Trauma: what is it?

Trauma according to the dictionary is

  1. an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects.  This is also called psychological or emotional trauma.
  2. any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident or fracture etc.  Typically an injury.

Trauma,  according to Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW,   is an event that is life threatening or psychologically devastating to the point where your capacities to cope are overwhelmed.  Following trauma you may relive the traumatic event,  fragmented memories related to the trauma arise unexpectedly,  emotional,  and behavioral dysregulation occurs.

Trauma causes your body to fill with adrenaline,  preparing it for fight or flight.  If neither are possible,  you will freeze.  In any case,  the memory and the effects of the trauma are stored in your body.  This is important to know in order to resolve the issue.

Trauma has three main characteristics:

  1. it comes with an intense negative emotion.
  2. you feel alone.
  3. you feel trapped.

Trauma causes your mind and body to be in shock. You have to process what happened,  work your way through your emotions,  accept the consequences and move on.

The length of time needed to process the event depends on the individual – we are all unique and different.  Thus there is no set time.  Just like there is no rule for what constitutes an event to be traumatic or not.  It is not the event,  but how you experience it that decides if it is a trauma.  Meaning it is subjective.

Therefore we can never judge someone else’s trauma and tell them to “get over it”.

With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.  source

It is also possible to sustain trauma while not even knowing it.  (I know,  totally unfair!)  This is known as subtle trauma.  An example is childhood trauma,  especially under the age of 3.  When the events are severely traumatic,  your emotions and memories go ‘underground’,  they disconnect.  PTSD is born.

When this occurs you fall into a vicious cycle.  PTSD produces anxiety.  Trying to manage your anxiety generates more anxiety which increases the need to try to manage it and so on.  Nasty business!

How do I know?
Unfortunately,  I am dealing with a lot of childhood and adolescent trauma.  Like abandonment & neglect,  emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.  I think that covers it.  Hence,  I suffer from PTSD (ew).  Right, change that to:  I am overcoming PTSD.  (Phew, that sounds better!) 

I am not telling you so you feel very sorry for me.  Don’t.  (Well… a little is ok.  Maybe.)  Life is life and none of us come through it unscathed.  Plenty of peeps have suffered more,  plenty have suffered less.  Let’s be clear that this is absolute NOT the issue here.

If you have followed my blog even for a bit,  you know I am interested in how to live my life to the fullest and encouraging others to do so as well.  Working my way through my trauma’s will significantly improve my life and most likely my bipolar.  I decided to share it with you so you know you are NOT alone and there is a way out.  In that the traumatic event will sit in a place in your life where it will not disturb your daily life anymore.

Let’s go for it,  shall we?

Photo credit 1
Photo credit 2

For further reading:

What is Trauma? by  Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Symptoms,  Treatment and Self-help


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13 responses to “Trauma: what is it?

  1. Oh Honey, I am so glad that I’ve stumbled here from my email inbox today. At this moment I’m sitting here recovering from tears of shame and grief as I shared with my councelor things that have likely resulted in lasting trauma to my kids. MUCH of their behavior and responses to stimuli are characteristic of PTSD. We have to start with THIS in their therapy! Thank you for this post!!! Can I quote you or repost this on my blog as a guest blogger?!

  2. Oh Mel, I am so very sorry sweety!!! I can only imagine how this must feel to you, and your sadness and grieving. Fortunately, you are in counseling and working through your own stuff – probably a lot that wasn’t your fault. Don’t be too ashamed, ok honey? Wish I was close to hug you to pieces and give you a shoulder to cry on!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Of course you can repost this and use it in whatever way you want.
    Much much love to you! You will get there and your kids too! You are so brave and courageous to face this stuff. Keep me in the loop. I’ll be thinking of you!

  3. ✶‿∗Heather

    love love love all we NEED is love

  4. I want to give you a big hug (even though I am, I have to admit, an awkward hugger). I have childhood trauma too, stuff I’m just beginning to deal with and understand. You’re exactly right. The only way forward is through it. And we will get through it. 🙂 Lots of love to you.

    • Hi Sharone!
      Thanks for the hug ;)!
      Yup, we know, don’t we? But you are right: we’ll get there, all the more stronger and wiser and a help to others, because we know…
      Take care!

  5. Fenny and everyone-
    As a survivor and one who has pushed through and am on the other side (not of the bipolar guess I’ll never be on the other side of that) but of the PTSD I’ve been frozen and screaming and crying, then shocked and denied and finally accepted and forgave. And I’ve moved on. It’s nice to let go of all of it. I avoid triggers, movies, books, etc. that remind me of what happened but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But you have to do the work to get there. And like you said Fenny, it takes everyone different amounts of time. But honesty and being kind to yourself goes a long way. Take care of yourself. It’s hard work. Hugs to everyone!!


    • Heather, thank you so much for the encouragemtn – I am on my way. Recently I felt the inner conviction that I’ll get through it, which I sort of believed, but now know for sure. So nice 😉 Even though it’s still gonna be hard work and not easy. Oh well, who cares?

  6. Hi Fenny. PLEASE link this up at monday madness. IT will be so helpful for many more than should be no doubt!

    I suffered PTSD – my meds stopped me having ‘episodes’ for a while and I hope once I’m off the meds they will remain gone. I cannot connect to the trauma so I cannot get rid of it… or come to terms with it. At the moment I’m reading a fabulous fiction book – the name of which escapes me but to find my kindle to find the title i’d have to wake my poor hubs up (he flew through the night) so I’d better not.

    Its a thriller about pedophiles and there is A LOT of talk with three of them. One whose counseling session we are privy to. The book is a UK one, though the UK publishers refused to publish it because of this content. It take a sympathetic view of some pedophiles you see – quite controversial. I have worked in hostels and met a few who were all about saying vile things to upset me. They loved me apparently – (at the time I weighed around seven stone and was flat chested – underdeveloped). It was just awful, and the other staff were told to never leave me alone with them. NICE! I wasn’t there long.

    I’ve also read a little on the subject while studying psychology. IT is a sick fascination – because I am a victim of abuse as a child, part of me really wants to understand. The female author who wrote this (very well written, if difficult to read) book must surely have spoken quite closely with pedophiles to get this kind of insight. She covers those who only look, to those who rape and kill. And all those in the middle. I’m only half way through and its going to be difficult to get to the end if it sticks so close to them and not close enough to the actual plot, however. I want to understand, but I don’t want to make myself ill either. PTSD is a beyatch!

    Shah. X

    • Shah, I tried and tried to link up with you, but to no avail 😦 I hope you got it sorted? I’ll go check later. Linky don’t wanna work with me, not just on your blog. *sigh* Hate when that happens.
      Wow – you are courageous to read such a book. I’m not sure if I coudl do it, even though I love psychology. Real tough stuff there!
      Hope you’ll be doing well with your PTSD!
      Thanks for your contribution 😉

  7. Another wonderful post filled with your characteristic intelligence and honesty Fenny! Having someone else explain something in a different way helps us realise we are not alone. Thank you.

  8. Pingback: Acute and Posttraumatic Stress Disorders

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