Shame, Fear, Anxiety, Anger, Depression

How Trauma affects the Mind

A trauma is a painful emotional or physical experience that continues to affect and impact a person even when it is no longer happening. Trauma involves something happening to a person that they cannot stop or control. Sexual abuse and sexual assult are such traumas. It is a painful emotional or physical experience that continues to affect a person after the abuse ends.

In listening to survivors of trauma, we have tried to understand how and why certain experiences affect peoples thoughts, feelings and behavior. What we have learned is that different types of traumas (like living through a war, combat, natural disasters, and sexual victimization) seem to affect people in some of the same ways. The name post-traumatic stress disorder is used as a way of describing the usual ways in which people are affected by trauma.

People are affected by trauma in two main ways. One way is that they are reminded of the trauma when they don’t want to be. We call that having unwanted reminders, The other way they are affected by the trauma is that they put a lot of energy into trying to forget that the trauma ever happened. We call that simply trying to forget.


Unwanted reminders or triggers:

  • Thinking about or remembering the abuse while trying to do something else.

  • Feeling like you’re reliving or experiencing the abuse in the present.

  • Feeling upset after seeing, smelling, hearing or thinking about something that reminds you of the abuse.

  • Thinking or feeling like you’ve seen the person who abused you even though you know you haven’t.

  • Having nightmares of the abuse.


Ways some people try to forget

  • Trying to stay away from places, activities, or situations that remind you of the abuse.

  • Trying to push away thoughts or feelings that has to do with the abuse.

  • Not being able to remember long periods of time during your childhood.

  • Feeling distant and different from other people.

  • Struggle to trust others or develop healthy relationships.

  • Thinking that you won’t have a long life or a good future.


Other signs of post-traumatic stress injury

  • Having difficulting falling asleep.

  • Having diffculty staying asleep.

  • Having trouble concentrating.

  • Being easily angered.

  • Being overly watchful and alert to danger.

  • Being jumpy when touched or approached unexpectedly.

  • Living with a sense of fear or feeling unsafe.


These are only a few examples of what people may be experiencing.