What is Trama?

A traumatic event involves a single experience or enduring repeated or multiple experiences, that completely overwhelm the individual’s ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved in that experience.

Recent research has revealed that psychological emotional trauma can result from such common occurrences as an auto accident, sudden job loss, relationship loss, a humiliating or deeply disappointing circumstance, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition, or other similar situations.

Traumatizing events can take a serious emotional toll on those involved, even if the event did not cause physical damage. This can have a profound impact on the individual’s identity, resulting in negative effects in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Regardless of its source, trauma contains three common elements:

  • It was unexpected.
  • The person was unprepared.
  • There was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening.

Simply put, traumatic events are beyond a person’s control.

It is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individual’s experience of the event and the meaning they make of it. Those who feel supported after the event (through family, friends, spiritual connections, etc.) and who had a chance to talk about and process the traumatic event are often able to integrate the experience into their lives, like any other experience.

Trauma is when we have encountered an out of control, frightening experience that has disconnected us from all sense of resourcefulness or safety or coping or love.
Tara Brach, 2011

Traumatic events often cause feelings of shame due to the powerlessness they create, which can lead to secrecy and further embed the experience of shame. It then becomes something to be greatly feared and avoided. It is at this point that negative coping behaviours start and may continue until a person decides to face the difficult emotions that surround the traumatic experience.

The impact of these events does not simply go away when they are over. Instead, traumatic events are profound experiences that shape the way a person sees themselves, others and the world.

Because the traumatic experience was so terrible, it is normal for people to block the experience from their memory, or try to avoid any reminders of the trauma; this is how they survive. However, the consequences of these survival mechanisms are a lack of integration of the traumatic experience, such that it becomes the experience in a person’s life, rather than one of many. The trauma becomes the organizing principle from which the person lives their life always trying to cope with and/or avoid the impact of the trauma. This can be both a conscious and unconscious awareness/experience. This lack of processing of the trauma means that it is ever-present for the individual, and they feel as if the trauma happened yesterday when it could have been months or many years since.

Who Can Be Traumatized?

Anyone can be traumatized. No one is immune. It is widespread throughout the world and affects every part of the population. Numerous studies, such as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study by Vincent Felitti M.D. and Robert Anda M.D. (www.cdc.gov/ace/prevalence.htm), suggest that at least 75% of the population has experienced at least one traumatic event in their life.

Individuals of all ages, socio-economic status, cultures, religions and sexual orientations (including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and two spirit*) can be profoundly affected. [The term “two-spirit” is an Aboriginal term referring to those who have both male and female spirits.] Families can be traumatized by an event happening to one or more of its members. Even people who did not directly experience the trauma can be impacted by it, especially if they have a close relationship to the trauma survivor.

Communities can be traumatized when events affect any of its members.

Cultures can be traumatized when repeated denigration, attempts at assimilation and genocide occur. First Nations communities in North America continue to live with the impact of the intergenerational trauma of colonization and the residential school system. Following 9/11, the North American culture became organized around fear and terror as a direct result of the trauma experienced from that event. In addition, other countries have experienced trauma that has impacted their culture, including Sudan, Rwanda, Syria and Cambodia.

Service providers can be traumatized after hearing the stories and witnessing the suffering of trauma survivors. This is called “vicarious trauma” or “trauma exposure response,” and it happens when the provider is regularly confronted with traumatic content.

Institutions and organizations can be negatively impacted when going through times of significant change or outside scrutiny (i.e., downsizing, restructuring, inquiries). Individual staff members may become inadvertently traumatized as a result of this process, and/or their own trauma histories may be triggered by the events if the process is not sensitively and compassionately handled.

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