Things are starting to warm up a little where I live. The snow is finally receding, and we are seeing grass for the first time in a while!

Welcome to Nate 90!

Last time in episode 16, I attempted what is a difficult task for me: defining psychological trauma. I spent the entire episode preparing us for an actual definition as well as why it is important for us to properly define it. That was more than enough information for one episode, so I stopped short of actually defining psychological trauma.

So, if you haven't listened or read episode 16, make sure you do that first.

Today, we are going to actually define psychological trauma and then draw some conclusions. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines trauma this way:

a : an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent

b : a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury (1)

Definition 'a' focuses on the physical whereas 'b' focuses on the psychological. It is pretty generic though. Not everybody who experiences emotional stress or physical injury will experience psychological trauma.

So, why are some people traumatized under emotional stress or physical injury and others not? And, why can the same person go through one stressful event and not experience psychological trauma and yet another event they do?

These are big questions, and the next definition gets us closer to helpful answers. The website provides the following definition:

Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. (2)

The phrase we need to focus on from this definition is "overwhelms an individual's ability to cope."

The psychological trauma begins at this point. Yes, it gets much more complicated, but let's understand the starting point.

When we are overwhelmed and cannot cope we kick into survival mode. There are four common survival modes people enter into. These can be categorized with what is called the 4Fs - Fight, Flight, Fawn, and Freeze. (3)

These four survival mode responses are temporary tools to help us get through the situation. What instead happens, especially the more psychological trauma a person experiences with out getting proper help, we get stuck in these responses, and we don't know how to find our way out of them.

What this means is that the trauma we have experienced never gets resolved, the wound cannot heal, and the trauma remains.

What is even more sad is what we touched on last time. People can't look at us and see that we have unhandled trauma in our lives. Now, folks that know us well and understand trauma may be able to perceive it over time.

Another factor is many people dealing with unhandled trauma in their lives don't realize it or don't understand what to do about it.

Recovering from trauma yourself or attempting to help someone else recover from it is fraught with complications. This is why it is often good to see a trauma-informed counselor. This isn't the only way, but often this is the best way.

There is so much more to say on this topic. Hopefully this will be a good start for you.


(1) Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1996).


(3) Usually a person's response spills over into more than one of these categories. For those who want to study deeper, there are good books to help folks sort through them such as Pete Walker's Complex PTSD