What is Trauma? Understanding the Symptoms and Types of Trauma

Trauma is a mental health issue that is triggered by a traumatic event. It can occur as a result of either witnessing or experiencing such events and includes symptoms such as severe anxiety, nightmares, uncontrollable thoughts and flashbacks. Many individuals who go through terrifying events may have a hard time coping or adjusting for some time, but do not develop PTSD since self-care and time can help them to recover. However, symptoms that worsen or last up for several months or years, and hinder regular functioning are usually signs of trauma and PTSD.


These symptoms, or reactions, range from mild to severe. They can also be short-lived or persist over several days, significantly interfering with everyday life. Possible symptoms of trauma fall into three general categories, and include the following:


  • Excessive startle reflex, in response to noises or imagery
  • Fatigue issues, potentially stemming from insomnia or nightmares
  • Accelerated heartbeat, coupled with anxiety or difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle soreness, including aches, pains, or general tension
  • Disrupted body functions, including changes in eating, sleeping, or sexual activity


  • Erratic or hostile responses, such as when rage occurs as a response to a seemingly mild criticism or a door slamming
  • Social withdrawal, including isolation or avoidance of activities that were previously enjoyable
  • Substance abuse, or other impulsive behaviours that cause self-harm
  • Argumentative tendencies, often in response to perceived threats during interpersonal interactions


  • Chronic low-level anxiety, leading to a feeling of loss of control
  • Fear or depression, as sources of happiness recede out of reach
  • Re-living the traumatic event, through dreams, flashbacks or sudden thoughts
  • Panic attacks, shock, numbing, or emotional detachment in response to the unresolved traumatic event

Many people with these symptoms will self-medicate with substances like alcohol or drugs, in an effort to control their malfunctioning nervous systems. It has been firmly established that memory plays an important role in the development and reoccurrence of trauma symptoms. Indeed, we have to frame these symptoms inside the memory paradigm in order to understand the nature of trauma.

For nearly 130 years, it has been documented that trauma and PTSD imprints are stored as physical movements and feelings in our bodies, instead of narratives about unfavourable events in our past, which means that we experience them as immediate threats in the present time.



Big T Trauma is caused by a severely traumatic event that may or may not implicate physical trauma. The event could be experienced by the person who is suffering from the trauma or witnessed by another person. These kinds of events might involve acts of extreme sexual and/or physical violence. They also might be experienced in the community where the person is living, through political acts or war, or inside their home as acts of family or domestic violence.


  • Natural disasters
  • Transportation accidents
  • Abrupt, unforeseen death within close relationships
  • Shock trauma is generally the experience of significant unanticipated or unwanted loss.


Small T trauma is best described as rather common life events that a person experiences as distressing. These events do not appear to be significant at surface level and any particular event may have no significance. However, the emotional impact that the experience has on the person is significant and causes it to become traumatic. What may exacerbate the trauma is other people’s dismissal regarding the weight of the emotional impact.

Oftentimes Small T trauma also falls in the complex trauma category, which we will discuss in greater detail below. A common phrase that can be used to describe Small T trauma is objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Viewing these events in an objective manner does not provide an accurate depiction of the impact that is subjective to the person.


  • Losing a job
  • Being teased or bullied in school
  • The loss of a pet
  • Parent’s divorce
  • Losing friends
  • Poverty
  • Changing schools or home
  • A learning condition
  • Being threatened or ignored


Complex trauma describes a form of wounding that could fall into both Big T and Small T trauma categories. The reason that they are complex is that the experiences or events are recurring, extended and cumulative. This type of trauma can also happen within specific contexts or relationships. For example, relational trauma is a form of complex trauma that takes place in a person’s family of origin while developmental trauma happens during main psychological development times like childhood and adolescence.

Other forms of complex trauma can happen during domestic abuse or multiple military deployments. It can also occur while being exploited by an authority figure or a person in power, such as if an authority figure at work or school used their power to manipulate their own agenda at the person’s expense. In other instances, complex trauma may occur when a person is in a vulnerable phase, such as old age, disability, dependency or disempowerment.


At The Dawn, we offer a programme that focuses on treating trauma and PTSD on its own, along with a separate integrated treatment model to treat trauma disorders, such as PTSD and addiction. Our model incorporates numerous evidence-based methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to ensure that our clients receive the best help possible.

If you or someone you care about needs help with trauma and PTSD, addiction or mental health issues then contact us today to receive a no obligation assessment and learn more about how we can help you. You can also call us at +66 63 048 4877 for an immediate assistance.

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