Psychological trauma

What Is Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma is defined as damage to an individual’s mind or mental state that transpires after a particularly stressful event. The traumatic event that leads to psychological trauma can stem from one incident or repeated incidents that happen over days, weeks, months, or years.

Anyone can experience psychological trauma, yet the extent a person experiences this trauma can vary widely amongst individuals. The extent to which a person feels psychological trauma is dependent upon the circumstances they have faced that have led to their current state of mind. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop psychological trauma.

What Are the Causes?

Psychological trauma is typically the result of a severely distressing event that leaves an individual feeling threatened of their safety and sense of security. Any situation that leaves a person feeling traumatised can be considered a cause of psychological trauma. It is oftentimes not the event that causes trauma, but a person’s emotional reaction to the event.

Some events that have shown to cause psychological trauma however, include:

  • Persistent stress
  • Car accidents
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Engaging in active combat
  • Living with a life-threatening illness
  • The sudden death of someone close
  • A humiliating or embarrassing event
  • Divorce, separation, or a break-up

Events have shown to lead to psychological trauma if they happen unexpectedly or when an individual was unprepared for it. Trauma can also occur when the event happens repeatedly, if it happened in childhood, or an individual was deliberately mean or mentally abusive.

Undergoing trauma during childhood can significantly impact an individual’s state of mind later in life. Events experienced in childhood that can lead to psychological trauma include:

  • Verbal, sexual, or physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Separation from or death of a parent
  • Having parents who abuse drugs or alcohol
  • Domestic violence
  • Living in an unsafe or unstable home environment


Everyone experiences trauma differently and will react in their own way to traumatic events. Some of the most common symptoms of psychological trauma include:

  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawing from others/social isolation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feeling sad and hopeless
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Difficulty concentrating

Psychological trauma can also manifest physically. Some physical symptoms of psychological trauma include:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling on edge
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia

Treatment for Psychological Trauma

While some cases of psychological trauma will naturally go away on their own after the event has subsided for a period of time, other times treatment is necessary to help an individual through their painful emotions.

Psychological trauma is typically treated with psychotherapy. Talking to a therapist or counsellor can help an individual learn to better understand their feelings and settle any disturbing emotions. Therapy can also help a person to work on rebuilding trust with others, especially when psychological trauma is caused by some form of abuse from another.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a common treatment used with psychological trauma. It helps an individual in recognising the thought patterns that lead to feeling traumatised, as well as process the emotions that arise because of these thoughts.

Medication is also sometimes used to help individuals deal with the emotions and troubling side-effects that result from psychological trauma. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication is often prescribed to people who have experienced emotional or psychological trauma. It is typically used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Psychological Trauma FAQ

What causes psychological trauma?

Trauma is usually caused by a stressful event or series of stressful events that have lasting negative impact on a person’s emotional state and wellbeing. There are several different psychological and physical factors that can lead to psychological trauma including: natural disasters, physical assault, death of a loved one, witnessing a violent or traumatic event, serious illness, and more.

Why can an event cause psychological trauma in one person but not another?

Anyone can become traumatised, but the severity of the trauma a person experiences is thought to be related to several different reasons. These include: the individual’s personal history, the coping skills a person has, the severity of the event, and if they have the support of family and friends.

What are some of the possible effects of experiencing psychological trauma?

Psychological trauma can lead to significant problems in a person’s life. If untreated or unrecognised, trauma can lead to substance abuse, impulsive behaviour, uncontrollable reactions to various circumstances, inability to make healthy lifestyle decisions, feelings of shame, the inability to maintain healthy relationships, and more.

External Links

Emotional Trauma: Overview, Healing Resources

Coping with emotional and psychological trauma, Help Guide

What is psychological trauma,

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