Trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. This definition of trauma can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture. This broad definition of trauma is more of a guideline. Everyone processes a traumatic event differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. Because trauma reactions fall across a wide spectrum, psychologists have developed categories as a way to differentiate between types of trauma. Among them are complex trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and developmental trauma disorder.
Complex trauma happens repetitively and often results in direct harm to the individual. The traumatic experience frequently transpires within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship, and often in a specific setting.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after a person has been exposed to a terrifying event or has been through an ordeal in which intense physical harm occurred or was threatened. Sufferers of PTSD have persistent and frightening thoughts and memories of their ordeal.
Developmental trauma disorder forms as a result of abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment during the first three years of life. Developmental trauma interferes with the neurological, cognitive, and psychological development of the infant and disrupts his ability to attach to an adult caregiver.
Shock and denial appear to be typical reactions to a traumatic event. Over time, these emotional responses may fade, but the survivor of a trauma may also experience reactions long-term. These can include anger, persistent feelings of sadness and despair, flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches, intense feelings of guilt, as if they are somehow responsible for the event, an altered sense of shame, feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Psychodynamic therapy is usually adapted to address the intrapsychic components to trauma and has the potential for clarifying and resolving the multiple and confusing symptoms that often characterize people who have experienced trauma.