Trauma and PTSD

Trauma, which means "wound" in Greek, is often the result of an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one's ability to cope or integrate the emotions involved with that experience. A traumatic event involves one experience, or repeating events with the sense of being overwhelmed that can be delayed by weeks, years, or even decades as the person struggles to cope with the immediate circumstances, eventually leading to serious, long-term negative consequences.

Trauma can be caused by a wide variety of events, but there are a few common aspects. There is frequently a violation of the person's familiar ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is also seen when institutions that are depended upon for survival, violate or betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way.

Psychologically traumatic experiences often involve physical trauma that threatens one's survival and sense of security. Typical causes and dangers of psychological trauma include harassment, embarrassment, sexual abuse, employment discrimination, police brutality, bullying, domestic violence, indoctrination, being the victim of an alcoholic parent, the threat of either, or the witnessing of either, particularly in childhood, life-threatening medical conditions, and medication-induced trauma.  Catastrophic natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, war or other mass violence can also cause psychological trauma. Long-term exposure to situations such as extreme poverty or milder forms of abuse, such as verbal abuse, exist independently of physical trauma but still generate psychological trauma.

However, the definition of trauma differs among individuals by their subjective experiences, not the objective facts. People will react to similar events differently. In other words, not all people who experience a potentially traumatic event will actually become psychologically traumatized.  This discrepancy in risk rate can be attributed to protective factors some individuals may have that enable them to cope with trauma. Some examples are mild exposure to stress early in life, resilience characteristics, and active seeking of help.[9]

Some theories suggest childhood trauma can increase one's risk for psychological disorders including PTSD, depression, and substance abuse. Childhood adversity is associated with heightened neuroticism scores during adulthood.  Parts of the brain in a growing child are developing in a sequential and hierarchical order, from least complex to most complex. The brains neurons are designed to change in response to the constant external signals and stimulation, receiving and storing new information. This allows the brain to continually respond to its surroundings and promote survival. Our five main sensory signals contribute to the developing brain structure and its function.  Infants and children begin to create internal representations of their external environment shortly after birth. The more frequent a specific pattern of brain neurons is activated, the more permanent the internal representation associated with the pattern becomes.  This causes sensitization in the brain towards the specific neural network. Because of this sensitization, the neural pattern can be activated by decreasingly less external stimuli. Childhood abuse tends to have the most complications with long-term effects out of all forms of trauma because it occurs during the most sensitive and critical stages of psychological development.  It could also lead to violent behavior, possibly as extreme as serial murder.