Women's Health Matters

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What is trauma?

Traumatic events are experiences that overwhelm your ability to cope. They are more than stressful; they are threatening, shocking and terrifying. They cause you to feel out of control, and leave you with feelings of terror, shame, helplessness and powerlessness. Because these events are out of the ordinary, they can produce reactions that feel extreme and can leave you feeling “crazy.” These reactions and symptoms are not only normal, but are often ways to cope with extreme circumstances.

Trauma may be defined as experiencing or witnessing an event in which you or someone else was injured, or threatened with physical harm. The event results in intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror. This is how trauma is described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), a manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental health disorders.

We use a much broader definition of trauma. This means we can address difficulties faced by people with other kinds of trauma experiences. These include recurring or continual forms of trauma, such as child abuse, or other types of interpersonal trauma, such as sexual assault.


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital