The word trauma is associated with many different experiences. These can include distinct threatening or distressing events such as Covid 19, accidents, natural disasters, or devastating losses.
Trauma occurs when a person or group is confronted with a threat to themselves or others and that threat overwhelms their coping resources, evoking responses of intense helplessness distress, or fear for personal safety. Defensive and protective responses are controlled by survival instincts, resulting in recurring patterns of fight, flight, or freeze behaviours. As a result, there is an interference in the person’s, ability to function well or adapt effectively.
The impact of an overwhelmingly threatening experience, can be incredibly pervasive and affect a person’s physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual health. The pervasiveness of trauma and its widespread impact on a person’s life may be hidden under physical, emotional, or behavioural symptoms that don’t get recognized for what they are. At first glance, it’s not always clear that someone’s current perspective or life choices are being influenced by post traumatic experiences.
It can be helpful to think of trauma as a wound – often an invisible wound – that requires active attention. If not recognized or directly attended to, the injury can deepen and become multi-layered, which may lead to deepening symptoms and, in some situations, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Without recognition and proper care, the complex impacts of trauma can be mistaken by others for inherent characteristics of a person or group.
It is important to note that the perception of any event is unique to each individual who experiences it. For example, two people may witness the same tragedy but experience very different effects, with one being affected by lasting trauma and another not. The specific impacts can vary in type and intensity, manifesting across multiple areas of a person’s life, in ways that might not seem connected to the original experience.
Physical manifestations of trauma can include body fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and an exaggerated startle response. It may show up cognitively through responses such as negative and self-critical beliefs, difficulties with concentration, and recurring memories. Fluctuating and intense sensations, heightened anxiety, and helpless fear can dominate one’s emotions.
Relationships can also be challenging for a person impacted by trauma because they may have difficulty trusting others and experience a shattered sense of healthy boundaries. Trauma can also affect a person spiritually, resulting in a loss of meaning, purpose, and connection with one’s culture or community.
All traumatic experiences have ripple effects across relationships and throughout the wider community. What happens to one individual will affect how they relate to others and howothers relate to them. In this way, trauma is not just an individual experience.
We may see these effects at an organizational and community level through increased isolation, polarized conflicts, increased physical or psychological violence, or disrespect for property and space. Many factors can mitigate the effects of trauma, but we can’t always prevent people from experiencing trauma.
We can how ever be courageous in our efforts to recognize and talk about it. It is through genuine human connection and compassion that the far-reaching impacts of trauma can be transformed from isolation and fear into resilience and growth.