therapist can help the individual feel supported and safe as they navigate the healing process and get to the root cause of their issues. Even if setbacks occur, it's important that the person continues to show up for themselves and remain committed to their recovery to move toward a happy and emotionally healthy future. Find help treating trauma today.