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Understanding Trauma

With Kate M. Iverson  Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.  —Helen Keller 

What Is Trauma? Human beings have reported painful traumatic events inone way or the other since the earliest written records.Men and women have lived through natural disasters,fought wars, experienced loss, and been the victims of other forms of violence by other human beings.Traumatic experiences can happen to anyone. Theword “trauma” generally refers to a wide range of intensely stressful situations that involve high levels of danger, fear, helplessness, or horror that evoke high levels of distress for most people in such situations(American Psychiatric Association [APA] 1994). The range of events that can be labeled as traumas may include, but certainly isn’t limited to, the following experiences:

Childhood sexual or physical abuse

Partner abuse (emotional, sexual, and/or physical)

Sexual assault Rape

Physical attacks or assaults

Serious car accidents





Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes

Witnessing or hearing about something horrible that has happened to another person

The effects of trauma are diverse and range far  beyond post-traumatic stress symptoms (Follette and Ruzek 2006; Herman 1992). In many cases, a survivor of trauma may experience problems after the traumatic event that he or she had not experienced before the trauma occurred. The symptoms or problems people experience after trauma can be thought of as falling within a spectrum or continuum ranging from limited effects to very severe effects. Furthermore, we know that the effects of trauma can be cumulative. In other words, the more traumas you have experienced, the more problems you may experience as a result. So, even if you’ve experienced many traumas, you’re not likely to just get used to it.The psychological impacts after trauma can vary from one individual to another. [Pay attention to your  breathing at this moment. As noted in the introduction, this bell sign in the text is an invitation to take a moment to notice what is happening inside your own skin. You can either silently notice these reactions, be it your  breathing, thoughts, feelings, or other reactions, or else you may take a little time to write about it at the end of the chapter.] However, there are some common factors that have emerged. Some people may experience some slight adjustment issues immediately following a trauma.

Some people never experience any additional problems related to the trauma. Other people may have recurring episodes of  psychological difficulties, especially during times of other life stressors.

Some people may experience symptoms that begin immediately after the trauma and get worse and worse over time for many years, resulting in complex and long-lasting outcomes.Those in the field of traumatic stress have learned a lot about trauma in the past thirty years, yet we have not always done a very good job in making our knowledge available for those who most need it.

As you likely know from your own experience, it is hard to acknowledge when you are experiencing difficulties or problems in your life. Having difficulties admitting and talking about psychological problems is a very common response, particularly when it seems that many people will not be able to relate to the trauma you have experienced. Most trauma survivors are afraid that other people won’t be able to understand what they’ve been through or that they just won’t get it. If traumatic experiences are so much more common than people think, then why is it that people rarely talk openly about their experiences with trauma? It can feel very invalidating, or minimizing, of your experience if you are telling yourself (and/or others are telling you) to “just get over it” or “try not to think about it.” If only recovering from trauma were so easy!

Additionally, some people will let you know directly or indirectly that they don’t really want to hear about your experience.Despite more media coverage in recent times of traumatic events and their effects, there is still considerable stigma associated with talking about trauma.]


Mimi Rothschild

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder and CEO of the Global Grief Institute which provides Certification training programs forGrief Coach, Trauma Coach, End of Life Coach, and Children's Grief Coach. She is a survivor who has buried 3 of her children and her husband of 33 years. She is available for speaking engagements and comments to the press on any issue surrounding thriving after catastrophic loss. MEDIA INQUIRIES:

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