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What Counts As Trauma?

What Counts As Trauma?

Have you ever wondered what “counts” as trauma? Maybe you have experienced something in your life that felt traumatic to you but didn’t line up with what you understood about trauma. Maybe you’re looking to understand what trauma encompasses because of someone you love. Maybe you’re just curious! Whatever the reason, it can be helpful to learn about the vastness of what trauma can be.

When we think about trauma, we typically think of a big, scary event: a terrorist attack, a car or plane accident, a natural disaster, a sexual assault, or military combat. We might think that trauma is reserved only for life-threatening events, but that’s not actually the case. Scary or threatening events can certainly be traumatic, but other events that leave people feeling distressed, hopeless, or alone can also leave a person feeling traumatized. Here are some examples of the different causes of trauma: 

Commonly understood causes of trauma: 

  • Terrorist attacks
  • Car or plane accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Sexual assault
  • Military combat
  • Serious injury
  • Acts of violence

Lesser-known causes of trauma: 

  • Witnessing abuse 
  • Emotionally or physically unavailable caregivers
  • Chronic pain or illness
  • Infidelity 
  • Loss of a pet
  • Financial problems
  • Emotional abuse
  • Breakups
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Lack of access to food or shelter
  • Living in a crime heavy area
  • Racism 
  • Homophobia
  • Sexism
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Career changes

Trauma can come from any number of experiences, including ones that we don’t think of as traumatic. Trauma is defined as “a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing.” In reality, trauma can come from any experience that makes us feel unsafe, physically or emotionally, and that disrupts the way we cope or function. Your life doesn’t need to be in danger to feel traumatized. You may also find that you have a different reaction to an event that someone else also went through. Remember, everyone reacts differently to situations, and your reaction is valid, even if it looks different from someone else’s.

These are some symptoms to look out for: 

  • Anger
  • Sadness/despair
  • Flashbacks 
  • Nightmares
  • Guilt + self-blame
  • Numbness
  • Feeling constantly on guard
  • Trouble focusing
  • Trouble sleeping/insomnia
  • Tense muscles 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling agitated or edgy
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Mood swings
  • Memory issues
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Feeling achy
  • Panic attacks

Not only is trauma difficult in the moment, but the effects of trauma can add up. If someone experiences a decade of emotional abuse while also dealing with bankruptcy, those two “smaller” traumas are compounded. They build off of each other, making it more difficult to cope. 

Your trauma is valid.

You don’t have to prove your trauma to anyone, and anyone who is asking you to is way out of line. Your experiences and feelings about them are real, and you are entitled to whatever reaction you have. Going through a traumatic event is already hard enough without beating yourself up over your reaction. Mental health is still very stigmatized in the US, so if you have dealt with any of these experiences and are just now realizing that you may be experiencing a trauma response, that’s okay. Even if you didn’t recognize it at the time, it’s not uncommon to recognize it as such later. 

The effects of trauma can last for a long time, especially without treatment. Luckily, for as common as trauma unfortunately is, there are a number of treatment options that can be helpful. Trauma can be treated using talk therapy, medications, and EMDR, among other things. These treatments can help lower your level of distress, decrease the number of symptoms you experience, and help you get back to your everyday functioning. If you’re interested in talking to a therapist about your experience with trauma, our therapists can help

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