Traumatic experiences can occur in a broad range of contexts and circumstances. In fact, a traumatic reaction is a completely subjective experience – different people interpret and react to the same types of situations very differently. It’s not the incident that determines whether something is traumatic or not, but rather your personal experience of it.
Certain characteristics can make you more susceptible to being affected by trauma compared to other people.
If you have a shy or sensitive temperament, you may react more strongly to traumatic experiences (some people are genetically more resilient to trauma than others). If you experienced trauma at a young age, when you were more vulnerable and less able to understand disturbing events, you probably have been impacted by subtle traumas more severely than you would later in life.
When people think of trauma, they often think of situations that have a physical impact, like a car accident or violent attack. But, very often, trauma occurs on a purely emotional level, where there is no physical impact. This is known as “emotional trauma.” Examples include:
• Verbal and emotional abuse
• Abandonment and neglect
• A painful relationship breakup
• Family problems
The phrase “emotional trauma” also describes the emotional impact of experiences that affected you in a physical way. For example:
• Physical or sexual abuse
• An injury or accident
• A violent attack
• Invasive medical or dental procedures
• Catastrophic events or natural disasters
Something that makes trauma and abuse so difficult is that once a traumatic event is over, the impact of that trauma can continue to affect you. Trauma not only creates painful feelings, but it also reinforces negative thinking. For example, if you felt rejected by one of your parents when you were a child, you may still believe That you are not valuable or lovable. If you were abused in some way, you may still feel that your not safe or that you can’t protect yourself.
Trauma can also lead to self-defeating behaviors. After going through a traumatic experience, it’s natural that you would shift toward behaviors that help you to cope with the pain of your trauma and protect you from future trauma. For example, to numb your pain you might start drinking or engaging in compulsive behaviors. Out of fear of rejection, you may become “clingy” or “needy” in your relationship. Or, you may stay away from social situations to avoid the possibility of feeling embarrassed.
Fortunately, trauma and the symptoms that it creates in your life can be addressed!