Trauma and PTSD are not the same, but are often interchanged with one another. Essentially, trauma is a pain or terror response that the body experiences, whereas PTSD is a clinical mental health diagnosis. An individual may experience a traumatic event or injury, but not go on to develop PTSD.
We experience trauma to various degrees, as we go through life. Some traumas are expected or normalized in human existence, like childbirth and the loss of loved ones in old age. Other traumas can happen relationally, seen as an absent or an emotionally detached parent. Additional forms of trauma could include more paralyzing and debilitating situations, such as physical abuse, parental neglect or sexual abuse. Medical traumas could include being a first responder to death and illness on a regular basis or to experience a terrifying medical injury, yourself (ie: cancer, HIV or waking during surgery). War is another terrifying trauma that many in our country have experienced.
Each trauma shares the same initial “fight, flight or freeze” response, to varying degrees (some clinically significant, others not). However, every single situation and personality type involved will respond to a traumatic event differently. One individual’s symptoms could look like an inability to feel emotions, another’s could present as severe anxiety and yet another’s might be continual failed relationships and mistrust. The list goes on. The terror or pain felt during the trauma, the degree to which one felt their life was in danger, the response of the support system following the trauma, the age at the time of trauma and even more factors, can all determine an individual’s response to the event(s).