Emotional & Mental Wellness
12 Very Common Examples of Trauma
By Cody Mitts, Licensed Professional Counselor
What is the definition of trauma?
Experiencing something traumatic can have a profound effect on your life. It changes the way you think, feel, and experience life on a daily basis. The difficult part of defining trauma is that there’s really an unlimited number of things you can experience as being traumatic.
The key to understanding the definition of trauma is that it’s not really about what happens to you that matters, it’s how you experienced that event that matters.
The best definition of trauma is any experience that overwhelms your thoughts, emotions, or body.
Trauma is a very personal experience. How you remember an event can be very different from how someone else experienced the very same thing.
You can see this when two children are raised in the same home, with the same parents and siblings, and have very different memories or experiences of what it was like growing up in the same family.
When you experience something that overwhelms you it can rewire your brain and body. One of the biggest things trauma affects is your nervous system.
A traumatic situation can change how your brain interprets information. This can affect your memory, moods, emotions, and your feelings of safety and security.
After you experience trauma your body begins to live on high alert. You become very sensitive to your surroundings which is known as hyper-awareness. Things that might seem insignificant to other people can trigger strong feelings for you.
This is why understanding the effects of trauma is so important. Many people suffer from trauma without realizing it and this way of life becomes your new normal.
As a trauma therapist in Denver I’ve come to believe that everyone experiences trauma throughout life! Here I’ll share 12 very common examples of trauma that can impact your life.
1) Being verbally or emotionally abused
Perhaps one of the most common forms of trauma is emotional abuse. This can be a common form of trauma because emotional abuse can take many different forms. Sometimes it’s easy for emotional abuse to be hidden or unrecognized.
Verbal abuse is one form of emotional abuse because what someone says to you can have a major impact on your emotions.
Emotional abuse can take place in any relationship. A parent making a harmful comment towards their child, a significant other yelling at you or calling you a name, or a boss that bullies their employees.
2) Being physically or sexually abused
Physical and sexual abuse are also common examples of trauma. These two types of trauma fall are similar because both involve a violation of your body and your physical boundaries.
One of the major ways that trauma can leave an impact is by affecting how you feel in your body. After you’ve experienced a physical or sexual trauma you might not feel comfortable in your own skin.
After this type of abuse you can feel uncomfortable with certain types of physical contact, or you might not want to be touched at all.
Sometimes trauma can affect your body by taking away pleasure. It might be difficult to enjoy a sexual or physical relationship after you’ve experienced this type of trauma.
3) Being neglected as a child
There are many examples of childhood trauma, but one form of childhood trauma that can have a major impact on your life is childhood neglect.
Childhood neglect is when your parent or caregiver wasn’t able to or didn’t take care of your physical or emotional needs as a kid.
Examples of not meeting your physical needs can include not feeding you when you were hungry, not helping you bathe and clean yourself or your clothes, or not providing you with proper medical care when you needed it.
Emotional neglect is when your caregiver didn’t support your basic emotional needs. Perhaps they didn’t comfort you when you felt afraid or sad. They may have taught you that you couldn’t cry or express any emotional need in your life.
Trauma from childhood neglect can have a major impact on your relationships as an adult and affect your ability to regulate your own moods and emotions.
Trauma is any experience that overwhelms your thoughts, emotions, or body.
4) Experiencing spiritual or religious abuse
One of type of trauma that doesn’t get talked about very often is spiritual or religious abuse.
This type of abuse happens when religion is used to control or manipulate you. Spirituality is a very personal experience for many people and it can be easy to hide this form of abuse.
One example of religious trauma is a parent not providing you with proper medical care when you’re sick because they believe that God or prayer would heal you.
Religious abuse has occurred for some people in the LGBTQ community through forms of therapy such as conversion therapy or sending you to an organization with the goal of changing your sexual orientation.
Any form of trauma whether it is spiritual, physical, mental, or emotional has an impact on how you feel and how you experience the world.
5) Being in an accident or natural disaster
If you’ve ever experienced an accident such as a car wreck, an injury that occurred due to your work, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time you’ve experienced something traumatic.
Perhaps you don’t remember this situation as traumatic if you were able to cope with it and move on easily. Sometimes this type of trauma can have a life changing effect depending on how severe the incident was, and your own ability to cope with what happened.
A natural disaster such as a flood, fire, or a hurricane can be very traumatic. These types of disasters can take away people you love, destroy your home or possessions, or cause overwhelming fear when they happen.
