In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture.
Trauma can come in many forms. The soldier returning from active duty in a war zone, the child who lives with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, the first responder who must deal with human suffering on a daily basis, and the adult who endures domestic abuse all are experiencing trauma. Complex trauma occurs repeatedly and often involves direct harm to the victim. Its effects are cumulative and generally transpire in a specific setting and, frequently, within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship.
The majority of us have heard about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), the condition that can occur when someone is exposed to a situation over which they had little or no control and from which there was little or no hope of escape. It is often associated with members of the military who have witnessed the horrors of battle, or with people who have endured an extreme physical or emotional trauma. PTSD can occur after experiencing even just one threatening situation, such as being involved in a car accident. But, what about those who have gone through long-term exposure to a continuing, intense level of stress?