The Effects of Trauma

The effects of being traumatized are very individual, and people who have experienced trauma are impacted physically, emotionally, behaviourally, cognitively, spiritually, neurobiologically and relationally.

Trauma can result in:

  • Changes to the brain 
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Increased physical and mental stress
  • Decreased trust
  • Attachment difficulties and conflictual relationships
  • Hyperarousal and hypervigilance
  • Rigid or chaotic behaviour

Service providers most often see hyperarousal and hypervigilance, but it may not relate back to trauma and could be misinterpreted. This misinterpretation or misunderstanding of behaviour, and failing to recognize fight, flight and freeze  responses, can contribute to judgmental behaviour on the part of service provider, and lead to the development of conflict or adversarial relationships. It is important to remember that trauma impacts the manner in which a person does or does not approach helping relationships and their interactions with service providers. The effects of trauma are felt across the life span.

According to a Canadian study, PTSD is “associated with several physical health problems including cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, chronic pain conditions, gastrointestinal illness and cancer” (2007). It is important to recognize that experiences of trauma can have negative effects on a person’s health, regardless of a diagnosis of PTSD. This further supports the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study that identified the direct connection between adverse childhood experiences and the increase in serious physical and mental health problems (1998).

The ACE study identified that the more adverse the experience, the greater the increase in risk for the following:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Depression
  • Fetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischemic heart disease (IHD)
  • Liver disease
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy


  • Depression
  • Feelings of despair, hopelessness and helplessness
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Self-blame
  • Self-hatred
  • Feeling damaged
  • Feeling like a “bad” person
  • Anxiety
  • Extreme vulnerability the effects of trauma
  • Panic attacks
  • Fearfulness
  • Compulsive and obsessive behaviours
  • Feeling out of control
  • Irritability, anger and resentment
  • Emotional numbness
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Difficulties in relationships


  • Self-harm such as cutting
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Gambling
  • Self-destructive behaviours
  • Isolation
  • Choosing friends that may be unhealthy
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Violence and aggression toward others


  • Memory lapses, especially about the trauma
  • Loss of time
  • Being flooded by and overwhelmed with recollections of the trauma
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Feeling distracted
  • Withdrawal from normal routine
  • Thoughts of suicide


  • Feeling that life has little purpose and meaning
  • Questioning the presence of a power greater than ourselves
  • Questioning one’s purpose
  • Questioning “Who am I,” “Where am I going,” “Do I really matter”
  • Thoughts of being evil, especially when abuse is perpetrated by Clergy
  • Feeling disconnected from the world around us
  • Feeling that as well as themselves, the whole race or culture is bad


  • An overproduction of stress hormones that do not return to normal after being activated, and can endure for hours or days in ways identified below:
    • Jittery, trembling,
    • Exaggerated startle response
  • Alarm system in the brain remains “on,” creating difficulty in reading faces and social cues, misinterpreting other people’s behaviour or events as threatening, difficulty sleeping, avoiding situations that are perceived as frightening
  • Part of the brain systems change by becoming smaller or bigger than they are supposed to be
  • Fight, flight, freeze response (which may look different from person to person)
  • Responses are involuntary


  • Difficulty feeling love, trusting in relationships
  • Decreased interest in sexual activity the effects of trauma
  • Emotional distancing from others
  • Relationships may be characterized by anger and mistrust
  • Unable to maintain relationships
  • Parenting difficulties

It should also be noted that there are overlaps between the categories.

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