What Are the Types of Trauma?

What Are the Types of Trauma?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that develops after a person experiences a traumatic event. It’s often defined by symptoms of flashbacks (to the traumatic event) and avoiding places/reminders of that event. ¹

While those diagnosed with PTSD will experience similar symptoms, it’s very unlikely one person’s experience will be the same as another. The reason for this is there are a wide range of traumas that can trigger PTSD.

Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look into the types of traumas that may cause PTSD. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.


Bullying (sometimes referred to as peer victimization) is defined as “a deliberate and unsolicited action that occurs with the intent of inflicting social, emotional, physical, and/or psychological harm to someone who often is perceived as being less powerful.” ²

It’s common for bullying to happen in a repeated/aggressive behavior that prevents someone from achieving in their work or learning environment. While the effects of bullying will vary (depending on how the perpetrator inflicts harm), it usually results in some degree of trauma. ³

Bullying can appear in the following forms:

  • Physical – Anything that involves undesired bodily contact (i.e. hitting, kicking, and sexual abuse).
  • Verbal – Anything that involves unwanted speech (i.e. name-calling, sexual comments, and threats).
  • Social – Anything that involves purposefully harming a person’s reputation (i.e. spreading rumors and embarrassing someone publicly).

Bullying can also manifest on the internet (known as cyber-bullying). This involves sending negative messages through text, email, or posting harmful content via social media and blogs.

The effects bullying has will vary from person-to-person. However, it often results in harming one’s sense of self-image, ability to interact with others, and work/school performance.

Community Violence

Victims of community violence are subjugated to acts of bullying, fights, shootings, and other forms of violence where they are not intimately involved with the perpetrator. Some examples of this include rival gang violence or war violence experienced by veterans. ⁴

The biggest issue with community violence is it often happens suddenly, without any warning. More often than not, those most affected by this violence are youth and families who live within the community.

Most of the time, such violence results in the anxiety that something can go wrong at any given time. That their life and those of their loved ones are in a constant state of danger. ⁵

While community violence can sometimes be accidental, the majority of the time it’s intentional. Some examples of community violence include:

  • Homicide
  • Robberies
  • Sexual assault
  • Weapon attacks

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma often results in complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD or CPTSD). This is when PTSD develops other mental health symptoms and lasts for long periods of time. ⁶

Complex traumas involve multiple traumatic events that are often invasive and interpersonal.

While it’s not always the case, children and teenagers are most susceptible to complex trauma. However, it is possible for adults to be in a position where trauma is persistent (i.e. domestic violence). ⁷

In cases of children children, complex trauma can have a number of harmful effects, including the formation of their sense of self and their ability to develop relationships.


While not all disasters will lead to trauma, they can if a person or family is:

  • Causes financial hardship
  • Changes in school
  • Displaced
  • Loses a home or other personal property
  • Loss of community or other forms of social support
  • Results in injury or death of a loved one

Some examples of a disaster include:

  • Blizzard
  • Drought
  • Earthquakes
  • Extreme heat
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Tsunamis
  • Wild fires
  • Wind storms

Since most disasters are forewarned, the chances of trauma are lower in compared to others on this list (most notably, those that come by complete surprise). However, this shouldn’t discourage the fact that disasters can have devastating effects on individuals. ⁸

Early Childhood Trauma

Early childhood trauma refers to children between the ages of 0 and 6 who experience a traumatic event. The biggest challenge for this age group is they aren’t able to properly verbalize their reaction to a threat. ⁹

If a child feels as though s/he is in danger and unable to protect themselves, they may develop PTSD symptoms throughout the rest of their childhood/youth and into adulthood. ¹⁰

Some examples of early childhood traumatic events include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse

While outside forces (such as natural disasters or war) can cause early childhood trauma, most of the time it’s perpetrated from parents or caregivers.

A child’s life is completely reliant on these individuals. Therefore, when something goes wrong (whether it be abuse or loss of these individuals), it’s extremely difficult for a child to both react and comprehend the situation.

Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate partner violence (IPV) is better known as domestic violence and occurs when one individual inflicts harm upon a current or past partner. More often than not, IPV develops when one partner feels the necessity to develop controlling and coercive behavior. ¹¹

Tactics of IPV can involve the following forms of abuse:

  • Emotional
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Verbal

While everyone’s case of domestic violence is different, some of the most common forms include:

  • Blame
  • Humiliation
  • Hurt
  • Intentional isolation
  • Manipulation
  • Stalking
  • Terrorizing

Thankfully, IPV now qualifies as a significant legal and public health issue. With that said, there are laws set up in every state to properly address IPV.

If you are currently struggling with domestic violence, we suggest you do some research into your state’s laws. If you’re in need of immediate assistance, you can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233.

Medical Trauma

Medical trauma can occur in two separate instances. The first is through an event that leaves a person injured enough to need medical treatment (i.e. a car crash). The second is the medical treatment itself. ¹²

Most of the time, people who experience a medical trauma have a psychological reaction to the following:

  • Frightening or invasive treatment experience
  • Injury
  • Medical procedure
  • Pain
  • Serious illness

Medical traumas can happen after a single medical procedure or, in some cases, over the course of multiple medical procedures.

While not everyone will have the same reaction to medical trauma, some common occurrences include:

  • Adherence to medical treatment
  • Difficulty functioning through day-to-day activities
  • Impeding optimal recovery

The severity of medical trauma is an individual may avoid seeking out medical attention even when it’s critical.