6) Being physically attacked or assaulted
A physical attack or an assault can teach you that the world isn’t a safe place. When your body is harmed physically it leaves a lasting impact.
Physical harm can lead to symptoms referred to as flashbacks. A flashback occurs when your body and mind lose track of reality and you relive something painful from your past.
These types of situations can be experienced as a sudden flash of rage when you feel threatened by something or crippling fear when you feel you’re in danger.
Your physical responses are one of the main things affected by a trauma. Your body doesn’t want to get hurt so it goes on high alert looking for any sign of possible danger. It’s a very uncomfortable way to go through the world.
Physical assault happens more frequently than you might expect. One study found that 1 in 4 high school students has been in at least one physical fight.
7) Witnessing domestic abuse or violence
Seeing something abusive or violent can have a powerful effect even if the violence isn’t committed against you.
Growing up in a home where you witnessed abusive behavior or violence puts you at a much higher risk for experiencing mental health or behavior problems.
The earlier in life you experience trauma also has an impact on how you respond to it. Experiencing trauma at a very young age is known as pre-verbal trauma. This type of trauma can affect your life even though you don’t have a specific memory of what happened later in life.
8) Witnessing bodily harm or death
Seeing someone physically injured or killed can be a traumatic experience. Witnessing these types of events can overwhelm your mind and emotions.
Repeatedly being exposed to these types of situations can also have an affect your life. The type of job you have can expose you to more bodily injuries.
This is why people who have medical careers such as nurses, or paramedics as well as first responders such as fire fighters and police officers experience higher rates of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicide.
9) A sudden or violent death in your life
Death can be a traumatic life experience. When you lose someone unexpectedly or in a violent way it can have an ever bigger impact on your emotions and thoughts.
An unexpected death doesn’t allow your emotions any time to prepare for the emotional pain you experience. This type of shock to your emotions can be too much and your emotions and your grief may shut down due to feeling flooded with emotion.
Some of these types of loss include losing someone to suicide, someone being killed in an accident, or someone being killed in a violent way.
10) Witnessing community violence
Experiencing community violence can have a big impact on your life because it leaves you feeling like the world isn’t a safe place. These events often happen unexpectedly and can traumatize a whole community of people.
Community violence is experienced every day by communities through gang violence or living in a place where political violence, or genocide is occurring.
This type of trauma is also becoming experienced more frequently through violence such as a mass shooting at a school or public place. Sometimes groups of people are targeted for religious reasons such as a church, or for how people identify such as the Pulse shooting that took place at an LGBTQ bar in Miami.
11) A fear of harm or high stress environment
One form of trauma that can easily be missed is being in an environment where you’re in danger of harm or in a consistently high stress environment. Some times this type of trauma is referred to as complex trauma.
With complex trauma you’re exposed to a stressful or traumatic situation repeatedly. This can take place over months, years, and even decades.
One example is a job such as a police officer, a correctional officer, providing security, or any job where you’re aware that danger could potentially happen without warning.
Another form of this is living in an abusive environment where you have to “walk on eggshells” because you don’t want to do something that could put you at risk of being emotionally or physically harmed.
This form of trauma can be overlooked because there may not be one particular incident that caused your trauma, rather it’s the small accumulation of stress or abuse that takes place over time.
12) Exposure to school violence
One form of trauma that’s being acknowledged more is exposure to school violence.
According to research there have been 131 homicides and assaults with a firearm that took place at a school over the last six years.
One particular form of school violence that is on the rise is cyberbullying. One 2017 study found that 15% of high school students have experienced cyberbullying in the last twelve months.
Experiencing abuse or trauma at a younger age puts you at a higher risk for other mental health problems including addiction, depression, PTSD and anxiety. Some of the symptoms of trauma can often look like other problems such as ADHD or inattentiveness at school.
Understanding the impact of trauma
Experiencing trauma leaves a lasting impact. It changes how you view relationships, people, and the world.
While everyone experiences some form of trauma in their life, we all respond differently to these experiences.
There are many things that can affect how trauma impacts your life. The age which you experienced the trauma, how long the experience took place, the type of support you had in your life, and personality factors can all influence how you were able to cope with a traumatic situation.
The important thing to recognize is that your trauma doesn’t have to control your life. Healing after your trauma is possible.
If you’ve experienced something traumatic there are people and resources in your community that can help. Check out some of these resources for trauma and PTSD.
Cody Mitts, MA, NCC, LPC
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