Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

What Is Trauma?

The word “trauma” is used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless. Trauma has sometimes been defined in reference to circumstances that are outside the realm of normal human experience. Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t always hold true. For some groups of people, trauma can occur frequently and become part of the common human experience. (Center for Nonviolence & Social Justice)

“Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life.”  — Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery

Particular forms of trauma, such as war, intentional violence and/or witnessing violence, sustained discrimination, poverty, and ensuing chaotic life conditions are directly related to chronic fear and anxiety, with serious long-term effects on health and other life outcomes.

In addition to terrifying events such as violence and assault, we suggest that relatively more subtle and insidious forms of trauma—such as discrimination, racism, oppression, and poverty—are pervasive and, when experienced chronically, have a cumulative impact that can be fundamentally life-altering.

Trauma theory” is a relatively recent concept that emerged in the health care environment during the 1970s, mostly in connection with studies of Vietnam veterans and other survivor groups (Holocaust survivors, abused women and children, disaster survivors, refugees, victims of sexual assault) “Post-traumatic stress disorder” was added as a new category in the American Psychiatric Association official manual of mental disorders in 1980.

Trauma theory represents a fundamental shift in thinking from the idea that those who have experienced psychological trauma are either “sick” or deficient in moral character to the reframe that they are “injured” and in need of healing.

Most people do not realize the degree to which they are experiencing symptoms related to trauma. Untreated trauma can be the cause of one’s anxiety, depression or just general unhappiness or dissatisfaction with life.

The good news is that underlying trauma’s can be effectively treated, and the past’s toxicity need no longer be the lens through which the individual primarily experiences the present.

Signs & Symptoms of Trauma

  • Addictive behaviors.
  • An inability to tolerate conflicts with others.
  • An inability to tolerate intense feelings, preferring to avoid feeling by any number of ways.
  • An innate belief that one is bad or worthless.
  • Excessive sense of self-blame – taking on inappropriate responsibility as if everything is one’s fault, making excessive apologies.
  • Intense anxiety and repeated panic attacks.
  • Chronic and repeated suicidal thoughts and feelings.
  • Inappropriate attachments to mother figures or father figures, even with dysfunctional or unhealthy people.
  • Ongoing, chronic depression.
  • Repeatedly acting from a victim role in current day relationships.
  • Repeatedly taking on the rescuer role, even when inappropriate to do so.
  • Unexplained but intense fears of people, places, things.
  • Intrusive thoughts, upsetting visual images, flashbacks, body memories / unexplained body pain, or distressing nightmares.
  • Self-harm, self-mutilation, self-injury, self-destruction.
  • Disorganized attachment patterns – having a variety of short but intense relationships, refusing to have any relationships, dysfunctional relationships, frequent love/hate relationships.
  • Dissociation, spacing out, losing time, missing time, feeling like you are two completely different people (or more than two).
  • Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, obesity, etc.


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Mark Blough, Psy.D


Kathy Blough, Psy.S  
Psychotherapist & Holistic Health Counselor


Address:2350 Washtenaw
Suite 8
Ann Arbor, MI 48104