We encounter difficulties, stress, disastrous circumstances, unfortunate events, and hurtful blows in life. […] All this can cause psychic trauma. Since the sin of Adam and Eve, humanity has been caught up in a great conflict: a battle between good and evil, lies and truth, bad and good, sickness and health, poverty and wealth, lack and abundance, failure and success, ups and downs, etc.
I – What Is a Psychic Trauma?
Psychological trauma, psychotrauma, or psychic trauma, is the totality of the psychological and physiological damage resulting from a dramatically experienced event or any form of violence, physically or morally experienced. He expresses himself particularly in daily life through a post-traumatic stress disorder in which elements innocuous but suddenly associated with the first event turn into stress. Psychic trauma can be accompanied by physical trauma.
So to speak simply, psychic trauma is the effect on the psyche of certain events that will cause an “injury” to the psyche.
However, only certain events can lead to trauma: when such an event occurs, everyone can be affected in a different way, and the evolution is very variable depending on the individual. What are the events that can be traumatic?
II – Possible Causes of Psychic Trauma
Possible causes of the trauma are the loss of a loved one, rape or other sexual abuse, bullying, spousal abuse, indoctrination, a victim of alcoholism, or threat or witness to a traumatic event, especially during childhood. Events such as natural disasters (earthquakes and volcanic eruptions), wars, or other aggravating violence can also contribute to psychic trauma. Long-term exposure to situations such as poverty or other forms of aggression, such as humiliation and verbal aggression, can be traumatic.
We emphasize that not all individuals are susceptible to identical trauma forms and intensities. Psychological vulnerability varies individually, being related to personal history and past traumas. Psychic trauma can occur at any age, including in children, even young.
The psychic trauma, therefore, concerns mainly the people who lived the event directly: the victims directly threatened, but also all the direct witnesses of the scene. It is currently considered that having a very close person who has been injured or killed in such an event, or the fact that a professional is repeatedly exposed to difficult details, can also cause trauma.
In other cases, for example, for people who have not attended the event, we do not speak of psychological trauma: there may still be psychological consequences (such as adjustment disorders), but no post-traumatic stress disorder.
III – How to Describe the Traumatic Experience?
The experience of the traumatic moment is variable, but very often, people describe a reaction of fear that seized them, something that is beyond fear: “It was like a white man,” “I saw death in the face, “I saw myself dead.” There is no word to describe this incommunicable feeling that bursts into the psyche and is often followed by violent emotions (loneliness, abandonment, horror, anguish, anger, helplessness, and feelings of guilt …). In some people, dissociation may appear; it is then a way of protecting the psyche against fear. Other symptoms may appear on the first day or the first month. This experience of fear is at the heart of post-traumatic stress disorder since, in this case, it is this experience of the traumatic moment that will come back constantly (in thoughts, traumatic nightmares), as if the threat were still there.
IV – Possible Manifestations of Psychic Trauma
Intense and emotionally charged events, especially if they happen at difficult times in life or at an early age, can cause depression in the individual. For example, a child who is ridiculed or insulted, or who is surprised in the dark, or frightened by snakes and spiders, or who feels defamed, or who is sexually abused, or who has lost his father or his mother at a young age.
In the same way that a serious bodily injury leaves permanent marks, emotional trauma can leave a legacy for many years.
The most visible consequences are evident during the first days and weeks after the experience – recurring dreams, passing memories, denial, anxiety, or lack of attention and concentration. In some cases, especially in children, sequelae may be permanent, becoming a solid barrier to good mental health.
Psychic trauma and tension can even develop and become an illness. When there has been psychological trauma, the disorders can be transient or lasting. We can, therefore, note three types of manifestations: immediate, post-immediate, and delayed.
During the traumatic event, the body reacts: it is the very short reaction of immobility or “freezing” of the parasympathetic system (cognitive, affective, and motor stupidation), then that of flight/combat of the sympathetic system (tachycardia, hyperventilation) may be manifested by agitation behaviors, panic leakage, mimetic reactions, or even neurotic (hysterical, phobic) or psychotic (delusions, disorientation) manifestations in predisposed subjects.
