Childhood Trauma – what is trauma?


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Your past can influence your present. Doesn’t that seem logic? But what events in the past, especially in childhood are considered a trauma? And what consequences can trauma have on your future health? I’ll write about this and try to provide some tentative answers in this four part series that will be published on Wednesdays.


Note: This series speaks also about child abuse (of all kinds), please consider this if you are vulnerable to those subjects and make your decision if you will continue to read the series.


What is trauma?

A rocky childhood. A car accident. A divorce. If these are in your past, they could be affecting your present health. These are all examples of traumatic events.


From a psychological standpoint, traumatic events are incidents that make you believe that you are in danger of being injured or may lose your life (Roberts, A.) [1].


Traumatic events shake your world as you knew it ‘till then. Research shows that these events can trigger emotional and even physical reactions that can make you more prone to a number of different health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes and cancer.


Traumatic events can be anything from a sexual assault or childhood abuse to a cancer diagnosis. Child abuse is particularly likely to affect your adult life because it occurs at a time when your brain is vulnerable — and it often occurs at the hands of people who are supposed to be your protectors, says Roberts. “By abuse, we often mean things that are a lot milder than things people typically think of as abuse. It might include being hit with a hard object, like a whip, a belt, or a paddle,” says Roberts. “The behavior doesn’t necessarily need to be illegal to induce a traumatic response.”


We need to take in the perspective of the child when the trauma did occur. A child’s perception of events is as important as what actually occurred. “While a child’s life may not have actually been in danger, the child may have seen it as life-threatening,” says Dr. Kerry Ressler, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.


People who experience traumatic events sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition that affects 5% to 10% of the general population. PTSD can develop after a person experiences violence or the threat of violence, including sexual violence. It may affect people who have a close relative who experienced those things as well. These traumatic events are generally incidents that are considered outside the ordinary and are exceptional in their intensity.



Another kind of trauma.

While severely traumatic events are believed to have the greatest effect on long-term health, other stressful events that don’t necessarily meet the psychological definition of trauma can still cause problems. This might include a sudden death in the family, a stressful divorce, or caring for someone with a chronic or debilitating illness, says Roberts. These milder events might lead to a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. “Trauma pushes your ability to cope, so if you have a predisposition toward anxiety, for example, it may push you over the edge,” says Roberts.


In addition, incidents like these can also produce PTSD-like symptoms in certain people. “When people go through traumatic or complicated grief, they can experience pretty similar symptoms to those they might experience with trauma, such as intrusive thoughts.”




[1] Andrea Roberts, a research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Online article click here.

Illustration click here.

16 thoughts on “Childhood Trauma – what is trauma?

  1. That’s such a good point that perception matters. Combine that with different coping abilities at different times of life and it can be easy for outsiders to overlook the significance of the trauma.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I like that this post highlights the physical element in mental illness. Of course, anyone who’s experienced depression would understand the lethargy and the absolute inability to move.

    With severe mental illness like schizophrenia, there are different physical problems. Studies have shown, in drug-naive patients, it is conceivable that symptoms such as dyskinesia or grimacing may disrupt facial emotion expression.

    Other motor aspects of nonverbal communication such as posture and gait are also altered in schizophrenia. Thus, communication disturbances in schizophrenia may not only relate to formal thought disorder and affective disturbances but also to motor symptoms Walther S. Strik, Neuropsychobiology 2012

    (Full article: W.

