Trauma is a psychological response to an event or series of events that cause physical, emotional, and/or mental harm. The effects of trauma can be short- or long-term, and severity can vary depending on the individual. Research shows us that trauma can affect everyone differently. There are several trauma types to know about. Read on to learn about each of them.
When we think of psychological trauma, we often think of a single event that causes great harm or pain. However, different types of traumas can occur throughout our lives. Trauma isn’t limited to physical events; it can also be emotional or psychological in nature. Some common trauma symptoms can include:
Flashbacks or intrusive memories of the traumatic event
Nightmares about the event
Avoidance of people, places, things, or situations that remind you of the event
Feeling numb or disconnected from others
Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Believing the world is a dangerous place and that you can’t trust anyone
Feeling unable to experience pleasure
“Trauma can be caused by various situations ranging from natural disasters to abuse, vehicle accidents, and more.”
– Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT
While most people are familiar with the concept of trauma, many are unaware of the different types of trauma that exist. Trauma can be classified as acute, chronic, or complex.
1. Acute trauma
Acute trauma is a psychological trauma that occurs in response to a single, highly stressful event. For example, it can come after experiencing a natural disaster, seeing a bad car accident, or witnessing violence. Acute trauma can lead to long-term mental health problems if not appropriately addressed.
Examples of acute trauma
Acute trauma can come from a single event threatening your life or safety. It can also result from an act of violence against you or after witnessing a traumatic event happening to someone else.
This type of trauma can lead to acute stress disorder (ASD), which is a mental health condition typically appearing within 3 days of a traumatizing event and lasting up to 1 month.
2. Chronic trauma
Chronic trauma is a response to ongoing or repeated traumatic experiences. It differs from acute trauma in this sense, as acute trauma occurs after just one traumatic experience or event.
Examples of chronic trauma
Chronic trauma can result from any of the following:
Physical abuse: Physical abusers often use force to control their victims. They may hit, kick, choke, or throw things at them — the list goes on. It’s common for physical abusers to threaten their victims and use fear and intimidation to control them.
Sexual abuse: Sexual abusers often take advantage of people who are weaker than they are. They may be in a position of power over their victim, making it easier for them to coerce or force them into sexual acts. Victims of sexual abuse often suffer from flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes even long after the initial event occurred.
Emotional abuse: Emotional abusers try to chip away at self-esteem by putting their victims down constantly or making them feel bad about themselves.
Domestic violence: Domestic violence can cause chronic trauma. It’s not always physical abuse either — mental and emotional torture can be just as debilitating. Domestic violence targets every aspect of a person’s life to control them. It leaves long-term scars that can be difficult to deal with for years after the abuse has stopped.
Poverty: Growing up in poverty can result in chronic trauma. Children who grow up below the poverty line are more likely to see violence, witness drug use, and not have enough food or adequate shelter. This can lead to lasting effects such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more.
3. Complex trauma
Complex trauma is a type of stress similar to generational trauma that can occur when someone experiences multiple, chronic, or prolonged exposure to traumatizing events. It can happen to both children and adults. However, complex traumas like abandonment trauma, for example, are more common among those who experienced abuse or neglect during childhood.
Complex trauma can cause long-term problems with physical and mental health. Forming and maintaining healthy relationships can also be very isolating and challenging.
Examples of complex trauma
Complex trauma can harm mental and physical health due to repeated, continued traumatization. It can be the result of things like:
Childhood abuse or neglect
Trauma can come from many places or experiences. It can happen to anyone at any time and has lasting effects. Some sources of trauma might include the following:
Witnessing or experiencing violence
Witnessing or being directly involved in a violent act can be traumatizing. It might include seeing or experiencing domestic abuse, sexual assault, child abuse, war combat, or anything else that’s graphic and violent.
Being involved in or witnessing a serious accident
A shocking accident can be jarring and cause trauma, whether you’re directly involved or just a witness to it.
Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can all be factors that lead to a traumatic response.
Rape or a violent assault can be the source of a traumatic reaction, whether you’re the one who experienced the attack or someone close to you did.
Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, wildfires, or any other natural disaster can be more than just frightening. They can be traumatic, especially if they cause death, displacement, or food or housing insecurity.
Death — especially if it’s sudden or unexpected — of a loved one can be traumatic for anyone to cope with.
If you or someone you love has experienced any of the types of traumas we’ve discussed here, seeking professional help can be instrumental in learning to cope with the aftermath and healing. Trauma isn’t something you have to go through alone, and certain coping mechanisms like trauma dumping can do more harm than good.
“Determining who will develop a trauma-related disorder is incredibly difficult, as every person will respond to traumatic incidents in their own unique ways. It’s important to note that some people may experience an event as highly traumatic, while others may not experience the same event as traumatic. If you’re dealing with the effects of trauma, finding a trauma-informed therapist is an excellent option.”
It’s important to be aware of the different trauma types so you can understand how they might impact your mental and physical health. If you’re struggling with the aftermath of trauma, please know that you’re not alone. Many people have been through similar experiences and understand what you’re going through, and therapy can help you heal.
When it comes to how to deal with trauma, online trauma therapy with Talkspace can make the process of getting help simple. In just a few clicks, you’ll be connected with a therapist who understands what you’re going through. Talkspace therapists are experienced in trauma therapy and can help you work through your feelings and recover from traumatic experiences you’ve endured.
Understanding the impact of trauma. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/. Published 2014. Accessed November 23, 2022.
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