What is Trauma?

The most basic definition of trauma is any disturbing life event that leaves a lasting negative impact on you.

Types of Trauma

When we think of trauma, we often think of catastrophic events - rape, sexual abuse, war, natural disasters, crime, car wrecks, domestic violence. But trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. For instance, a trauma may also include a medical emergency, experiences of loss and grief, living in chaotic environments, getting fired, infidelity, divorce, bullying, neglect, childbirth, or a humiliating event, to name a few. Even vicarious traumas, where you are hearing about or learning about something that happened to someone else, can take a toll. For instance, watching natural disaster coverage on the news, reading stories of medical emergencies or crimes on social media, or listening to friends recount their own traumatic and painful experiences can all take a toll as vicarious trauma.

Categories of Trauma

There are many different types of trauma, and it can be helpful to begin with defining some of the common terms therapists use to describe traumatic experiences.

Acute Trauma

A single disturbing event such as a car accident, natural disaster or a single event of assault. Sometimes also called single-incident trauma or simple trauma (simple only because it involves one trauma, not that the negative effects of it are simple).

Chronic Trauma

Multiple, repetitive or prolonged disturbing events such as repeated witnessing of community violence or multiple treatments for an illness.

Complex Trauma

Multiple, chronic or prolonged disturbing experiences most often of an interpersonal nature such as family violence or neglect. Relationships involve an expectation of safety and when that is lost, trauma occurs.

Secondary Traumatic Stress

Occurs from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by someone with whom you are in a close relationship, such as a significant other, a client or patient, or a close friend, coupled with the stress from helping or wanting to help.

Vicarious Trauma

Occurs when there is indirect exposure to a traumatic event that results in changes to beliefs about self, the world, and spiritual beliefs. This can be through hearing first-hand accounts or reading narratives of the event.

Why do people respond in different ways to trauma?

Several factors influence which life events will impact us negatively and which ones won’t. These factors include but are not limited to - 

  • Being in the midst of a life transition (starting a new school, an upcoming or recent move, etc)
  • Personality and temperament
  • Developmental vulnerability
  • Home environment and attachment to parents
  • History of trauma
  • Mental and emotional health
  • Support or lack of support following trauma
  • History of generational trauma (for example, ancestors who survived slavery or the Holocaust - research is coming out about large-scale trauma’s impact on our genes that then gets passed down to future generations)

“Although the world is full of suffering, it’s full also of the overcoming it.”

Helen Keller

What Are The Symptoms of Trauma?

Trauma impacts the whole self - your body, mind, emotions, and relationships. It can rob you of the joy of being alive, leaving you both hypervigilant to any sense of danger and despondent to self, the world, and your future.

Emotional Effects of Trauma
  • Shock, denial, or disbelief
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings
  • Fear, worry
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Self-doubt, self-contempt
  • Feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy
  • Sadness, hopelessness
  • Learned helplessness
  • Despair, ambivalence
  • Disconnection, numbness
Physical Effects of Trauma
  • Physical responses to Increased stress levels - ulcers, intestinal problems, lower backaches, stiff neck, tight jaw, chronic headaches, general aches and pains, general muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances
  • Heightened startle response
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reactionary cycle of fight, flight, freeze
Psychological Effects of Trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Panic attacks
  • PTSD
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of motivation
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal ideation
Relational Effects of Trauma
  • Hypervigilance to betrayal
  • Inability to trust relational intuition
  • Loss of hope for intimacy 
  • Distrust of vulnerability
  • Sexual dysfunction, addiction
  • Isolating and withdrawing from others

If you are experiencing some of these common reactions to trauma, you may be experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). You don't have to live with PTSD symptoms or be held back by what happened to you.

Counseling Can Help

The good news is that trauma therapy can help. Our skilled, caring therapists use a variety of effective interventions in our counseling sessions. We have seen trauma therapy help countless people find healing and wholeness again. You don't have to go through this alone. Trauma counseling can help you overcome your trauma and PTSD symptoms so you can get back to living your life.

Get help for Trauma in the Nashville area

If you live in the Nashville area and are ready to get help for trauma, we are here to help. To begin individual counseling for trauma, follow these steps:

1. Contact our counseling office or call 615-235-3508 to schedule a free 30 minute consultation

2. Begin therapy for trauma and move forward with your life!

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Other therapeutic services offered at Willow Counseling

Willow Counseling offers a variety of therapeutic services to help you on your road to healing & better mental health. Some of our other counseling services include counseling for trauma and EMDR therapy, therapy for compassion fatigue, and group counseling services for anxiety and compassion fatigue.  If you are ready to find healing and live in the Nashville area, our therapists are here to help!