What Are the 3 Types of Trauma?

Medically Reviewed on 2/8/2021

Three types of trauma

The word “trauma” may be used in two different contexts.
The word “trauma” may be used in two different contexts.

The word “trauma” may be used in two different contexts. In the physical context, it means a physical injury inflicted on a person by some external agent. In a psychological context, the term trauma means an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event. The event may be the sudden loss of a loved one, an accident, rape, or natural disaster. This article will use the term trauma in a psychological context.

A person subjected to trauma may respond in several ways. They may be in a state of shock, extreme grief, or denial. Apart from the immediate or short-term response, trauma may also give rise to several longer-term reactions in the form of emotional lability, flashbacks, impulsiveness, and strained relationships. Besides the psychological symptoms, trauma can lead to physical symptoms, such as headaches, lethargy, and nausea. Some people may be affected a lot more than others. Such people may be entrapped in the emotional impact of the trauma and find it difficult to move on with their lives. Such long-term manifestation of trauma can lead to a psychological condition called PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. A qualified psychologist can help people, who faced a traumatic experience, to recover from the experience and lead a productive life.

Trauma is divided into three main types: acute, chronic, and complex.

Acute Trauma:

It mainly results from a single distressing event, such as an accident, rape, assault, or natural disaster. The event is extreme enough to threaten the person’s emotional or physical security. The event creates a lasting impression on the person’s mind. If not addressed through medical help, it can affect the way the person thinks and behaves. Acute trauma generally presents in the form of:

  • Excessive anxiety or panic
  • Irritation
  • Confusion
  • Inability to have a restful sleep
  • Feeling of disconnection from the surroundings
  • Unreasonable lack of trust
  • Inability to focus on work or studies
  • Lack of self-care or grooming
  • Aggressive behavior

Chronic trauma:

It happens when a person is exposed to multiple, long-term, and/or prolonged distressing, traumatic events over an extended period. Chronic trauma may result from a long-term serious illness, sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying, and exposure to extreme situations, such as a war. Several events of acute trauma as well as untreated acute trauma may progress into chronic trauma. The symptoms of chronic trauma often appear after a long time, even years after the event. The symptoms are deeply distressing and may manifest as labile or unpredictable emotional outbursts, anxiety, extreme anger, flashbacks, fatigue, body aches, headaches, and nausea. These individuals may have trust issues, and hence, they do not have stable relationships or jobs. Help from a qualified psychologist is necessary to make the person recover from the distressing symptoms.

Complex trauma:

It is a result of exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events or experiences. The events are generally within the context of an interpersonal (between people) relationship. It may give the person a feeling of being trapped. Complex trauma often has a severe impact on the person’s mind. It may be seen in individuals who have been victims of childhood abuse, neglect, domestic violence, family disputes, and other repetitive situations, such as civil unrest. It affects the person’s overall health, relationships, and performance at work or school.

Whatever be the type of trauma, if a person finds it difficult to recover from the distressing experiences, they must seek timely psychological help. A qualified psychologist can help the person with a traumatic experience lead a fulfilling life.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/8/2021
References
Mind. Trauma. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/trauma/about-trauma/

PsyLegal. What Are the 3 Main Types of Trauma? December 20, 2019. https://www.psylegal.com.au/3-main-types-trauma/