What Makes a Trauma?


What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word “trauma”? In my experience, it seems most people think of war, combat stories, rape, car accidents, etc. And while those things could definitely all be considered traumatic; the truth is that ANY event in your life could be a trauma – it really all depends on your reaction to it. Trauma is incredibly subjective, meaning it looks different to different people. What is traumatic for one may not be for another.

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as, “an emotional response to a terrible event.” It is the response that makes it a trauma. Does this mean that what happened to you wasn’t awful? Absolutely not. But it does mean there are more things in life that could be considered traumatic than one might realize.

If you are wondering if you have been through something traumatic, there are a few key questions you want to ask yourself:

  • Did you experience something in which you thought you or someone else was going to be seriously hurt?
  • Did you feel intense fear, helplessness, or horror at the time of this experience?

Answering yes to both of those questions could be enough to qualify a situation as a trauma. There is a lot of wiggle room! When you think of someone being seriously hurt, do you imagine a physical hurt or an emotional one? Did you hear about something terrible that happened to a friend or relative? Those could also fall under the trauma umbrella. As always, consult with a licensed mental health provider to discuss a true diagnosis, like those of us at Hope and Healing Psychotherapy, LLC.

The reality is, most people end up with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from events related to everyday life situations, not necessarily just one major event. Some surprising experiences that could be categorized as traumatic include bullying, emotional child abuse such as withholding affection, the death of a loved one (even if their death was anticipated), witnessing domestic violence (even if you aren’t a part of it), and more.

The truth of the matter is most of us are collectively living through traumatic times right now. Covid-19 and the effects of adjusting to life as we now know it has been stressful. Do not discount what you have been through and continue to go through when it comes to stressful experiences.

People often put off treatment because they think their life isn’t “bad enough” or what they went through was normal to them, so it must not count. Neither of these thoughts are true. Try not to compare your insides with another person’s outsides. We are all unique human beings with reasons why things affect us in certain ways. You don’t need to justify your trauma to anyone but yourself, so let’s try and give ourselves the validation we sometimes need.

No matter what the road of life has put in your way, there is hope for recovery. Contact Hope and Healing Psychotherapy today to begin your healing journey.


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