Northern New Jersey
Trauma Recovery Network

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COMMON RESPONSES TO TRAUMA

After a trauma, people may go through a wide range of normal responses.

Such reactions may be experienced not only by people who experienced the trauma first-hand, but by those who have witnessed or heard about the trauma, or been involved with those immediately affected. Many reactions can be triggered by people, places, or things associated with the trauma. Some reactions may appear totally unrelated.

 Here is a list of common physical, cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and spiritual reactions to trauma. These are normal reactions to abnormal events. 

PHYSICAL RESPONSES

  • aches and pains like headaches, backaches, stomach aches
  • sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations (fluttering)
  • changes in sleep patterns, appetite, sex drive
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • more susceptible to colds and illnesses

COGNITIVE RESPONSES

  • impaired concentration
  • short attention span
  • confusion, disorientation
  • forgetfulness and memory loss
  • self-blame or blaming others
  • difficulty making decisions
  • thoughts of losing control
  • minimizing the traumatic experience
  • unpleasant past memories resurfacing
  • rumination, inability to let go of disturbing thoughts

BEHAVIORAL RESPONSES

  • withdrawal
  • lack of communication
  • changes in speech patterns
  • aimless walking, pacing
  • inability to sit still
  • exaggerated startle response
  • regressive behavior
  • impulsive behavior
  • overeating and/or undereating
  • increased use of alcohol and/or drugs

EMOTIONAL RESPONSES

  • shock, disbelief, denial
  • anxiety, worry, fear, panic
  • nightmares and/or intrusive thoughts of the trauma
  • flashbacks – feeling like the trauma is happening now
  • hyper-alertness, hypervigilance
  • agitation, restlessness
  • irritability, anger, rage
  • grief, sense of loss, sadness
  • diminished interest in everyday activities or depression
  • mood swings – like crying and then laughing
  • sense of helplessness, feeling out of control
  • emotional numbing, restricted range of feelings
  • attempts to avoid anything associated with the trauma
  • increased need to control everyday experiences
  • tendency to isolate oneself
  • feelings of detachment
  • concern over burdening others with problems
  • difficulty trusting and/or feeling betrayed
  • feelings of shame, self-blame and/or survivor guilt

SPIRITUAL RESPONSES

  • anger and distance from God
  • withdrawal from attending services; anger at clergy
  • sudden turning towards God
  • increased involvement in religious community
  • increased praying, reading scripture
  • praying doesn’t provide comfort like it used to
  • life feels empty without meaning
  • loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom
  • feeling unprotected and abandoned by God
  • questioning beliefs previously held
  • belief that trauma was deserved as punishment

For information about how trauma affects children and teens, including common reactions at various developmental stages, you can visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website section on Resources for Parents and Caregivers.

Adapted from: 

Patti Levin, LICSW, PsyD as found at David Baldwin’s Trauma Pages website and the Western Mass. EMDR Trauma Recovery Network website

Lerner, M. D. and Shelton, R D. (2005). Comprehensive Acute Traumatic Stress Management: CATSM. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress: Commack, NY, as found in the EMDR Research Foundation Toolkit, © 2014, 2015 EMDR Research Foundation and The Pocket Guide to Early EMDR Intervention Protocols, © Laidlaw-Chasse and on the www.AzTRN.org website, © 2014 Arizona Trauma Recovery Network.