what is trauma?


We commonly refer to this toxic stress as childhood trauma. Trauma can invoke extreme, tragic images, and it can include any deeply disturbing or distressing experience. Though trauma can connote severe forms of abuse, including physical and sexual, and/or extreme neglect, it is not limited in this way. In fact, trauma includes parental behavior such as emotional neglect or unavailability.

Children rely on their parents and caregivers for safety and security. A secure attachment to a caregiver is what allows children to tolerate stress. And when children cannot depend on a caregiver, that in itself becomes a source of stress. The key here is that the stress response stops when the parents become available again.

Whether or not you consider your upbringing mildly problematic or severely abusive, the important thing is this: how trauma looks and how individuals respond to it is extremely complex. One thing for sure is, trauma need not be dramatic to have a lasting impact.

Think of it this way: The body’s alarm system is like a sprinkler system that turns on when it detects a fire. When working normally, the sprinklers extinguish the fire. But if the sprinkler system turns on throughout the day to prepare for a fire that hasn’t started yet, the alarm system begins to work against us. Mold grows and makes us sick. Eventually, our waterlogged walls would sag, our floors would collapse, and our foundation would begin to crumble. Stress hormones do the same in children’s bodies, causing chronic inflammation, an overstimulated immune system, and damaging key parts of the brain.