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What is Trauma?

What is Trauma?



By Mary Ferrara LCSW-R, CASAC

By Mary Ferrara LCSW-R

By Mary Ferrara LCSW-R

Trauma is the emotional response we feel to a distressing event like natural disasters, accidents, abuse and assault, bullying, combat, serious medical illness, mental illness, addiction, attachment loss, and death. Trauma is subjective; something that is traumatizing to me may not be traumatizing to you. How our body responds to trauma can vary based on what feels the safest for us at the time; we may silently wait, run away, hide, or fight to defend and protect.

In most cases, fear and distress will resolve naturally. However, in some instances, the emotional experience may persist long after the traumatic event has passed. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs when triggers bring back memories of the trauma accompanied by intense emotional and physical reactions. PTSD may last months or years following a terrifying event and can affect anyone at any age.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Heightened anxiety and difficulty relaxing, constantly feeling uneasy and on edge.
  • Nightmares of the traumatic event.
  • Flashbacks - vivid reliving experiences as if you were in that situation again.
  • Hypervigilance or quick startle response to factors that remind you of the trauma. This can include sensitivity to environmental arousal- loud noises, people walking into a room, a phone rings, etc...
  • Fear-based thinking and ruminating- when you can’t stop thinking about the trauma.
  • Avoidance of external reminders (smells, places, or people that are associated with the trauma.

Trauma does not only include a single event; it can develop over time involving multiple traumatic events. Repeated traumatization can consist of- growing up in an abusive household riddled with substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty, living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, or chronic bullying, and can result in Complex-PTSD. This developmental trauma affects our attachment style, emotion and behavior regulation, cognitive functions, and other executive functions such as planfulness and self-direction. 

Those experiencing C-PTSD can mentally disconnect from the present and may lose track of time and memory. They may be aggressive with poor ability to manage stress and frustration. One of the primary effects of this trauma is poor self-esteem. Large bodies of research demonstrate this trauma style's long-lasting effects on confidence, shame, guilt, body image, and “Integrated sense of self,” leaving youth vulnerable and internally fractured. C-PTSD often manifests in relationships and can hinder identity formation. 

Treatment of PTSD and C-PTSD is ever-growing and one of the most needed areas of research and intervention in our present time. To date, various treatment options exist, including Trauma-Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Schema-Based Therapy, and Attachment Therapy, all of which aim to enhance self-regulation and create a relational bridge to heal soul wounds. The use of psychotropic medications in conjunction with trauma-informed Psychotherapy has resulted in the most effective treatment outcomes. 

If a child in your life needs support, Hopscotch has a variety of trauma-focused therapists that can help them discover skills and improve coping strategies to better respond to reminders and emotions associated with the traumatic event. Visit to find a therapist near you.

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