The Many Types of Trauma

Let’s take a look at four of the many types of trauma. Emotional trauma can cause a sense of hopelessness, edginess,  anxiety, an inability to sleep or to focus, and may lead to a pattern of self-neglect.  Many of us experience symptoms of trauma but have no specific traumatic event to connect these feelings of anxiety or depression, which often causes feelings of confusion or guilt.  You may find yourself thinking others are worse off or have been through something more injurious than you.  You may even think you don’t have a right to be unhappy.  This is simply untrue, trauma is experienced in many forms. There are times when we don’t even know that an event has been traumatic to us.

When most of us hear the word “trauma” we think of situational trauma like the acute trauma experienced by exposure to a single overwhelming event such as a car accident, assault, or the sudden unexpected loss of a loved one.  Or we might think of situational trauma that is complex and results from prolonged exposure to traumatic events, such as child abuse and family violence, or multiple military deployments.  However, there are many forms of trauma that are not rooted in a single event or multiple exposures to traumatic events.  Psychologists have identified more than half a dozen major types of trauma.

4 Types of Trauma:

Generational Trauma

Generational trauma is also called Inter-generational trauma or trans-generational trauma and occurs when the coping mechanisms of trauma experienced by an older generation are passed down through a family in a way that affects the emotions and behaviors of family members at each younger generation.  Consider parents who went through the Great Depression and felt hunger and the scarcity of food.  That generation might cope by developing a need to always have an abundance of food.  The importance placed on food within their family might find younger generations with a great attachment to cooking and preparing food to provide to neighbors and loved ones. However, they might also be prone to develop habits of overeating or hoarding.  The younger generations carry anxiety about food security and scarcity in general, even though they never experienced a lack of food.  This is because the coping mechanisms of the generation that experienced the trauma were passed down in much the same way you might carry on a superstition you learned from your grandmother as a child.

Historical Trauma and Collective Trauma

They are often used interchangeably though they are not quite the same.  Historical trauma refers to massive group trauma such as genocide and war.  Examples of historical trauma are the Holocaust or the violent colonization of the Native Americans. Collective traumas are the psychological effects that form the identity of a group of people.  Collective trauma can also be understood to be a crisis of meaning. For example, the LGBT youth of today may never experience the same fear and discrimination of the generations before them, but they may carry an identity of separateness, not fitting in and self-hatred.  What we have been going through in the last few years can be classified as both historical and collective trauma.  Slavery in the United States is found in both of these categories.

Vicarious Trauma

This often refers to service providers in a position that integrates them with their patient’s or client’s trauma.   This could be a therapist, a first responder, or even your local veterinarian witnessing the loss of their clients’ beloved family pet again and again.  The repeated exposure to the pain and suffering of others is disturbing and absorbed over time in such a way that the provider may experience feelings of depression or anxiety or hopelessness.  The Internet has opened us all to a plethora of information, which includes coverage of pain and suffering worldwide. That exposure has an emotional impact.  If you are experiencing the symptoms of trauma, but cannot isolate anything in your own history to attribute it to, it is very likely that you are experiencing vicarious trauma.  The effects of vicarious trauma can be as harmful as experiencing trauma first hand.

There are many forms of trauma that can reside within these larger classifications that we have discussed. In any of those classifications, someone can have acute trauma, chronic trauma, or complex trauma. That is a discussion for another day.

Please seek the help of someone who can help you unpack your traumatic event if you are at all suffering because of it.

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