fissures representing how your brain reacts to trauma

Is It Trauma?

How do I know what kind of trauma I am experiencing?
how to feel hope and cope after trauma


There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.

Laurel K. Hamilton,  Mistral’s Kiss

So many of us walk around with bodies that are covered in invisible bruises. You might never know that the cashier across from you was sexually assaulted at a party last weekend. Your barista’s cousin was murdered last year. Your professor’s child died by suicide five years ago and they still struggle to make it through each day. The police officer that just issued you a citation survived mortar strikes in Afghanistan. The body holds countless elusive signs of prior pain. Psychological trauma can take many forms and survivors do their best to function in this world even if they might be panicking, screaming, or simply floating in numbness on the inside.

The American Psychiatric Association defines trauma as being a situation wherein someone experienced a threat to their survival or to the survival of someone around them. Examples include a natural disaster, car accident, exposure to war, unexpected job loss, the homicide or suicide of a loved one, or a physical or sexual assault.


Acute versus Complex

Sometimes the traumatic stress reaction occurs instantly. Other times it can resurface years later when a vein or trigger is activated. And many times, trauma is complex—the subtle interweaving of multiple types of loss and rejection that shape our cognitive expectations and fear response in ways we may not perceive. While the APA defines what specifically constitutes as “trauma”, there is more and more research emerging on the trauma that occurs after prolonged emotional abuse or neglect, infidelity, job loss, or enduring a chronic illness.

Betrayal Trauma

Were you betrayed by a loved one, a partner, a coworker, or family member who you at one time thought could never let you down? Or perhaps, you have been betrayed by systems, ideals, or religion. We have a right to safety and security. When the people closest to us or the structures we rely on violate this, we can start to question everything. When nothing feels safe, everything is a threat, and it becomes impossible to find our north star or sense of purpose in anything at all anymore.

Family Trauma / Toxic Childhood

Our family unit is our innermost tribe. These are supposed to be our people: our biggest cheerleaders, those most similar to us, our inner circle. Therefore, these people become inextricably intertwined with who are. In essence, it becomes how we view ourselves. Consequently, it is no surprise that family trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, or extreme dysfunction can have such a spider web of impacts across our neural circuits. 


Workplace Trauma

In American culture, our value is largely linked with our career and our “contributions” to society (namely, work!). So, is it any surprise that when you are traumatized at work, whether through something unexpected or a targeted act, it goes to your core? Have you been betrayed at work? 


Witness of Violence, Assault or Unethical Behavior

Sometimes, we see or experience something so sudden, bad, violating or unexpected that it haunts us. Even though we may understand intellectually that the threat has passed, our body’s hypervigilance won’t let us move on. 


Trauma’s Impact

Whatever the original cause or current manifestation, the impact of trauma on your life can be pervasive. While trauma symptoms are among the most debilitating, they are also very treatable.

In fact, if you have sought treatment before, but have not seen results, it could be because your practitioner was not using evidenced-based trauma approaches. We now know that treating trauma effectively must go beyond talk therapy to root out the causal mechanisms and de-activate negative trigger loops. The good news is, there are robust evidence-based treatments for trauma. Unfortunately, many psychologists still don’t have training in these more rigorous approaches. At SENS, we are all doctoral level therapists and have specialized training and experience specifically in trauma therapies.

In addition to extended training in trauma therapy, our psychologists have worked with many traumatized populations, such as African war refugees, children who have been removed from the home due to abuse/neglect, veterans, and people dealing with traumatic changes in their families. We also specialize in infidelity, relationship, toxic childhood, complex, and workplace trauma. Ready to start the healing  process?



licensed clinical psychologist for anxiety and trauma in Arlington, VA

about the author

Dr. Britt Lindon

Founder & President

I understand ambitious but thoughtful & creative, purpose-driven people because I am one. Sooner or later, if you are these things, you find yourself confronting an existential conundrum: how to win the game when…