Trauma Symptoms and Effects
Psychological trauma is frequently explained as “a normal response to abnormal circumstances.” A better way to describe it might be as “a normal response to overwhelming circumstances that shock, flood, and confuse the brain and body,” as the causes and perpetuation of trauma occur too frequently for “abnormal” to seem like the correct descriptor. The important point is that the body’s way of responding to these circumstances is normal given the context from which they
The following table from the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine provides a more inclusive, though not exhaustive, example of the
|Immediate Emotional ReactionsNumbness and
||Delayed Emotional ReactionsIrritability and/or hostilityDepressionMood swings, instabilityAnxiety (e.g., phobia, generalized anxiety)Fear of trauma recurrenceGrief reactionsShameFeelings of fragility and/or vulnerabilityEmotional detachment from anything that requires emotional reactions (e.g., significant and/or family relationships, conversations about self, discussion of traumatic events or reactions to them)|
|Immediate Physical ReactionsNausea and/or gastrointestinal distressSweating or shiveringFaintnessMuscle tremors or uncontrollable shakingElevated heartbeat, respiration, and blood
||Delayed Physical ReactionsSleep disturbances, nightmaresSomatization (e.g., increased focus on and worry about body aches and pains)Appetite and digestive
|Immediate Cognitive ReactionsDifficulty concentratingRumination or racing thoughts (e.g., replaying the traumatic event over and over again)Distortion of time and space (e.g., traumatic event may be perceived as if it was happening in slow motion, or a few seconds can be perceived as minutes)Memory problems (e.g., not being able to recall important aspects of the trauma)Strong identification with victims||Delayed Cognitive ReactionsIntrusive memories or flashbacksReactivation of previous traumatic eventsSelf-blamePreoccupation with eventDifficulty making decisionsMagical thinking: belief that certain behaviors, including avoidant behavior, will protect against future traumaBelief that feelings or memories are dangerousGeneralization of triggers (e.g., a person who experiences a home invasion during the daytime may avoid being alone during the day)Suicidal thinking|
|Immediate Behavioral ReactionsStartled reactionRestlessnessSleep and appetite disturbancesDifficulty expressing oneselfArgumentative
||Delayed Behavioral ReactionsAvoidance of event remindersSocial relationship disturbancesDecreased activity
|Immediate Existential ReactionsIntense use of prayerRestoration of faith in the goodness of others (e.g., receiving help from others)Loss of self-efficacyDespair about humanity, particularly if the event was intentionalImmediate disruption of life assumptions (e.g., fairness, safety, goodness, predictability of life)||Delayed Existential ReactionsQuestioning (e.g., “Why me?”)Increased cynicism, disillusionmentIncreased self-confidence (e.g., “If I can survive this, I can survive anything”)Loss of purposeRenewed faithHopelessnessReestablishing prioritiesRedefining meaning and importance of lifeReworking life’s assumptions to accommodate the trauma (e.g., taking a self-defense class to reestablish a sense of safety)|
Copyright: NCBI Bookshelf. A service of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
If you are experiencing symptoms from the above list, please know that you are not alone, you are not losing your mind, and you are worthy of receiving help and feeling better. Information about healing after trauma is available in the Healing from Trauma page.
Counseling resources at USNA include MDC, Behavioral Health Clinic at NHCA, and Fleet and Family Services.
- Midshipmen Development Center (see How Do I Schedule an Appointment at MDC below)
- Naval Health Clinic Annapolis Behavioral Health Clinic
- Fleet and Family Services
If you have experienced sexual violence (rape, assault, unwanted touching, sexual exploitation, etc.) SAPR Victim Advocates can provide non-counseling support, resources, transportation to medical care, and information about reporting options: