What the hell is trauma anyway? A quick primer.

by | Primers, Trauma, Vicarious Trauma

this article contains non-specific descriptions of traumatic events.

Trauma is a word that’s tossed around so often at the moment, but it’s something that many people don’t have a great handle on.

This article is a quick primer. When we talk about trauma, we’re essentially diving into two distinct categories: “little t trauma” and “big T Trauma.”

First, little “t” trauma.

These are the experiences that shake us to our core, like a natural disaster, the loss of a cherished loved one, or a sudden accident. They’re the kind of events that leave a mark, but they don’t always develop into something more.

Now, onto the main act – big “T” Trauma.

This is where things get serious. We’re talking about the psychological injury that results from an event like the ones I’ve described above.

Most of us will face a traumatic event at some point in our lives, but not all of these events evolve into full-blown Trauma.

So, what’s the secret ingredient that tips the scales? To put it simply, it’s exposure without the tools or opportunities to process and pack away those experiences neatly. Imagine it like a wound that never quite heals, always ready to reopen.

Let’s set one thing straight – grappling with the aftermath of a traumatic event doesn’t instantly mean you’ve got a lifelong disorder. For some, the struggle may only linger for a few weeks as things settle down. Others might find themselves in a months-long tug-of-war with the symptoms they deal with. Both scenarios are entirely normal.

Trauma Symptoms

Most people have strong physical and emotional reactions for days and weeks following a traumatic experience. This is totally normal. Some of these symptoms include:

1. Physical

Disturbed sleep, being easily startled, being constantly alert, fatigue and exhaustion, muscle aches and general pain.

2. Emotional

Fear, numbness, detachment, sadness, guilt, shame, anger, worry, irritability.

3. Cognitive

Brain fog, intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, problems with memory and concentration, visual images of what happened, disorientation

4. Behavioural

Avoidance of the place it happened or where you went immediately after, isolation, loss of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal.

Again, experiencing some or all of these is the way a brain heals, adjusts, and makes sense out of what has happened.

Trauma & PTSD

Now, onto the infamous PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a mental health condition where the effects of trauma continue to impact someone’s day-to-day life. Not everyone who goes through a traumatic event develops PTSD.

Crucially, let’s debunk some myths: PTSD is not a personal failing, and it’s not a testament to one’s character or strength. It doesn’t arise from a lack of resilience, and it’s certainly not made up. It’s a genuine restructuring and rewiring of the brain – the mind’s valiant effort to shield us after the foundations of safety and our sense of the world have been shattered.

What do we make of this information?

As we unravel the intricacies of trauma, remember that awareness is your ally. Knowing what trauma looks like and recognising the ways it can impact people allows us to have more compassion for ourselves when something does happen, and to have understanding for others.

If you or someone you know is struggling in the aftermath of a traumatic event, seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. The journey toward recovery often involves understanding, compassion, and professional assistance. Don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health professionals who specialise in trauma if needed.

Trauma recovery is a testament to the remarkable adaptability of the human mind. Trauma survivors are not defined by their experiences; they are defined by their resilience and their capacity for growth.

Let’s continue this conversation, use our time to find good ways to support one another, and together, we can work toward a world where healing is accessible, stigma is dismantled, and trauma survivors have the resources that they need to not just recover, but thrive.

About the Author

Alicia Louise she/they Alicia is a founder of Reflex, a mental health educator, and a lived-experience advocate. She has a special interest in the intersection of mental health and community care. In her down time, she enjoys art, music, and design.

About Reflex

This article was brought to you by Reflex Response Services, a trauma counselling and support charity based in Newcastle, Australia.

If you’d like more information about our services, visit http://reflex.org.au, sign up to our newsletter, and follw us on social media.

Your support allows us to continue providing life-saving services and high quality resources to people who need them.

Related Posts

The Stress Response Cycle

The Stress Response Cycle

Let’s talk about closing open browser tabs. Every time we encounter something stressful, we begin a stress response cycle. We open a new tab in our brain’s browser, and it has to go through a few processes before we can close it. If it doesn’t go through these...

What Should I do if I’m Exposed to a Traumatic Situation?

What Should I do if I’m Exposed to a Traumatic Situation?

This post contains non-specific descriptions of traumatic events, and trauma responses. Firstly, I want to take a second. If you've recently been exposed to a traumatic event, I'm sorry. This is a tough situation to be in, and it's a really great thing that you've...

Vicarious Trauma & Trauma Work

Vicarious Trauma & Trauma Work

This post may contain some non specific descriptions of trauma. If a primary trauma is one you experience yourself, a secondary, or vicarious trauma happens when you're exposed to the trauma of other people. This is especially common among trauma workers. When we...

Did you find this valuable?

Share on Social Media

Make a Donation

Everything we do is made possible by the support of our community. Your donations make it possible to continue providing free resources to people who need them.