September 30, 2020

Jem Fundano

What is Psychological Trauma? Symptoms, Responses, and Types

When an untoward event happens, your mind and body will experience shock. If the shock you feel is still affecting you over time, what you are experiencing is 'psychological trauma'.


Your body and mind will respond to tragic or scary events. These events may be in the form of natural disasters, war, accidents, rape, or violence. All of these can leave you feeling shocked, afraid, and confused. The feelings you have after the event creates psychological trauma.

A tragic event that you cannot control will make you feel helpless. Once you experience it, the trauma you're feeling blocks your ability to cope. Trauma can affect your daily functioning.


Psychological trauma can manifest emotionally and physically. What you're experiencing mentally can be released through your emotions and behavior. The following are effects of trauma that can be observed:

  • Trauma makes you feel unsafe and helpless
  • A struggle with your emotions, memories, and anxiety happens
  • Development of mental health issues like anxiety, anger, sadness, and depression arises
  • PTSD will most likely develop
  • Survivor's guilt arises
  • Unhealthy coping styles like drinking alcohol and drugs happen
  • Thoughts, plans, and attempts of suicide or self-harm occurs
  • A lessened quality of life

For every 73 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Sexual violence is a primary incident that causes psychological trauma. When trauma is left untreated or managed, the effects above will happen in your life.

Related: Understanding Depression


There are symptoms and emotional responses when a person's dealing with psychological trauma. Here are the following responses and signs of trauma:

  • sadness
  • anger
  • denial
  • shame
  • fear
  • irritability
  • sleeplessness or restlessness
  • nightmares
  • inability to maintain relationship
  • emotional outbursts
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • change in appetite
  • migraines or headache
  • digestive problems
  • unwanted flashbacks or repeated memories of the event
  • dissociation where the person's reliving the moment
  • withdraws from people or activities
  • unintentionally harms loved ones
  • inability to focus

It's important to observe the following signs so that the person can get the help they need. Most signs of trauma are identical to symptoms of different mental disorders. If left untreated, it can escalate to a mental disorder.


Trauma can be big 'T' traumas or small 't' traumas. These types of trauma show some emotional responses and signs of trauma.

Small 't' traumas are events that threaten your sense of safety and disrupt your normal functioning. However, small 't' traumas only show few signs of trauma, and you can recover from it within a short period.

Big 'T' traumas are extreme life events that create severe distress and feelings of helplessness. It takes a lot of will-power to overcome this type of trauma, and some have to live their whole lives enduring it.

Related: What is Clinical Anxiety?


The big 'T' traumas can escalate into two types: Acute Stress Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Here are its definitions:

  • Acute Stress Disorder- a mental disorder that shows response and signs of trauma, and it goes away after a few weeks.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder- is a mental disorder that seriously affects a person's life. Signs and responses to trauma last for more than a month. Some individuals with PTSD have signs of trauma for the rest of their life.

    With the prolonged signs of trauma, other mental disorders such as Panic Disorder, Depression, or Substance Use Disorder, can occur.

    What is Substance Use Disorder
  • Collective Trauma- it's not a specific mental disorder, but it's a set of traumatic experiences that can produce different mental disorders. War, genocide, mass shootings, natural disaster, and slavery are examples of this kind of trauma.


Trauma can ignite a mental health decline. When you experience signs of trauma, you have various options. Trauma healing can happen if you do the following:

  • Seek therapy. Look for a therapist who can help you process your responses to trauma. They can equip you with techniques that can help improve symptoms and mood.
  • Engage in mindfulness practices. Studies show that meditation and mindfulness techniques can reduce signs of trauma.
  • Ask for help through hotlines. When you're having suicidal thoughts or if you're in need of support, call the National helplines. Through these hotlines, you get to be referred to a resource or treatment center where you can be given support.


It's normal to feel all alone when you're trying to overcome trauma. However, you are not alone in this. There are mental health resources that can give you support and help you recover. When you're hesitant to open up to your loved ones, a mental health professional can help. The following are mental health support hotlines:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - 1-877-726-4727

Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

Disaster Distress Helpline - 1-800-985-5990

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