Types of Trauma

People respond to traumatic events in their own way and according to their individual coping skills and available support systems. Research on the impact of trauma on various populations indicates that the great majority of those not immediately and personally affected by a terrible tragedy sustain no lasting damage. 

Traumatic Stress

  • Overwhelming experience that temporarily taxes a person’s coping resources
  • Nervous system’s automatic response to a threat or a perceived threat
  • Most people find ways to integrate the traumatic event into their lives so that it is an aspect of their experience rather than how they see themselves and the world around them. It does not necessarily go on to impact a person’s quality of life long-term.


  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a more significant intrusive response to a traumatic event.
  • Rather than fading with time, the symptoms or reactions to the trauma don’t go away and often get worse over time.
  • It is a reaction to a traumatic event where a person reacts to and survives the event by emotionally blocking it either during or after the trauma.
  • The experience dominates how a person organizes their life and often causes them to perceive subsequent stressful life events in light of their prior trauma.

Criteria for PTSD Diagnosis

The diagnosis of PTSD usually focuses on four elements and as seen in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM V):

A flashback can be so overwhelming to one’s sense of reality, that many who suffer from them believe they are reliving or re-experiencing their trauma. A flashback is able to mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time.

Rothschild, 2010
For more information on Flashbacks, visit trauma-recovery.ca
Intrusion/Repeated living of memories of the traumatic experience
  • Individuals can be triggered by many things causing this reliving experience; it is felt as though the trauma is happening in the present moment.
  • Triggers can include certain emotions, sounds, smells and physical sensations.
  • The person may not know what is triggering the memory which is often very dysregulating and frightening.
  • This can include flashbacks for some.
Avoidance of reminders of trauma(s)
  • Not visiting the location where trauma occurred, moving from one’s home, school, city, or country.
  • Self-medicating with addictive behaviour (substance use, gambling, work, sexual behaviour, Internet, gaming, etc)
  • Emotional numbing or detachment
  • Inability to experience pleasure and a general withdrawal from engagement with life
Alterations in Cognition and Mood
  • Persistent and distorted sense of blame toward self and others
  • Estrangement from others
  • Diminished activities
  • An inability to remember key aspects of the event
Alteration in Arousal and Reactivity
  • Hyper-vigilance, irritability
  • Memory and concentration problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Easily distressed by events that previously would have been managed.

Delayed PTSD

  • PTSD Symptoms or reactions do not appear until at least 6 months after the traumatic event. For many, the symptoms may not surface for years.
  • This is often confusing and frightening for people because they may not connect what they are currently experiencing to the past traumatic event.

Complex/Developmental Trauma

  • Characterized by a history of severe, long-term trauma that usually includes exposure to caregivers who were cruel, inconsistent, exploitive, unresponsive or violent. It is the result of abandonment, abuse, and neglect during a child’s early life.
  • Disrupts cognitive, neurological and psychological development and attachment to adult caregivers.
  • The more prolonged (ongoing), if the traumatic event was interpersonal in nature (by a trusted adult or caregiver), and if the trauma was not addressed at the time (other caregivers were unavailable), the more severe the impact.
  • Subsequent, current-day traumatic events will create a “cumulative effect” and further complicate the traumatic response because of those traumas experienced in early life.