Home Psychology What is Trauma? What are the 3 Psychological Responses to Traumatic Events?

What is Trauma? What are the 3 Psychological Responses to Traumatic Events?

By the nature of life, all events, whether pleasant or unpleasant, affect people. In the fluctuating rhythm of life, we encounter complex life events, although they are undesirable. Some of the difficult life events experienced can also have a traumatic effect on the lives of individuals. In this article, I will look at the nature of trauma and talk about which events can be traumatic experiences and three psychological reactions individuals show in the face of trauma. Good reading!

What is trauma?

Let’s look at the meaning of trauma in the field of psychology. The word trauma means ‘wound’ in ancient Greek and is a medical term. It can be defined as feeling extremely stressed, sad, and fearful in the face of a life event that occurs unexpectedly and threatens the physical integrity of individuals. In other words, it can be said that everything other than ordinary experiences in human life is likely to have a traumatic effect.

Trauma; It does not have to occur only with the individual’s experience of the stressful life event. Witnessing a traumatic life event or observing a person close to experiencing this process can also create a traumatic effect on individuals. For this reason, every person has experienced the traumatic impact of an adverse event. For example, the epidemic period we are in may have created a traumatic effect on many people’s lives, as it poses a threat to physical health. Although this is a very human situation, the individual can struggle with psychological problems in the following years if they cannot be overcome.

We generally consider traumatic events under three headings:

  • Experiences originating from the individual (for example, traffic accident)
  • Natural disasters (earthquakes, storms, forest fires, etc.)
  • Violent/criminal incidents (domestic violence, stabbing, physical abuse, etc.)

Studies have shown that traumas of individual origin and violence/crime are more challenging to accept and overcome than traumas caused by natural disasters.

Psychological reactions to traumatic events

Persons; When they encounter traumatic experiences such as the diagnosis of a disease, the sudden death of a loved one, sexual abuse, and a traffic accident, there is an involuntary change in their lives. Each individual can react differently to this change. Individuals respond differently to traumatic experiences because their past experiences differ; each individual observes the traumatic experience with their own emotions and thought patterns. In line with these differences, individuals give three different psychological reactions to the traumatic experience and change they experience.

1. Succumbing to the source of stress

After a traumatic experience, some people have difficulty overcoming the intense stress they experience. These people experience symptoms such as sleep problems, re-experiencing a traumatic memory, extreme irritability, concentration problems, excessive bodily sensitivity, increased concerns about safety, and restlessness. A psychological disorder called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be diagnosed if these symptoms persist even a month after the event or if these symptoms suddenly appear 1 – 2 years after the traumatic experience.

2. Increasing resilience/healing

Recovery against negative emotions, returning to the balance of life before the trauma, and a flexible approach to the experiences brought by the hard life allows the effects of the traumatic experience to heal before it turns into a psychological disorder. In some people, after a traumatic experience, the symptoms caused by the trauma disappear in a short time. This is because individuals can adapt and cope with difficult experiences; in other words, their psychological resilience is increased.

3. Post-traumatic growth

In some people, the traumatic event is used as a tool to lead to well-being for later periods. These people question how they can improve their life after a difficult life, and by fighting the traumatic experience, they manage to survive and have a stronger self in the next period. An example is that a person diagnosed with cancer can look at the difficulties he encounters more flexibly and tolerate them more quickly after beating the disease, and dare to realize his dreams that he postponed in his life before the trauma after the illness.

If you still show symptoms such as emotional dullness, avoidance of talking about the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, sleep problems, frequent nightmares, and difficulty concentrating after the traumatic event, even after one month, check for post-traumatic stress disorder and to treat the issues experienced. I strongly suggest that you consult a psychiatrist/psychologist.

Suppose you have recovered from the effects of the traumatic event or provided your personal development with the impact of the traumatic event. In that case, you can include more practices in your daily life that will increase your strong stance and psychological resilience. For example, techniques such as increasing positive emotions, developing social relationships, increasing an optimistic perspective, noting the things that are grateful, living by enjoying the moment, raising awareness, and creating coping styles are effective in increasing psychological resilience.