What is Trauma?

A traumatic experience is an event that threatens someone’s life, safety or well being.

Trauma can include a direct encounter with a dangerous or threatening event, or it can involve witnessing the endangerment or suffering of another living being.   

A key condition that makes these events traumatic is that they can overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope, and elicit intense feelings such as fear, terror, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair.  

Traumatic events include: 

  • emotional, physical, and sexual abuse
  • neglect
  • and despair
  • physical assaults
  • witnessing family, school or community violence
  • war
  • racism
  • bullying
  • acts of terrorism
  • fires
  • serious accidents
  • serious injuries
  • intrusive or painful medical procedures
  • loss of loved ones
  • abandonment
  • separation

Buffington, K., Dierkhising, C. B., Marsh, S. C. (2010). Ten things every juvenile court judge should know about trauma and delinquency. Juvenile and Family Court Journal61(3), 14.