The word “trauma” has two definitions. In the medical sense, “trauma” means a physical injury–a traumatic event for the body. However, “trauma” can also refer to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. A trip to the emergency room usually involves both types of trauma, and for healing to occur, both types of trauma need to be addressed.
Traumatic injuries have an intimidating and richly deserved reputation for being hard to overcome. People who have suffered a traumatic injury will, in all likelihood, carry physical and psychological scars from the incident for the rest of their lives. One of the defining characteristics of traumatic physical injuries is that they need care immediately; without it, the person is unlikely to make a recovery of any sort. Psychological trauma may manifest differently–it may become worse over time if not addressed as a problem in its own right or if recovery from physical trauma is difficult.
If you have recently experienced a traumatic injury of any kind, here are a few of the characteristics that make it so hard to overcome.
- Sudden onset: A traumatic injury likely happens in the space of a few seconds, sometimes so fast that the brain literally does not know what just happened. Common examples are car or machinery accidents, sporting injuries, or acts of violence. In all of these cases, potentially lethal injury can befall someone in an instant. The suddenness of the physical injury can also make the psychological aspects hard for the brain to process. Psychological trauma, such as seeing a terrible accident, can also happen instantly and be difficult to overcome.
- Severity of injury: A traumatic injury is usually one in which someone has suffered potentially fatal, or at the very least life-altering, damage to the body. Not all physical trauma will be immediately visible; concussion, internal bleeding, and damage to the eyes and airways can all qualify as traumatic without being immediately visible to the naked eye. Psychological trauma is not visible, and its severity may be difficult to assess or understand immediately.
- Deteriorating condition: By definition, a traumatic injury, whether physical or psychological, means that the condition of the person who suffered this injury will deteriorate without help. A physical trauma generally means a visit to the emergency room to get medical help immediately. As time goes on, the difficulties of overcoming a physical trauma, especially if chronic pain is involved, may make the psychological trauma of the event worse. Someone who is having difficulty overcoming a psychologically traumatic event will also, generally, get worse until they get help.
A physical traumatic injury is usually one that involves needing immediate medical help. However, this event may also spark psychological trauma, which also needs to be addressed. Psychological trauma may not always involve immediate physical care, but it should not be overlooked as someone may also need help in overcoming it.