Psychological trauma is any experience or series of experiences that someone finds distressing to the point where their ability to cope with the stress is overwhelmed. These can include physical or sexual abuse, neglect or bereavement, living in poverty or bullying.
Experiencing trauma can result in something called toxic stress. Toxic stress can physically alter the brain’s development, which can lead to social and emotional difficulties later on. Many children will face upsetting events which are known as Adverse Childhood Experiencesbut most will bounce back and ‘return to normal’ relatively soon. However, depending on their experiences and other interacting factors such as temperament and resilience, some children can have ongoing difficulties.
How to spot trauma?
Young children who have experienced neglect may have had poor sensory input from their caregivers and as a result, their nervous system does not develop typically. If a child has experienced a gap in their development at this stage, they may find it hard to regulate emotions and experience hyperarousal or heightened senses (e.g., anxiety, panic, fear or anger) and hypoarousal or suppressed senses (e.g., no feelings, no energy, feelings of shame, apathy or no motivation).
Trauma can also lead to flashbacks, nightmares avoidant behaviours there is more information on these symptoms in our section on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).Not everyone that experiences trauma has PTSD but extreme or prolonged trauma is big risk factor for the disorder.