Once the event is over, the reaction phase of acute stress (agitation, anguish, intrusive memories, the absence of emotions …) occurs. These are normal and natural reactions after a traumatic experience.
The traumatic event can be experienced as:
– a wave of acute stress (reviviscence of trauma, insomnia) related to anxiety symptoms (insecurity, anxiety).
– shock or emotional chaos.
– depressive symptoms (feeling of helplessness, loss of bearings, impossible mourning, the crisis of meaning in life).
After a period of time, reactions may take the form of symptoms such as somatic hyperexcitation (agitation, anxiety), repetition syndrome (recurrent intrusive memories, nightmares), dissociation (detachment), and avoidance (situational anxiety). or social). This corresponds to the state of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Finally, this condition can become chronic and be associated with other problems (alcoholism, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and eating disorders …). What about the possible effects of psychic trauma?
V – The Effects of Past Trauma
Past traumas can produce:
• Insecurity: The individual receives a large part of the traumatic effect and loses confidence in himself, demonstrating insecurity.
• Difficulties in performing normal activities: The affected person feels unable to achieve simple goals. For example, young women or girls who have been sexually abused usually have difficulty interacting socially with young men. Or the boy whose older brothers scared him with a spider can develop a phobia of spiders.
• Paranoid tendencies: The traumatized person is distrustful of the environment and may interpret other people’s neutral attitudes as a trap against him or herself as a victim of aggression or undue persecution.
• Depression: The traumatic event is generally perceived as a loss (loss of honor, loss of a loved one or a pet), and any loss brings with it the risk of depressive symptoms.
• Anorexia and bulimia: There is also a clear correlation between being sexually abused and eating disorders, especially anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
VI – How to Overcome Psychic Trauma?
Undoubtedly, anyone suffering from psychological trauma desires to overcome them.
There are traumas that, because of their severity, require psychiatric treatment. Others, although without these dramatic consequences, tend to complicate the development of the individual’s life on a daily basis. To do this, we offer the following tips:
1. Accept the past and Focus on the Future
If you are focused on the past, you cannot have the confidence to face the future. Moreover, it is good to remember that our mind does not have the ideal capacity to record data. Our memories are reconstructed events from the past, and these memories are touched by our feelings and our understanding of them in the present.
2. Talk About the Traumatic Event
In a secure environment, speaking (or writing) about the event that caused the psychic trauma is a crucial step. Look for someone trustworthy and tell him what happened. Group therapy is useful for people who have suffered trauma. The harm that is not exposed will not be forgotten.
3. Look on the Positive Side
Disasters and calamities tend to unite survivors, families, and communities. Be grateful for the care given to those who face tragedies. Moreover, when dealing with traumatic situations with courage, they tend to reinforce the character.
Although it may take some time, forgiveness frees us from hatred and resentment toward those who have caused us psychic trauma. It is an important step towards resolution, which also applies to ourselves, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Resolving hate does not preclude the victim from wanting a fair conclusion to the traumatic experience.
Pain and resentment make us prisoners of the past and constantly remind us of what happened long ago.
In truth, the person most affected by resentment is yourself.
However, forgiveness is not always spontaneous because our capacity to love (to forgive is to love) is limited.
Seek the Source of Forgiveness, the God of Love – who, according to the gospel, wants us to be His friends and can facilitate victory over the past that dominates. Do not forget what says the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who have offended us” (Matthew 6:12).
5. Write the Experiments
Melanie Greenberg and Arthur Stone did an interesting study at the State University of New York. Sixty university students participated, sharing their past experiences in the following steps:
Step 1 – The researchers grouped the participants into sub-groups: those with severe trauma, those with low-level trauma, and those without psychic trauma.
Step 2 – Some participants were invited to share their experiences in writing, and others were not given this opportunity, as both groups had baseline or control groups.
