Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/2/2022
Details are important, especially when it comes to your mental health. There are types of trauma that have different characteristics, severities and circumstances for healing. The thing that hurt you in the past may ultimately have a very specific type of treatment you’ll need to seek to overcome what it has already done to you.
Whether you’ve recently experienced a trauma, are recalling a traumatic event from your past for the first time or are just now seeking treatment after decades of avoiding it, congratulations.
Getting help and addressing trauma is a difficult journey to begin.
We’re here to help make every subsequent step in the recovery process easier, and the best way that we can do that is with some free education. So let’s start with some basics about trauma that you may not already know.
Trauma is our mind’s response to a traumatic event, and while we all have a picture in our minds of what that might mean (like combat experience or a sexual assault), the variety of things that cause trauma is quite expansive.
Natural disasters, mass shootings, terrorist attacks and car accidents can all, of course, cause you to experience trauma, but psychological violence or physical neglect by parents, partners or other loved ones can also leave its mark on our mental health.
All traumas, however, generally have a certain set of resulting symptoms: these events that are in the past make us continue to fear the same outcomes a second time.
A trauma that happened years ago can continue to make you feel anxious and unsafe in similar situations for years to come, and without getting help, it could potentially follow you all the way through your life in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
At its root, trauma comes from fear: fear that a harmful event from your past will happen again.
Normally, fear is a healthy human response to dangers. After all, it’s what makes you step away from a snake in the middle of the sidewalk or not wade too far out into the ocean, lest you be swept away or become an unwitting extra in a real-life Jaws remake.
But fear can become excessive, too. The “fight or flight” response, which tells our body to fight a threat or run from it, can become engaged even when there isn’t an active threat, and that can cause us some serious issues in the short and long terms.
An over-engaged fear response is a telltale sign of anxiety disorders, which occur when someone worries about unknown things and hypothetical dangers in the future — to the extent that they begin to be consumed by it.
The physiological reactions to prolonged anxiety can be intense. Anxious people can suffer insomnia and isolation, and can have panic attacks when their anxiety boils over.
But trauma works a little differently. Instead of worrying about another hypothetical future event, your brain essentially reacts to memories of your traumatic experience as if they’re happening all over again. It’s like some wires have crossed in your head, and your brain is interpreting memories as the present, but only the bad ones.
Traumas can be split into a variety of groups and organizations, but there’s not exactly an “official” categorical list out there.
Experts and researchers have typically found some common ground with the following categories. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, consider it a good survey:
People who share a common identity like members of a family, gang, team of firefighters or military service members, etc., can experience group traumas.
These are traumas that typically affect the group in the form of a lost member or other traumatic event.
It can be difficult to get members of a group to support one another or even talk about the problems for fear of reigniting the pain.
Individual trauma is trauma that happens to a single person. The traumatic event may take the form of a violent crime like mugging, assault, sexual assault or an injury. We typically associate this with violent acts like child sexual assult or sexual trauma, but severe illness and medical trauma can cause just as many issues as sexual violence.
Individual traumas can be more difficult to treat, in part because the isolating nature of an individual trauma means that there’s not the same community support available — not for lack of trying, but because it may be difficult to relate specifically to someone’s individual experiences.
Mass traumas may affect people directly or indirectly and often take the form of natural disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis.
These traumas are somewhat dependent on public attention for continued support — as one trauma gives way to another, groups can be left without the needed attention and care they had when they were in the spotlight.
Also called historical trauma, generational trauma can affect multiple generations of families in a widespread way.
The Holocaust is a prime example of the traumas inflicted on survivors young and old, but also on the generations to come thereafter who are born into traumatized cultures.
Psychological trauma can happen at an early age. Developmental traumas happen in childhood or other developmental stages and can have adverse effects on a person’s development. This can lead to other problems like depression later in life.
Interpersonal traumas occur between individuals, typically in the forms of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse or emotional neglect, verbal abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault or elder abuse. They can often be recurring and patterned, to boot, which means that trauma survivors might experience acute trauma more than once.
Chronic traumas related to violence can happen to entire populations. Traumas resulting from international or national conflict or community violence may seem like they’ve been covered by other categories we’ve mentioned, but these types of traumas can cause unique problems like displacement for refugees and chronic anxiety issues for citizens who no longer feel safe, exacerbating the problem.
Read about another type of trauma here: Vicarious Trauma
Healing from trauma requires action, whether that action is ultimately taken in the form of therapy or medication, both or something else entirely.
If you’re suffering from a past trauma, a healthcare provider might suggest medications like antidepressants to help you deal with some of the symptoms.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors can help with brain chemistry to help regulate your moods.
This, in turn, can help you feel less severe swings in your moods, which can help reduce the severity of your PTSD in some cases.
Likewise, therapy has been shown to help with the symptoms of PTSD.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT has been shown to help with certain symptoms after just one session.
This therapy style is a sort of practice — the patient learns to self-regulate when negative thoughts, emotions and feelings start to take hold, and for people suffering from PTSD, this can help reduce the severity of symptoms when recalling or reliving the trauma.
Lastly, it’s also important to screen for other conditions.
Posttraumatic stress disorder is sometimes a misdiagnosis of depression, acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder or an adjustment disorder.
These are just a few of the many important reasons why regardless of what form of treatment you ultimately employ to work through your trauma, your process should start with a healthcare professional’s guidance and assistance.
Whether your trauma has led to PTSD or not, whether you consider your PTSD severe or not, maintaining your mental health requires some degree of treatment.
Ultimately, it’s impossible for us or anyone else to make recommendations about the best treatment for your needs without speaking to you about your unique circumstances first.
This is why it’s so important to talk to a healthcare professional about what’s going on: once a trained and licensed mental health professional hears about your unique challenges, they can offer tailored, effective treatments to help you reach your treatment goals.
If you’re ready to get unique, tailored support, consider starting with us. Hers’ online therapy is a great, convenient way to speak to a professional today from the convenience of your own home. You can also take an online mental health consultation to learn other treatment options.
Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder may take time, but there’s no time like the present to get started with treatment. Take the first step now.