Trauma is pervasive- National community-based surveys find that between 55% and 90% of us have experienced at least one traumatic event.
Trauma’s impact is broad and diverse-Trauma exposure increases the risk of a tremendous range of vulnerabilities: mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, excessive hostility, and generalized anxiety; substance abuse; physical health problems; interpersonal struggles; eating disorders; and suicidality, among many others.
Trauma’s impact is deep and life-shaping- Trauma can be fundamentally life-altering, especially for those individuals who have faced repeated and prolonged abuse and especially when the violence is perpetrated by those who were supposed to be caretakers. Physical, sexual, and emotional violence become a central reality around which profound neurobiological and psychosocial adaptations occur. Survivors may come to see themselves as fundamentally flawed and to perceive the world as a pervasively dangerous place. Trauma may shape a person’s way of viewing and being in the world; it can deflate the spirit and trample the soul. Trauma, especially interpersonal violence, is often self-perpetuating- Individuals who are victims of violence are at increased risk of becoming perpetrators themselves. The intergenerational transmission of violence is well documented. Community violence is often built around cycles of retaliation. Many of our institutions–criminal justice settings, certainly, but also schools and churches and hospitals–are too frequently places where violent trauma is perpetuated rather than eliminated.
Trauma is insidious and differentially affects the more vulnerable- People who are poor, who are homeless, who have been diagnosed with severe mental health problems, who are addicted to drugs, or who have developmental disabilities–all of these groups are at increased risk of violent victimization.
Trauma affects how people approach services- Not surprisingly, those individuals with histories of abuse are often reluctant to engage in, or quickly drop out of, many human services. Being vigilant and suspicious are often important and thoroughly understandable self-protective mechanisms in coping with trauma exposure. But these same ways of coping make it more difficult for survivors to feel the safety and trust necessary to helpful relationships. The service system has often been re-traumatizing- Involuntary and physically coercive practices, as well as other activities that trigger trauma-related reactions, are still too common in our centers of help and care.