Step 3 – In the following months, health and disease trends were observed for all participants.
The results showed that those who experienced severe trauma and revealed it in writing had much more progress in physical health than those who did not write anything about their traumatic experiences.
Similar studies show that revealing a traumatic event is good for the soul and the body. One who subscribes to this idea is the author and survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, Elie Wiesel. He wrote and rewrote his personal trauma experience, allowing him to find the meaning and importance of these traumas. Even if we are not always able to express our feelings and memories appropriately, we still have to try.
Furthermore, in the struggle to overcome psychic trauma, it is essential for us to avoid self-victimization, but rather to seek comfort in religion, to create new goals in life (perhaps even to use it. the experience itself to do something good for other people), and avoid feeding a desire for revenge or hatred.
One last piece of advice in this context is: “I do one thing: forgetting what is behind and leading me to what is ahead, I run toward the goal” (Philippians 3: 13, 14).
The word resilience comes from physics and describes the ability of some materials to return to their original state or even improve their quality after being subjected to extreme situations.
On the human level, resilience is a person’s ability to regain emotional balance or even reinforce themselves after a traumatic situation.
There are different levels of resistance, and everything varies from person to person. What traumatizes one individual may not necessarily affect the other. It depends on factors such as temperament, problem-solving skills, intelligence, self-esteem, social competence, self-control, family, and social relationships.
We cannot underestimate the importance of good relationships. A study of 724 people over a period of more than seventy years concluded that wealth and fame do not guarantee happiness, longevity, or resilience. In fact, good relationships with family and friends extend the life and make it more enjoyable. Robert J. Waldinger, a psychiatrist, and professor at Harvard Medical School, is currently coordinating this activity.
He cites three important lessons regarding the relationships drawn from this study in the United States: (1) – Social bonds are good for human beings, while loneliness kills; (2) the quality of the relationship is more important than the quantity; and (3) happy and lasting relationships protect physical and mental health.
“The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more isolated find that they are less happy, their health declines rather in their forties, and the functioning of their brains decreases more quickly. They live a shorter life than people who are not alone, “says Waldinger in TED Talk, available on Youtube ( ” What Makes a Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness.” Speech at TEDx Conference,
However, there is another important factor as well, or perhaps more important than the others, good social relations.
Today, researchers recognize that religion is an important factor in developing and building resilience. In addition to the social support network, religion provides a positive vision of the future. However, it is not just any religion, suggests psychiatrist Harold Koenig, who studies the relationship between religiosity and health at Duke University in North Carolina. He states that it is useless for a person to simply affirm that he is “spiritual” without actually manifesting a religious practice. It is vital to engage in a religion in order to reap the benefits. It is essential to attend religious services and manifest an explicit faith at home and other places through prayer and Bible study. He says that religious belief must affect life and influence health.
As a Conclusion on Psychic Trauma
Like all wounds, these “invisible wounds” can have varying fates. In many people, they will cause suffering for a few days or weeks before subsiding. In others, they will cause a state of chronic suffering, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and it is not possible to predict the evolution of a priori. In the event of a single traumatic event, 10 to 40% of exposed people develop chronic disorders.
Certain factors increase the risk of occurrence of chronic disorders, whether they are factors related to the event (intensity and duration of exposure, captivity, physical injury, confrontation with horrible images, etc.) or related to the person (history of psychiatric disorders, history of confrontation with traumas even if they have been overcome, social isolation …). The support received in reality (by the entourage, the hierarchy, and the State …) has a protective role.
People who have experienced psychic trauma keep track of events in their psyche, such as a scar, which is likely to reopen later in life, for example, as a result of another painful event or anniversary. In this case, it is never too late to ask for help, and the care remains effective.
Finally, some people who experience severe trauma ultimately feel that their experience has led to positive changes in their lives, that they have acquired additional qualities, or dared to make positive decisions (resilience, post-traumatic growth).