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What is Trauma

Childhood Trauma

What are Traumatic events?

There are many types of Traumatic events and they may be single events or repeated events.

In Childhood, traumatic events occur when a child or young person experiences or witnesses death or a near death experience, serious injury or sexual violence.

The event may be a natural or accidental disaster, war, terrorism, physical assault or any type of child abuse and neglect. The sudden death of a loved one, sexual violence and assault (including trafficking), refugee trauma and family member disappearance, military family-related loss (such as when a family member is deployed, or where a parent dies or is injured), can all be traumatic events.

Personal or family substance use, violence within families and communities and serious accidental injuries including Road Traffic Accidents, drowning, burns or falls may also be considered as traumatic events.

It is also possible to experience traumatic events by listening to the traumatic experiences of others (sometimes called secondary trauma, vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue).

Traumatic events that tend to have the greatest negative consequences are those related to interpersonal (person to person) or intentional trauma. This includes childhood abuse and neglect.

Traumatic events/experiences that are prolonged and repeated and which occur in early childhood are sometimes described as complex or developmental trauma. Complex trauma or developmental trauma are terms used to describe the type of traumatic events and are not diagnoses.

These types of events usually occur within the child’s current relationships and at a time when the young brain is developing. Examples may be emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, loss or abandonment. Other examples are those that may arise from chronic, repeated and severe exposure to community violence, racial trauma, refugee or war trauma. This includes any set of circumstances which are prolonged, from person to person and where an infant or child does not have his or her emotional needs met.

Traumatic experiences in pregnancy and in the first 4 years of a child’s life can affect brain development and have a significant impact on later emotional, mental and physical wellbeing and the effects can persist into adult life. Follow this link for more information about normal brain development and the impact of trauma on the developing brain.

Exposure to prolonged and repeated traumatic events can impact on relationships and the development of personal identity.

When an infant or child’s environment growing up is one of fear and neglect, this has major consequences for their future ability to form trusting relationships with appropriate and safe adults. The development of personal identity ( a sense of who we are, what kind of person we are and where we come from) is also affected. Traumatised children, young people and adults may not have a positive view about themselves and this may then adversely affect how we think, affect our behaviours and the choices we make in life.

Exposure to Trauma is common.

 1/3 of children and young people in England and Wales have been exposed to a traumatic experience by the age of 18 years and 1/4 of those develop Post traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD by the age of 18 years.

What is trauma?