Types & Causes of Trauma

The causes of Trauma take different forms. We have learned trauma is due to stress and shock caused by an event - knowingly or unknowingly - to our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  The ANS automatically, without our thinking about it, regulates all the basic functions of our body, including our internal organs - or viscera. When a shock or stress to the system occurs, the functionality of the ANS becomes dysregulated and can lead to the experience of trauma. That said, some of us will experience symptoms of trauma and some will not. It is dependent on the impact of the "event" or series of events on the functionality of one's ANS at the time of the incident.

The most recognized form of trauma  is “Shock Trauma.” Shock trauma occurs as the result of a specific event that causes significant distress. Examples of shock trauma include being in a car accident or any kind of accident, witnessing someone being killed in a car accident, being restrained as a child or adult during a surgical procedure, being the victim of a violent assault such as a rape or mugging, living through a natural disaster such as a tornado, or facing the horrors of combat. It could be from a near drowning experiencing or the umbilical cord wrapped around your neck at birth. Shock trauma is not limited to a singular event. In war, for example, a soldier may be exposed to repeated traumas over time. 

Another form trauma takes is “Developmental Trauma.” Developmental trauma occurs during childhood. It may refer to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.  Or when caregivers are emotionally absent, inconsistent, frustrating, violent, intrusive, or neglectful. Developmental trauma can also result from a complicated birth, maternal emotional issues while in utero, significant family dysfunction, emotional and physical abandonment, emotional or physical neglect, or the mental or physical illness, death or absence of a parent. The recovery from shock trauma will be more complex though treatable if there is a history of developmental trauma. In fact, a traumatic shock can trigger issues that happened in the past.

Some traumas don’t appear to fit into any category at all. They could include a persistent pain in the body that is unexplained by your doctor and that medical treatment hasn’t succeeded in resolving. It can be emotions such as anger and rage that just won’t go away. Depression and anxiety is also rooted in trauma. Trauma is often the underlying cause of conditions, both physical and emotional, for which a root cause has not been detected.

For most of us, the word trauma elicits images of some of the trauma listed above.  However, the cause of trauma isn’t always nearly so obvious.  Many of us experience trauma in various forms throughout our lives, even though we often don’t recognize it as such. But if left unresolved, it will cause ongoing and increasing problems, both physical and emotional.  More subtle types of trauma include things such as:

• changing schools, especially during the middle of the school year

• moving to a new city

• the death of a beloved pet

• being teased or bullied

• medical or dental procedures – particularly ones that are invasive or involve needles

• hurtful comments from a teacher, friend, or family member

• minor injuries or accidents

• financial struggles

• being wrongfully accused

• being rejected by a friend or significant other, feeling invisible

• getting fired from a job

• getting lost

• the breakup of a romantic relationship

Even these more subtle forms of trauma can leave deep, unresolved wounds.  Many individuals find it difficult to even admit that they’ve experienced a trauma.  They either minimize or deny the experience, despite often feeling “stressed” or anxious.  Those wounds may be buried, but they can still elicit unwanted feelings of physiological arousal and cause an array of problems and symptoms just like those that are caused by more obvious forms of trauma.


Somatic Experiencing is beneficial for all these kinds of trauma, whether obvious or subtle.