What is a Trauma?



People often throw around the word “trauma” but what exactly is it? According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:


“A traumatic event is a frightening, dangerous or violent event that poses a threat to one’s life or bodily integrity. Witnessing a traumatic event that threatens life or physical security of a loved one can also be traumatic.”



The DSM-V cites trauma as:

  • An event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury,

  • Threat to physical integrity,

  • Witnessing an event that involves death,

  • Injury or a threat to the physical integrity of another person,

  • Learning about an unexpected or violent death, serious harm or threat of death or injury of a close family friend.

  • A trauma can lead to strong mental and physical responses.


It can be one-time incidents such as a crime or accident or ongoing or multiple traumas (such as abuse or combat). Professionals often call multiple traumas “complex traumas.” Key components include fear, helplessness or horror during or after the traumatic event. Traumatic events can elicit strong emotions and physical reactions not only during the event but long after. Trauma is treatable and can be addressed while in therapy. While everyone is different in what they consider traumatic, the following are common traumas:

  • Abuse (Physical, sexual, psychological abuse)

  • Neglect (failure to provide food, medical care, housing, etc)

  • Poverty/homelessness

  • Natural disasters

  • Threats of violence, torture, pain

  • Military family related stressors (deployment, parental loss or injury)

  • Life threatening illness/medical issues

  • Living in war zones (witnessing/watching attacks, violence, deaths, attacks, etc)

  • Violent death or injury of family members/close friends

  • Mother treated violently

  • Domestic violence

  • Separation from parents/family

  • Community violence