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Developing Our Awareness of Trauma

Childhood trauma is something I’m aware of on a personal level. My book, Bars, Dumps and Other Childhood Hangouts ( shares my journey of childhood abuse. It took many years and the support of family, friends, and professional counselors to help me understand and manage the pain and losses of my childhood. Much of the information here is from a presentation I’ve developed on trauma. This is the first of several blogs on this topic during April, which is Child Abuse Prevention month. I hope the information gives you a deeper understanding of this topic.

In Greek, the word trauma means wound. According to the APA definition, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or a natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical.

“There is no one way to recover and heal from any trauma. Each survivor chooses their path or stumbles across it.”–Laurie Matthew

The severity of the trauma does not affect everyone the same. Each person’s journey is unique. The effect of the traumatic event is based on many factors. The person’s age, gender, position in society, history, and experiences all play a part in the response.

The duration and severity can, although not always, affect how the person deals with the trauma. If an experience affects your life negatively, it’s important to recognize and work on it. If we do not deal with it appropriately, physical and mental health problems can develop. A person can develop PTSD which stands for post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the symptoms of PTSD:

Intrusive memories

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:

  • · Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the traumatic event

  • · Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again (flashbacks)

  • · Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event

  • · Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event


Symptoms of avoidance may include:

  • · Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event

  • · Avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event

Negative changes in thinking and mood

Symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood may include:

  • · Negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world

  • · Hopelessness about the future

  • · Memory problems, including not remembering important aspects of the traumatic event

  • · Difficulty maintaining close relationships

  • · Feeling detached from family and friends

  • · Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed

  • · Difficulty experiencing positive emotions

  • · Feeling emotionally numb

Changes in physical and emotional reactions

Symptoms of changes in physical and emotional reactions (also called arousal symptoms) may include:

  • · Being easily startled or frightened

  • · Always being on guard for danger

  • · Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much or driving too fast

  • · Trouble sleeping

  • · Trouble concentrating

  • · Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior

  • · Overwhelming guilt or shame

Types of Traumas

There are also several types of trauma. These include acute, chronic, complex trauma, and neglect.

Acute Trauma: A single traumatic event that lasts for a limited period. Examples: natural disaster, dog bite, or car accident. A child experiencing acute trauma can recover with the right help and support from the adults in their life.

Chronic Abuse: When a person, adult or child, experiences many traumatic events, often over a long period. This type of trauma may refer to multiple and varied events, such as a child exposed to community violence or recurrent events of the same kind, such as physical or sexual abuse. Chronic trauma differs from complex trauma because it is outside the child’s primary relationships. The primary caregivers are not the one perpetrating the trauma. However, chronic abuse is also a part of complex trauma.

Complex Trauma: Multiple traumatic events that begin at a very early age and are caused by the actions or inactions of adults who should have been caring for and protecting the child. When trauma begins early and is caused by the very people on whom the child relies on for love and protection, it can have profound effects on a child’s physical and psychological development. Complex trauma also depends on the severity, duration, and age at which the trauma starts. The earlier the trauma begins, the more impact will have on the child's life.

Neglect: Failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, medical, educational, and emotional needs. Since neglect results from “omissions” in care, rather than “actions of commission” such as physical or sexual abuse, it might seem less traumatic. However, it can be worse. For an infant or very young child who completely depends on adults for care, being left alone in a crib, in a wet, dirty diaper, suffering from the pain of hunger and exhausted from hours of crying, neglect feels like a very real threat to survival.

For older children, not having proper care, attention, and supervision often opens the door to other traumatic events, such as accidents, sexual abuse, and community violence. Neglect can make children feel abandoned and worthless, and reduce their ability to recover from traumatic events.

Also, neglect can have a powerful impact on the child’s sense of self and worth. It may seem strange to us, but if the primary caregivers in a child’s life are hitting them, they are still connecting with the child. It is a terrible connection, but a connection. If this is the only way a child gets attention from the caregiver, it may feel better than nothing. However, if an adult ignores the child and doesn’t care for them, it can make the child feel invisible to the adult, and this can have a more devastating effect on the child.

Trauma is a wide field with many variations. It can happen in any circumstance. A traumatic event is a horrible experience. There are many factors that shape a person’s response to the event. The effects of trauma and abuse do not stop when a person becomes an adult. Abuse early in life affects a person throughout their life. But there is hope. A person can recover from the harm they suffered early in life. My life and many other survivors are a testament to this.

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