Often clients ask if a particular event in their life would be considered traumatic. It seems as though trauma and traumatic events are not well defined in our day-to-day lives. The basic definition of trauma is the lasting emotional response that commonly appears after living through a distressing event. Given that definition, trauma is very subjective and is based on the person, the experience, and how they responded to the event. Having a reaction to a traumatic event is not always immediate; it can come on suddenly later on or get worse over time. Unfortunately, trauma is not easily defined, does not pertain to only one specific type of event, and does not always have the same reactions or behaviors. Let’s review some of the potential causes and responses of traumatic events.

There are three types of traumas: acute, chronic, or complex. Acute trauma would result from a singular event. Chronic trauma is the result of a repeated event that has happened multiple times to the person. Complex trauma results from exposure to numerous traumatic events of various nature. Examples of trauma include:

With the lack of a common understanding of what trauma is, it seems as though significant events in our lives are undervalued. Let’s look at the pandemic, which caused multiple traumatic events in everyone’s life, all in different ways. Many people lost their jobs, kids had to change their schedules and do school at home, people were getting severely ill or dying, and families did not get together the way they used to. Massive changes, in different ways, caused lasting effects. The pandemic was a traumatic event that has caused significant chronic or complex trauma in many people but is often not discussed or considered when someone is struggling. Allowing yourself to reflect on your experiences and appreciate the impact those experiences have had on you will enable you to start to work through the trauma.

What does trauma look like? Often, trauma will cause intrusive memories, flashbacks, upsetting dreams or nightmares, emotional distress, physical distress when triggered, and increased anxiety or depression. Trauma will present itself in different ways, and it might not always be recognizable why you are reacting the way you are or why your emotions are triggered in a certain way. Working through the trauma can help reduce the reactions. Allow yourself to recognize what you are feeling and look at why you might feel that way. If you think you have experienced a traumatic event or are suffering from trauma, please get in touch with a mental health professional. While you can not change the experiences, you can change your reaction to the triggers and reduce the severity of the symptoms.