Psychological trauma represents an emotional state of discomfort and stress resulting from memories of an extraordinary, catastrophic experience which shattered the survivor’s sense of invulnerability to harm.
"People subjected to prolonged, repeated trauma develop an insidious progressive form of post-traumatic stress disorder that invades and erodes the personality. While the victim of a single acute trauma may feel after the event that she is ‘not herself’, the victim of chronic trauma may feel herself changed irrevocably, or she may lose the sense that she has any self at all." Judith Herman
"Trauma is qualitatively different from other negative life stressors as it fundamentally shifts perceptions of reality. Negative stressors:
leave an individual feeling ‘put out’, inconvenienced and stressed. These experiences are eventually relieved with the resolution of the stressor. In contrast, trauma represents destruction of the basic organising principles by which we come to know self, others and the environment; traumas wound deeply in a way that challenges the meaning of life. Healing from the wounds of such an experience requires a restitution of order and meaning in one’s life.
Gregory Phillips talks about three areas of trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples:
- Situational trauma - trauma that occurs as a result of a specific or discrete event, for example from a car accident, murder or being taken away.
- Cumulative trauma - it is subtle and the feelings build over time, for example racism.
- Inter-generational trauma – if trauma is not dealt with adequately in one generation, it often gets passed down unwittingly in our behaviours and in our thought systems... For example, if you want to heal children and youth, you have to heal yourself as well to break the cycle.
Importantly he notes that for Indigenous peoples who have experienced trauma as a result of colonisation, dispossession and dislocation, as well as the trauma of on-going racism, family violence and other events, often all three forms of trauma are applicable....
Research has shown that the impacts of trauma are even more pronounced when the trauma has been deliberately inflicted rather than a result of natural circumstances... deliberately inflicted trauma creates victimisation as well as all the associated emotional, psychological, cultural and spiritual harm. Deliberately inflicted trauma is much harder to recover from as it undermines the cohesion and strengths of individuals and communities." Social Justice Report, 2008