Trauma and PTSD: How They Connect
Updated: Jun 2
What is defined as trauma?
Trauma can be described in many different ways, including the following:
“Trauma is not what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you as a result of what happened to you.”
- Dr. Gabor Mate
Depending on how your mind perceives something as threatening, trauma can develop. Feeling terrified can make you feel helpless, out of control, and unsafe. This can shape you as a person on several levels: cognitively (thoughts), emotionally (feelings), and physiologically (sensations).
A scary, dangerous, or shocking life event that has been perceived as traumatic may lead to a serious mental condition know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Common examples of traumatic life events can be car accidents, assault, combat, or witnessing harm against another person amongst others. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been shown to increase the risk of triggering symptoms of PTSD as a traumatic event.
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD include:
intrusive memories of the event
avoiding thoughts and memories related to the event
isolating from family and friends
overthinking and worrying too much
losing interest in activities
trouble falling or staying asleep
irritability and anger
fearing others and the world around you
Symptoms of PTSD may begin immediately after the trauma up to several weeks, months, or years later. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will show signs of PTSD.
Are certain people more at risk?
Some factors may put people at a higher risk of developing PTSD:
having a history of mental illness or substance use disorder
experiencing past traumatic events
having limited support after the traumatic event
feeling guilt, shame, or responsibility for the event
getting physically or emotionally hurt
seeing someone else being harmed
Protective factors can decrease the risk of PTSD:
having a strong support system
having solid coping tools and strategies
joining a support group after a traumatic event
creating a sense of safety
being able to respond effectively when faced with fear
Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, is another term used to describe a response to long-lasting trauma. There is often a distinction made between PTSD which is caused by a single event and C-PTSD which is caused by repeated events over months or years. Childhood trauma, for example, can be defined as complex and usually results in C-PTSD. Oppression and racism can add layers to complex trauma because of the associated harmful effects on a person’s wellbeing.
How can PTSD be treated?
Recovery from PTSD is possible, and each journey is unique. Receiving counselling support can be helpful in learning coping strategies, processing the trauma, and healing. Counselling techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy and EMDR Therapy can be beneficial in treating trauma. Seeing a psychiatrist or family doctor for medication can help treat related depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Often a combination of both therapy and medication can be useful. Different approaches will work for different people so it’s important to be appropriately assessed for PTSD by a mental health professional and find the best treatment.