What Are the Core Elements of Trauma?

What Are the Core Elements of Trauma?When someone suffers from trauma, her life is forever changed. The moment of the traumatic experience, or the time period in which the event took place, begins a new normal of learning to live with those changes. For some people, trauma can lead to other problems, such as drug or alcohol addiction, but, with the right balance of knowledge, treatment and support, people who endure trauma can lead happy, productive lives in spite of their hardships. Understanding what trauma is (along with how it impacts the people who endure it and their loved ones) can increase the chances of full healing. Although there are different types of trauma, the core elements are the same in regard to how it impacts lives.

Trauma Explained

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster.” Some immediate responses to trauma are shock and denial, but other symptoms of trauma include the following list:

  • Unpredictable emotions or mood swings
  • Flashbacks
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Guilt, shame or self-blame
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Anxiety

When someone exhibits these symptoms after a traumatic event occurs, his loved ones may naturally respond by trying to make the problem better. While their hearts are in the right place, one of the best ways to help a loved one who is suffering from trauma is to seek the advice of a trained professional, especially someone who is an expert in trauma counseling. Psychologists, psychiatrists and licensed counselors can help diagnose and treat the people who struggle with the effects of trauma.

Sources of Trauma

Trauma can come from many places, but there are several sources that are more common than others. PsychGuides.com lists the following experiences as common sources of trauma:

  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • Surviving a natural disaster
  • Severe illness or injury
  • The death of a loved one
  • Witnessing an act of violence

Trauma can also result when someone is present during a violent act. Children are especially susceptible to “trauma from a distance.” Any child who has been exposed to trauma, even if she was not the person involved in the event, should seek professional treatment.

The Core Elements of Trauma

Each symptom of trauma has its roots in emotions. Even physical symptoms (such as nausea and insomnia) result from an inability to cope with what someone has seen or experienced. In the article, “Understanding the Effects of Trauma: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for PsychCentral.com, Lynn Margolis, Ph.D, calls trauma the “shattering of innocence;” that feeling that nowhere is safe and that no person can be truly trusted. Dr. Margolis points out that, for a person who suffers from trauma, faith is lost in the thought that there is meaning, predictability and safety of any kind anywhere. Unlike other types of experiences, people who survive trauma are unable to process the events, because the events are overwhelmingly shocking. Ergo, normal processing of thoughts and emotions is stalled as the mind replays the events. In short, people cannot process traumatic experiences, because trauma survivors are forced to relive the events over and over again through memories, dreams and etc.

The Santa Barbara Graduate Institute Center for Clinical Studies suggests that all traumatic events imbue the following three qualities:

  • The event was unexpected
  • The person experiencing trauma was unprepared
  • The person could do nothing to prevent the trauma

The brain is divided into three basic parts: the cortex, the limbic system and the brain stem. Certain scans allow scientists to observe brain activity, and these scans found that trauma changes the structure and function of the brain at the frontal cortex, the place where the emotional and survival instincts come together. Studies further show that people who have relational, developmental, learning or social problems have similar brain structural and functional issues as those with PTSD. In other words, people who endure trauma need professional help to recover, because their brains are literally fighting them.

Helping a Loved One Overcome Trauma

Trauma can happen to any person at any time. Different events affect people in unique ways, so there is no way to determine who will suffer from trauma after a devastating event occurs. The important thing is to identify the signs of trauma in a loved one and to take the steps to help. A proper diagnosis from a trained professional is the best way to begin the healing process, because untreated trauma can result in depression, which can then lead to drug or alcohol abuse, which can then lead to addiction and so on. As your loved one learns to cope with the traumatic event in healthy ways, life can become happy and fulfilling once again.

Find Help for Trauma

If you or a loved one struggles with the effects of trauma, then know we are here to help you. Call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline right now to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.