What is Trauma?

What is Trauma? How Does it Affect Me and My Family?

By Janet Siry
June 25, 2019

What do you think of when you hear the word “trauma”? Perhaps you think of a recent major disaster caused by man or nature. Maybe you remember something that happened in your own life that changed your perceptions of the world around you. Do you remember a recent visit to the emergency room or hospitalization for yourself or a loved one? Did someone you cared deeply about die recently? What images come to mind for you when you visualize that memory?

Physiological and psychological stress occurs for adults and children after a traumatic event. Acute traumatic events create traumatic stress. According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, traumatic events are described as “shocking and emotionally overwhelming situations that may involve actual or threatened death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity” (http://www.istss.org/public-resources/what-is-traumatic-stress.aspx). A person’s response to such events may vary greatly ranging from mild disruptions of daily life for a short period of time to multiple responses that create debilitating effects on normal life activities. If these symptoms are left untreated, the lives of people and families may be negatively impacted.

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk states in his book, The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Body and Mind in the Healing of Trauma (NY: Viking; 2014, p. 1), “…traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale (on our histories and cultures), or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They leave traces on our mind and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and on our biology and immune systems.”

Fortunately, human beings have the capacity for resilience. Many of us try to push these thoughts out of our minds as if nothing happened. Yet the memory of shame and vulnerability continue to negatively influence our lives. Current advances in neuroscience reveal that trauma compromises parts of the brain. With proper medical and psychological treatment, we can heal even from severe trauma (van der Kolk, 2014, p.56-73).

Children are also affected by traumatic stress. We may be unaware of the impact this is having in our families. Children are emotionally unprepared to handle these circumstances on their own because their emotional coping skills are not fully developed. These incidents can create signs of intense distress that might last long after the event. They can result in a significant disruption of emotional development. Symptoms include disturbed sleep patterns, withdrawal or anger and reoccurring intrusive thoughts when reminded of the initial event. Parents often feel powerless to know what to say or do. If you believe a child you know or love needs help, please consult a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about disorders in children.

In Matthew 15: 29-31, the people were amazed to see Jesus heal many people and praised God. God has many faithful servants he uses to bring healing to the afflicted. Please consider seeking proper treatment from a qualified professional to help you and your family find healing that can positively impact your life during and after a traumatic event. You are not alone.

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Mrs. Janet Siry has an MSW from Fordham University and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Valparaiso University. Mrs. Siry counsels children, adolescents, families and adults at our Patchogue site. She is a member of The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, the NASW and was awarded Woman of the Year in Religion in 2005.

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