    I thought you might like this Kacha. Caz

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, very interesting. It is true that mind and body are together in this. People with schizophrenia have a very different ‘feel’ of their body. In the good ol’ days there were even words for this phenomenons which I can’t remember now. But a lady that I knew was totally relaxed, fun to be with, needed care obviously. Sometimes I brought her medications and tucked her in. She slept with her head 1 cm above the pillow sometimes, not all the time and I don’t know if she did that the whole night. I would say, M. relax, lay your head to rest. ‘I am resting, I’m fine’ she would reply with the biggest smile.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wow, yes I’ve seen many patient with reduced movement which is referred to as stupor, bradykinesia, or avolition and (This is all from the same article, if you find it of any use)) pure motor signs that include posturing, mannerisms, immobility, rigor, stereotypies, catalepsy, grimacing, and waxy flexibility (which is what your lady might have had – staying in one position for long periods of time.) I saw one man standing on one leg, staring at a blank wall, for hours — at least 3 hours when we started timing him. What a job eh? I loved it! Never a dull moment 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I love this kind of things, I mean not to see people suffer but to think and talk about it. To recognize it and to help them when possible. I missed that so much in my old job, nobody was interested in such things. They weren’t curious about it. Oh well, I’ll keep the good memories and write on blog what I find interesting. It is such a good feeling to be reading about those things and to find people who share the same passion. Phenomenons like echopraxia and a ‘wordsalad’ just intrigue me.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I love it too – just learning and understanding it all. Obviously I live in London, with such a huge diverse multi-cultural population so we got to see all sorts. All of that, word salad etc but my favourite ever was Cotard Delusion – one patient constantly rubbed his name of the white board, yelling “I’m effing dead, why is my name still up there?” I used to love his ward round days, it was so interesting.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for taking this on as a subject. It really is the root of so many other problems that are actually only symptoms of trauma. My life is not better now because I dumped the porn or the drinking. My life is better because I dealt with the trauma and once I did, it turns out I didn’t to drink to use porn anymore. It’s that big a deal. Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The roots are planted very young sometimes. Sometime things have such an impact because of the age of children, because they don’t understand what is happening and they can’t process it. I will talk more in depth about the outcome of trauma on health and risky behavior like drinking or smoking. And again it all has to do with the brain and it’s not as clear cut as one would think on the first sight.
      Thank you for reading and for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s a good point that the threshold for trauma has more to do with perception by the child and less about legal definitions of abuse. That helps explain why one child in the same family might be traumatized by experiences while a sibling might not.

    Here’s an extreme case. I once read a book called “Confessions of a Sociopath” by a woman who goes by M. E. Thomas and diagnosed herself with antisocial personality disorder as an adult. In it, she describes childhood events which sound pretty traumatic to me. She tells a story about her parents “forgetting” they brought her and her brother along to the playground and just driving off without them. However, while her brother had a severe breakdown and anxiety later in life, the author, who tended to perceive incidents like that as inconvenient but not upsetting, did not. That doesn’t meant she wasn’t effected by the experience–she mentions it in relation to her belief that relying on people only leads to disappointment. Still, she had a very different response than her brother.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And all experiences are valid. Sometimes it’s difficult when lets say your sister is more resilient and doesn’t suffer that big consequences but you do. Does that make your perception less truthful. Of course not. The individual experience/lookout must be taken into consideration and that’s why the mental health field is so unique in my opinion. No two lives are the same which makes it difficult to give ‘advice’ to a tee. It’s also very different than medicine which operates also on an individual level but different.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. A lot of good points but it bothers me that divorce is always portrayed as a traumatic event. My first marriage, as many are, was abusive for my children, as well as myself. The best thing I ever did for myself and my children was to get a divorce and create a secure, peaceful home for us.
    Yes my children were traumatized but not by the divorce. I would hate to think that anyone would stay in an abusive relationship, and keep children in an abusive home, because they are led to believe that divorce is always traumatic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re very right about that. In the past parents used to stay together for the childrens’ ‘sake’ but that was sometimes worse than a separation.
      I guess they took some general terms in the survey but as always we need to specify those things to an individual level.
      My parents are not together but I don’t consider that as my ‘big’ trauma. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would just like to see an occasional article on how beneficial divorce can be. I knew how bad our lives were but no way could I have anticipated how much better are lives were after divorce. We were beyond blessed in the years following the divorce😊

        Liked by 2 people

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