Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association as, “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” While those examples are only a few, there are many events that can traumatize someone. We all have different memories, perceptions, backgrounds, fears, and more – so what could be very traumatic for one person may not feel traumatic for another.

When someone experiences a traumatic event, their ability to cope is typically very overwhelmed. They feel very afraid of death, being hurt or hurting someone else, pain, and more. When something traumatic occurs, our amygdala (an almond-shaped area located deep within the brain) is responsible for our emotions and actions as it relates to our survival needs. When this happens, our amygdala becomes hypersensitive and stays alert to perceived threats. This activation causes many things to happen within the body:

  • There is an increase of arousal and autonomic responses within the body from fear
  • There is a release of stress hormones
  • Our emotional response is engaged
  • Our brain decides where memories should be stored and where they should be placed around our cortex
  • Our brain attaches an emotional charge, as well as feeling and tone, to those memories. When this happens, each time we relive a memory, we experience the same emotions and feelings associated with it – which explains why many people suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

The problem is that when the body is in alert mode, the hippocampus (next to the amygdala) is unable to store memories during/after trauma, thus making them continue in “active” mode. After trauma, the prefrontal cortex (located in the front of the brain) cannot stop inappropriate actions or distract the person from mentally revisiting the traumatic event. A person is also more likely to experience sadness and/or anger after the incident.

Essentially, anything that has these effects on the body and brain can be traumatizing for someone. We have deeply held fears and beliefs, and anything that disrupts these and causes us to panic and feel overwhelmed with our coping mechanisms can be traumatizing for us. Thus, traumatic events are subjective – each person is affected by upsetting events differently.

If someone has experienced something traumatizing, they should seek a doctor and therapist to work through their emotions. Trauma can affect every aspect of someone’s life and can be extremely debilitating if a person is not able to recover from it. Medication, counseling, and support groups can all be helpful, and a person should find out what works best from them.

Trauma involves a whirlwind of emotions and fears, but that does not mean that the person cannot recover. With so many resource available, we can overcome these upsetting events and arise a stronger, healthier person.


Avalon Malibu, a member of the New Vista Behavioral Health family, is a certified primary mental health residential treatment facility- one of California’s few. With higher standards providing better outcomes, the New Vista family of exceptional care providers can help you heal in body, mind, and spirit. Trauma does not have to define your life and keep you from living it. Your life is waiting to be lived. Start defining your life by recovery today by calling: 855-577-0113

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