What Is Trauma?

Psychological trauma is an emotional reaction that can occur after experiencing or hearing about a distressing or life-threatening event.  Trauma is subjective and is based solely on the interpretation of the survivor.  What many people think of when they hear the word trauma is one time incidents like mass shootings, rape, natural disasters, violence and accidents. However, trauma also includes responses to more chronic and repetitive experiences such as discrimination, urban violence, or hearing about distressing events. Specifically, racial trauma and racial battle fatigue are also examples of chronic and repetitive trauma experiences. For example personal or vicarious encounters with racism contribute to chronic stress and traumatic responses causing psychological trauma and stress-based reactions.  The steady stream of violent images, micro/macroaggressions, and racial violence and injustice on the TV and in social media, coupled with the everyday abuses of discrimination and exclusion, compound trauma.

When a traumatic event occurs it is common for a person to feel emotionally, cognitive and physically overwhelmed. It is normal for individuals who experience trauma to feel increased anxiety, fear, hypervigilance and changes in mood. What many people do not think about when thinking about a stress reaction is the feeling of helplessness that is commonly associated with trauma and the changes in how one views and experiences their world. Other common symptoms include increased vigilance, suspicion, increased sensitivity to threats, heightened sensitivity to being disrespected and shamed, avoidance, dissociation, depression, fatigue, difficulty sleeping and flashbacks.