If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or others, help is available. Please call the free National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24/7:

800-273-8255 (TALK)

You can also visit your local Emergency Room.

What is Trauma?


A trauma is something so difficult, scary, and unpleasant that it continues to haunt the person who experienced or witnessed the event(s) after they are over. Culturally, however, the word “trauma” has serious connotations. As a result, many people don’t label their experiences as “traumatic.” Some may minimize their experiences, or identify them as less serious than they actually were, comparing them to things they think are worse: for example, dismissing sexual harassment in comparison to rape.


But the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5) defines trauma as “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one or more of the following ways: direct experiencing, witnessing the event(s), learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or friend, or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to negative details of traumatic events (i.e. homicide detectives).”


So by this definition, most of us have experienced trauma at least once in our lives. We’ve lost loved ones, or seen them fall ill. Some of us live, or once lived, in or near violent neighborhoods. We’ve been in car accidents, or gone to war, or experienced sexually or physically inappropriate behavior. In fact, in 2010, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men reported experiencing rape, and that 1 in 20 women and men had experienced other forms of sexual violence or coercion. In addition, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 10 men reported experiencing some form of intimate partner violence (domestic abuse) in their lifetimes.


People try to cope with these experiences in different ways. Some are obviously unhealthy, like addiction or self-harm such as cutting, burning, or physically hurting oneself. Others may engage in less obvious but still unhealthy coping behaviors, like working all the time, driving recklessly, taking up dangerous hobbies, or engaging in high-risk sexual behavior. It is a natural and understandable response to want to avoid reminders of painful experiences, but trying not to think or talk about them often keeps people stuck in the grip of their trauma.


Those that talk about their trauma with caring and supportive people stand a better chance of healing than those that choose not to think or talk about these experiences.