What does “traumatic” mean? The word “trauma” is often thrown around in everyday colloquial language – but what does it really mean? A traumatic event describes a deeply disturbing and distressing experience – often that the body perceives as life-threatening, either to one’s own life or the lives of others. Some examples could be the death of a loved one, natural disasters, being abused, losing a job, or even going through a divorce. Trauma does not have to result from one singular event – it can arise from weeks, months, or years of smaller traumatic events that compound on top of one another. These experiences can lead to difficulties with thoughts, emotions, social relationships, and physical functioning. These responses are known as psychological trauma.
After a traumatic event, your body and mind can sometimes continue to respond to events in the environment that it deems life-threatening, even when they aren’t. Sometimes, these events are similar enough to your traumatic experience that your body misinterprets it and incorrectly responds as if the threatening event is happening again, right now. Your body and mind go into fight-or-flight mode and believe they are in serious danger. Your body’s physiological responses often reflect this – sweating, increased heart rate, shortness of breath and so on. When these excessive physical reactions to non-threatening events begin to profoundly interfere with one’s everyday functioning, clinical, psychological problems can emerge in the form of Acute Stress Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Even if clinical criteria for a diagnosis for either of the above are not met, the aftermath of a traumatic experience can be incredibly harmful and disruptive to daily life. Sometimes, its effects look like a feeling of constant anxiety not specific to one thing or another – more of a general sense of worry or nervousness. If you or a loved one has recently experienced a traumatic event, and you just haven’t been able to “get back to normal” since, it may be time to talk to a counsellor to begin your path to healing.
Remember that traumas can look different for everyone – and so can their effects. Remember that there is no right-or-wrong way to feel. Our feelings are 100% real to us, all the time – whether or not we tell others about them, or even if others understand them. And – we can’t always control them. What we can control, however, are how we choose to react to them and how much we let them control our lives. Trauma can be complicated, especially if its precipitating events reach back years in life. It is important to remember that though the trauma may feel suffocating and terrifying at times, it can – and will – get better with proper treatment and support.