What does trauma mean

The term trauma(Greek: Wound) can be understood figuratively as a "mental injury" that can occur when the psychological protective mechanisms are overburdened by a traumatic experience. Events such as serious accidents, illnesses and natural disasters, but also experiences of considerable psychological, physical and sexual violence as well as severe experiences of loss and neglect are generally referred to as traumatizing.

Colloquially, the term trauma is often used in relation to the most varied of painful incidents to indicate that it was a special burden for the person concerned. In the medical classification systems (ICD-10 and DSM-IV), which are decisive for the professional assessment of psychological complaints, the term is much more narrowly defined and only includes events that

  • objectively be associated with "extraordinary threat or disaster-like extent" (ICD-10) or "actual or threatened death, actual or threatened serious bodily harm or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others" (DSM-IV), as well as
  • subjectively "would cause deep despair in almost everyone" (ICD-10) or with "severe fear, helplessness or horror".

Events experienced as traumatic can cause a deep emotional shock in almost everyone, resulting in excessive demands on the innate biological stress system. Thus, a trauma affects not only mentally, but also physically. The flooding of the brain as part of an overwhelming stress reaction hinders the appropriate processing of what has been experienced, with the result that the person concerned cannot integrate the experience made into his or her treasure trove as usual and then gain distance from it again.

This circumstance can lead to the organism remaining at an increased stress level and developing characteristic consequential complaints.


What is post-traumatic stress and how do post-traumatic disorders arise?