Experiencing difficult events is a part of life, and it’s normal to struggle with how you feel afterwards. Most of the time we will move on and feel better fairly quickly. However, when something really distressing happens that leaves us feeling terrified, helpless and unable to cope, it can have a significant, long-term effect on our emotional wellbeing. This is called trauma.
Trauma can be the result of a one-off event, a series of events, or an ongoing situation. You can experience trauma even if you weren’t directly involved in the event - for example, if you witness something bad happen.
There is an idea that for something to be traumatic, it has to be really extreme, like fighting in a war. But this isn’t the case.
Sometimes trauma can be a ‘small’ thing that has left a big impact on how you think, feel or act – even if for another person that thing might seem insignificant. For example, if a teacher called you ‘stupid’, that could be traumatic for you if, as a result, you start to struggle with negative feelings about yourself.
Trauma can also be the result of things that build up over time. For example, a family member constantly criticising you or saying mean things to you can amount to trauma.