Physical Abuse

While definitions of physical abuse are broad, it’s usually defined when an individual experiences physical injury perpetrated by others or themselves. Physical abuse can technically be procured by other traumas such as bullying and IPV.

Reactions to physical abuse vary from person-to-person. However, in individuals that experience trauma, it’s likely they’ll have a flight reaction when threat is present. ¹³

This is especially true in children who are abused by parents or caregivers – the very people they expect to provide them with safety. Not to mention, in intimate relationships where a partner is expected to protect their loved one.

Refugee Trauma

Refugee trauma refers to an individual who is displaced from their own country – usually, through acts of war or persecution – and then replaced in another country. Even if that country is safer than their homeland, these individuals face a slew of difficulties that aren’t often considered, including language barriers and cultural shifts. ¹⁴

While refugee trauma is prevalent in people of all ages, it’s especially apparent in children. Most notably, children who were also exposed to traumatic events that made them refugees (i.e. war or prosecution).

The effects refugee trauma has on children depends on their age group and are as follows: ¹⁵

Preschool Children

  • Acting younger than their age
  • Aggressive behavior (i.e. hitting, kicking, etc.)
  • Bed wetting
  • Difficulty playing with other kids their age
  • Difficulty separating from their parents
  • Playing out events that concern the traumatic event
  • Temper tantrums

Elementary School Children

  • Changes in mood and conduct (i.e. anger, withdrawal from others, sadness, etc.)
  • Difficulty at school
  • Difficulty separating from parents
  • Difficulty with peers
  • Fears of another bad event happening

Middle and High School Youth

  • Change in how they view the world
  • Conduct problems
  • Difficulties with relationships (i.e. peers, family, teachers)
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of shame and/or embarrassment
  • Loss of faith
  • Sense of responsibility (or guilt) for the bad events that occurred

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is defined as the use of an individual for sexual stimulation for a perpetrator and/or an observer. These can include both physical and non-physical behaviors. ¹⁶

More importantly, it’s when a sexual act is performed on an individual without their consent. While sexual abuse is most prevalent among females, males have also fell victim to these crimes.

These experiences can leave an individual with a number of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Such conditions can then lead to other negative health behaviors, such as abusing drugs or alcohol and engaging in risky sexual activity.

Not to mention, they can also cause physical health issues, such as sexual transmitted diseases.

It’s also been discovered that victims of sexual abuse are often subjugated to other forms of violence, such as IPV and bullying.

Terrorism and Violence

If an individual experiences a terrorist act – such as a shooting or bombing – they may also experience trauma later in their lives. While the impact of terrorism and violence varies from individual to individual, there are plenty of cases where people need long-term treatment due to these acts. ¹⁷

It’s worth noting that an individual can experience another form of trauma due to terrorism and violence. For example, if someone is injured in a terrorist attack and needs medical care, they may experience medical trauma as well.

Not to mention, those who weren’t directly experiencing the terrorism and violence can also experience trauma. For example, an individual can lose a loved one to these acts and, in turn, face trauma later in life.

While most people overcome trauma from terrorism and violence, the length of time it takes them to overcome these situations all depends on the individual’s reaction.

Traumatic Grief

Grief can appear through a variety of different experiences. However, most individuals face it when they lose a loved one.

Traumatic grief is defined as a trauma that is persistent long after a loved one has died. People who experience this often have difficulty recalling positive memories with the individual and these experiences interfere heavily with day-to-day life. ¹⁸

Whether the death of a loved one was intentional (i.e. suicide or violent attack), accidental (i.e. car crash) or expected (i.e. illness), traumatic grief will manifest in a similar manner.

However, it’s important to also note that traumatic grief is highly personal and, therefore, the way an individual goes about grieving will vary depending on their personality and relationship to the loved one.

Final Word

We hope our overview of the above types of traumas gives you an idea as to how you may be effected by your experience. PTSD and its other forms are something that impact many throughout the world.

With that said, you are not alone in your struggle and there are a number of resources available to provide you with assistance. In order to get a better understanding of your trauma and how it effects you, we highly suggest both doing further research and finding the right kinds of treatment.

Your Questions

Still have questions concerning the types of trauma?

We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ MedlinePlus: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

² The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): Bullying

³ stopbullying.gov: What is Bullying?

⁴ The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC): Research Psychiatry College of Medicine: Understanding Community Violence

⁵ U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: Community Violence: The Effects on Children and Teens

⁶ U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: Complex PTSD

⁷ Administrative Office of the Courts (California): The Effects of Complex Trauma on Youth

⁸ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Disaster Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

⁹ Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America (HHS Public Access): “The Biological Effects of Childhood Trauma”

¹⁰ Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School: Past trauma may haunt your future health

¹¹ MedlinePlus: Domestic Violence

¹² Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior: Medical Trauma

¹³ Cellular and molecular neurobiology (HHS Public Access): Adrenal Responses to Stress

¹⁴ American Journal of Public Health (American Public Health Association): Trauma, Psychopathology, and the Refugee Crisis: A Call to Action

¹⁵ The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): Effects of Refugee Trauma

¹⁶ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Sexual Violence

¹⁷ The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Bookshelf: 2. Understanding the Psychological Consequences of Traumatic Events, Disasters, and Terrorism

¹⁸ Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Grief and Loss

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