Understanding Emotional Trauma and its Effects

Understanding Emotional Trauma and its Effects

Trauma, specifically emotional trauma, is something we often hear mentioned when it comes to the topic of mental health. What does trauma actually mean, and what effect does it have on our wellbeing?

Defining Trauma

“Trauma” can refer either to a serious physical injury, or to a psychologically damaging experience that has a lasting mental effect. Often, but not always, the two (physical harm and psychological harm) go hand in hand.

The official psychiatric definition of trauma is “any sudden and potentially life-threatening event”, or in other words, “an event outside normal human experience”. It’s a deeply shocking event that most people never expect to experience in their day-to-day lives.

Different Types of Trauma

Some people experience a single traumatic event, while others are exposed to a string of repeated traumas over a prolonged period of time.

Some examples of one-time trauma include:

  • Natural disasters (earthquake, flooding, hurricane)
  • Violent crime (assault, hijacking, robbery)
  • Accidents (car, taxi, airplane, train)
  • Serious medical procedures
  • Fires
  • Bereavement
  • Divorce

Some examples of prolonged or repeated trauma include:

  • Life in a warzone
  • Abuse at the hands of a parent or spouse
  • Life as a prison inmate
  • Life as a refugee
  • Hostage situations

How does Trauma Affect People?

Different people may respond slightly differently to emotional trauma, depending on the ways they find to help them cope with their experiences. Some may feel a sense of extreme insecurity which keeps them in a highly anxious state. Others experience numbness and denial, which is a protective mechanism that helps to reduce the immediate fear. Many experience memory disturbances, confusion and feelings of unreality. Sudden bouts of panic, anger or tearfulness are also common responses to trauma.

Often, there is a deep feeling of shame attached to emotional trauma. The survivor replays the event over in their heads and dwells on what they could have done differently, or blames themselves for the experience. Those who survive a disaster or accident where others died also struggle with feelings of survivor’s guilt.

The effects of trauma can show up in physical ways too, with the extreme emotional disturbances causing headaches, gastrointestinal problems, or low immunity (which leaves one vulnerable to common illnesses).

One-time trauma and prolonged trauma have many of the same immediate effects. However, prolonged trauma re-occurs whenever the traumatic experience is repeated.

The long-term effects include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), as well as depression and anxiety.

Healing from Trauma

If you’re feeling the effects of a traumatic event, here are a few constructive ways to start the journey to healing:

  • First and foremost, seek professional counselling to help you process the experience.
  • Join a support group for people who have survived similar experiences.
  • Talk about the event and your feelings with loved ones you can trust.
  • Write out your feelings in a journal or personal diary.
  • Look after yourself physically. Stick to a regular routine of healthy eating, sleep and productive work.
  • Give yourself extra time to accomplish your tasks.
  • Learn relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises or meditation.
  • Get regular exercise and spend time outdoors, in a place where you feel safe.
  • Be kind and compassionate to yourself as you work through your feelings.

Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day, if you want to discuss any aspect of emotional trauma, or ask for guidance on available resources.




Trauma – How is it Defined? Retrieved from: http://www.healing-waters.co.uk/trauma-how-is-it-defined/

Traumatic Stress: Dealing with Trauma After a Disaster or Disturbing Event. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/traumatic-stress.htm