Women's Health Matters

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Why do people have different responses to trauma

Not everyone who experiences a trauma will develop a traumatic stress response. Actually, most will recover over time and not experience any lasting difficulties. Others will experience more long-lasting difficulties. Those who experience trauma as a child are more likely to experience longer-lasting difficulties. Children are more vulnerable and have developed fewer coping strategies to manage normal stress, let alone something traumatic.

Other factors also contribute to an increased risk of developing a trauma response. These are general statements, and of course, each woman will react uniquely to trauma. Nonetheless, we do know that there are many different variables that have been linked to a woman’s trauma response.

Sociocultural factors:

First of all, being female is associated with an increased risk of victimization and increased risk of developing a trauma response.28 Although all women are at an increased risk of victimization and traumatization, those women who face additional forms of discrimination, marginalization or deprivation due to racism, homophobia and poverty are at risk of experiencing more intense effects of victimization.29,30,31 As these different variables add up, women’s victimization – socially, economically, psychologically and interpersonally – becomes cumulative.32

Characteristics of the traumatic event(s)

The following factors are linked to increased risk for developing a trauma response:

  • if the trauma was life-threatening
  • if there were any sustained injuries
  • if there was substantial use of force
  • if the traumatic events were frequent, severe, chronic or recent 22

Individual factors:

The following individual factors have been associated with increased risk for developing a trauma response:

  • if one has a pre-existing mental health difficulty, such as depression or anxiety
  • if one has few healthy coping strategies to deal with stress and instead relies on unhealthy coping strategies such as, drinking and self-harming
  • if someone has limited social support
  • if someone has a prior history of trauma
  • if someone dissociates during or immediately following a traumatic event


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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital