Trauma: Is It Universal?

Given the trying times of the world today, we are all bound to endure and carry present or past traumas. The pandemic in which we live is a prime example of enduring the hardship and stressors that come with trauma. As the pandemic has taught us, trauma has no boundaries, it does not discriminate by age, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, race, or sex. And, it is especially prevalent in those with mental and substance use disorders. But what happens when we endure a traumatic event, and the world moves on and we are stuck in shock, shame, or arousal? Why do some people move on with the world, and others are left trapped enduring the events of the past? More importantly, why does a particular event be deemed traumatic for one person, but not for another? Essentially, what is trauma and does everyone experience it the same? 

The Framework:

In effort to design a concept of trauma that was universal for practitioners, researchers, trauma survivors, etc., workers in the field of trauma, as well SAMHSA developed an inventory of trauma definitions. They then turned to an expert panel to craft a concept that would be relevant to public health agencies and service systems. The framework they instructed is as follows:

Trauma can be broken down into “Three E’s” the “event,” the “experience,” and the “effect.”

The Event(s)

The event can include the actual or extreme threat of physical or psychological harm. Some examples of the “event” are natural disasters, violence, etc. This event can occur once or happen repeatedly over time. The event is represented from the DSM-5 which requires all conditions classified as “trauma and stressor-related disorders” to include exposure to a traumatic or stressful event.

The Experience of Event(s) 

This is important because it helps to decide whether it is considered a traumatic event. For instance, a particular event may be experienced as traumatic for one person and not for another. For example, a “child removed from abusive home experienced differently than a sibling, one military veteran may experience deployment to a war zone as traumatic while another veteran is not affected.

Likewise, “how an individual labels, assigns meaning to, and is disrupted by physically and psychologically by an event will contribute to whether or not it is experienced as traumaticThis shows that what is considered “traumatic” will differ based on the individual, it will not be the same for everyone. Since each person is different, there may be no predicting whether or not an event will be traumatize one person and not the other. The experience can be linked to cultural beliefs, social supports, and developmental stage. Additionally, feelings such as humiliation, guilt, shame, betrayal, or silencing often shape the experience of the event.

The Effect 

The effect of trauma can occur right after the event or have delayed onset. Long-lasting adverse effects are critical components of trauma. These effects may have short or long-term duration. For example, someone may have an inability to cope with daily stressors or normal life events, they may experience distrust in relationships, and their memory, attention, and behavior regulation may be altered. Other effects may include hyper-vigilance, continuous states of arousal, numbing or avoidance behavior and they can all wear someone down physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The Three E's
Artstract by T. Zetocha

All in all, trauma can impact anyone and its criteria is adapted and to every individual, based on their own events, experiences, and effects.

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