... an inescapable event that is overwhelming
Psychological trauma occurs when an event or series of events take place which are so extreme to the individual that they overwhelm the ordinary humans adaptations to life, and their ability to cope or integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience.
There is an experience of intense fear, feeling of helplessness, having no control over the situation during what feels like a threat to life or bodily integrity.
The severity of the trauma cannot be measures by any single dimension, or enumerated in any way. How an individual responds to trauma depends on several things. Such as the severity of the trauma, how often it occurs, the severity and pervasiveness of it and the context in which it took place. Also the impact of the trauma varies depending on the persons own previous life experiences.
The ordinary response to the traumatic event is complex. The human body uses an integrated system of reactions which embrace both mind and body. For instance, when the body experiences a feeling of threat, the sympathetic nervous system is aroused which triggers a rush of adrenalin. The body goes into a state of alert, raising the person’s perceptions and vigilance and increasing focus on the current situation. This evokes the bodies natural response of fight, flight or freeze.However when a traumatic event becomes overwhelming the bodies healthy responses are unable to cope.
“Psychological trauma is a unique individual experience of an event or of enduring conditions in which the individuals ability to integrate his or her emotional experience is overwhelmed. (i.e.: his or her ability to stay present, understand what is happening, integrate the feelings, and make sense of the experiences (subjectively). A threat to life, integrity, or sanity.”
(Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p60)
The severity of the trauma may be so extreme that the bodies normally integrated functions of emotion, memory, physiological arousal and cognition may be ‘separated off’ from each other. It is the lack of integration which typifies traumatisation.
Traumatised people may feel as if their nervous system has been detached from the here and now. They may experience hyper arousal in a calm moment and without a clear understanding of why. It may feel like a traumatic experience which had happened in the past, and which the person had no memory of is happening in the here and now. There can also be flashbacks, somatic pains in the body as the body remembers the trauma, or the mind may ‘switch off’ or dissociate.
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