What is Trauma?

Unlike simple stress, trauma changes your view of your life and yourself. It shatters your most basic assumptions about yourself and your world — “Life is good,” “I’m safe,” “People are kind,” “I can trust others,” “The future is likely to be good” — and replaces them with feelings like “The world is dangerous,” “I can’t win,” “I can’t trust other people,” or “There’s no hope.”― Mark Goulston MD

Clinically we define Trauma as a set of responses to any event, perceived or real, which is deeply distressing or disturbing. Trauma overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes hyper-vigilance and creates feelings of helplessness. It also robs a person’s sense of self and their ability to fully feel a wide range of emotions and experiences. These effects can be felt throughout a person’s life if they don’t receive treatment.

Response to a traumatic event varies significantly among people, but there are some common symptoms which include:

Emotional signs of trauma include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Helplessness
  • Anxiety and Depression

Other symptoms include:

  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Inability to advocate for yourself
  • Hyper-Vigilence


Common physical symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal problems

As PTSD is defined as a response to any situation that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope, there are no objective criteria to evaluate which events will cause post-trauma symptoms. However, circumstances usually involve the loss of control, betrayal, abuse of power, helplessness, pain, confusion and/or loss. The event doesn’t need to involve war, natural disaster or assault to affect a person. Traumatic situations which cause post-trauma symptoms vary and are very subjective.