We don’t always have the words or categories to explain the things that happen to us. One of the first steps to addressing our problems is to have the right words to describe the issue and a proper understanding of it. Trauma is, unfortunately, an everyday reality with which we must contend. Understanding what it is, what causes it, the different types of trauma, and how it is treated, can help one overcome it effectively.

Defining trauma

According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.”

Trauma thus has an impact on how a person functions and copes with everyday life. The emotional, psychological, and physical harm a person experiences during a traumatic event may undermine their ability to function well and can diminish their sense of well-being.

People react differently to traumatic events; some people develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), while others may not have PTSD but experience symptoms akin to PTSD immediately after they go through a traumatic experience.

Whatever kind of trauma you or a loved one go through, if you find it affecting daily functioning and peace of mind, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible to process what you’ve gone through.

Different types of trauma

Trauma can affect a person physically, emotionally, or psychologically. The trauma that a person experiences may be easily overlooked, such as the trauma occurring during childbirth or when undergoing surgery. Since childbirth is typically associated with joy, the pain, fear, and complications one might experience often get dismissed or minimized.

Other traumas that people undergo may be ongoing, such as when a person has a serious chronic illness, or if they live in an abusive relationship such as with an abusive partner or parent. These long-lasting and ongoing traumas can be contrasted with other traumas that occur once or that last for a brief period, such as being involved in a car accident or getting caught in a terrorist attack.

Though trauma occurs in various ways, some common experiences can be termed “traumatic.” Some of these include the following.

  • Being assaulted or witnessing an assault.
  • Abuse, whether physical or sexual.
  • Being involved in a car accident.
  • The death of a loved one.
  • Going through a divorce.
  • Experiencing family or parental abandonment.
  • Facing or undergoing imprisonment.
  • Job loss.
  • Being a witness to a crime, an accident, or death.
  • Experiencing or witnessing a natural disaster like an earthquake, flood, or hurricane.
  • Being injured physically.
  • Undergoing a serious or life-threatening illness.
  • Being caught up in a terrorist attack.
  • Experiencing violence.

It’s important to recognize that sometimes trauma occurs even when you’re not the person who has been injured or who experienced the event. Sometimes, hearing about the traumatic incident or helping others who have experienced the traumatic incident can traumatize you.

That is why people employed in helping professions such as mental health professionals, first responders, and law enforcement officials can often become traumatized by being in regular contact with others’ experiences of trauma.

Symptoms and signs of trauma

People don’t always respond to trauma in the same way, so it can be difficult to ascertain when a person is responding normally to trauma or otherwise. Some common reactions to a traumatic event include:

Being hypervigilant

After a traumatic event occurs, it’s normal to be on edge and more aware of your surroundings than before. This is how our bodies try to protect us, by making us more aware of potential sources of danger that we may have ignored before. Trauma makes you more sensitive to the things happening around you.

Feeling unsafe

Connected with hypervigilance, a traumatic event can make you feel unsafe. You can begin to question your assumptions about your safety and spaces you once considered safe may become threatening or seem dangerous to you. Activities that you once considered humdrum may seem risky after the traumatic event.

Intrusive thoughts and memories

Thoughts, images, and memories from the traumatic event can impose themselves on you in everyday life after a traumatic event. These can be triggered randomly, but they can also spring up when you encounter something that is associated with the traumatic event, such as a particular smell, image, or a person connected to the trauma.


Along with being hypervigilant, you’ll likely be more on edge after experiencing a traumatic event. Your fight or flight response will be on a hair trigger, and you may feel more anxious and fearful in everyday circumstances.


In other circumstances, you may find yourself avoiding certain people, activities, situations, or things that are connected with the traumatic event. While it’s normal, avoidance can snowball into worsening symptoms, so you should keep an eye on any avoidance behaviors you exhibit. Additionally, if you find yourself drifting away from people or from activities you used to enjoy, that can lead to isolation, and it might be a sign of depression.

How to cope effectively

As with other things in life, you can respond to trauma in healthy or unhealthy ways. One unhealthy way that people try to cope with trauma is to avoid certain thoughts or feelings due to the discomfort they engender. It’s natural to steer yourself away from painful thoughts and memories, but over the long term, it can affect your mental and emotional well-being.

Another unhealthy way to cope with trauma is to try to numb the pain and distress through substance abuse. Whether through alcohol, recreational drugs, or other substances, people can try to avoid painful memories instead of reckoning with them.

Instead of avoiding or trying to numb the pain, there are other, healthy ways of dealing with trauma.

Find and make use of your support

Talk with other people who have gone through a similar experience, or with a counselor who can walk with you as you process your emotions about the experience.

Connect with loved ones

In line with finding support, don’t isolate yourself from loved ones. Allow the people in your life to support you in whatever way they can, as that can help you deal effectively with the trauma you’ve experienced.

Make self-care a priority

Make sure that you take care of your body by getting good sleep, eating regular and nutritious meals, having regular exercise that engages you, and having a self-care routine that maintains your overall well-being. This includes incorporating a routine or schedule to minimize disruptions in your life and add some predictability in your life at a time when life likely feels out of control.

Acknowledge and validate your feelings

Whatever you’ve gone through, it’s important to acknowledge the experience and your feelings about it. You don’t have to talk to others about it, but it’s important to own what happened and not try to ignore or push away your feelings about it. Don’t use work, activities, company, or unhealthy habits like substance abuse to avoid dealing with what you’ve experienced.

Finding help

A traumatic event or experience can be devastating, upending your life and your sense of safety and well-being. Thankfully, with help you or your loved one can find constructive ways of managing unruly emotions and thoughts marked by the trauma. Speak with a mental health professional such as a therapist, counselor, or psychologist. They can help you understand what you’re going through, including the symptoms you may be experiencing.

Your counselor can also help you process your emotions about the trauma and give you tools to help you cope effectively. The treatment plan your counselor comes up with may include talk therapy, self-care, medication, or a combination of these. The goal of treatment is to help one cultivate a healthy sense of self and an integrated emotional response to the trauma that promotes well-being and functioning.

Through techniques such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), one’s experience of the trauma and response to it can be processed and integrated into a healthy self-understanding. Your doctor may prescribe medications as well to address symptoms of trauma such as anxiety or depression.

Healing and wholeness after trauma are possible. The Lord can bind our deepest wounds and restore joy and life. Reach out to a Christian counselor to find out more about counseling for trauma, or to begin addressing your trauma today.

“Breakers”, Corutesy of Ave Calvar, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License


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