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What is Psychic Trauma?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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Psychic trauma is an emotional injury that manifests later in life as mental distress or disorder. Many different kinds of events can cause trauma of this sort, including public humiliation, physical abuse, and abandonment. The theory of psychic trauma holds that human beings sometimes find themselves incapable of fully overcoming certain emotionally damaging experiences. An inability to resolve this mental anguish leads to problems later in life, such as increased stress, nervous habits, or interpersonal difficulties.

One of the clearest ways psychic trauma demonstrates itself later in life is through phobias, where reminders of the original experience are vehemently avoided and feared. Alternatively, a person who suffers a psychic injury may later experience panic attacks, depression, or even disturbed hallucinations.

Cause of psychic trauma vary and can include less commonly recognized emotional injuries, such as confrontation with a feared object, being lost, or even birth. Often, the original traumatic event will not be remembered and must be uncovered through analysis of current symptoms. There is no known cure for psychic trauma, although psychological counseling through a therapist may provide some relief.

Events that greatly disturb the way a person sees his or her world are likely to be traumatic. Experiences of war are often the source of psychic trauma for this reason. Any experience that demonstrates the extremes of mankind's cruelty, whether inflicted on a child, population, or animal, is more likely to cause trauma in those who experience or witness the event directly. Additionally, if the participant had no power to stop the traumatic event, this feeling of helplessness can add to the injury.

Infants, in particular, are often though to experience psychic trauma. While children may not be able to remember experiences that happened to them in their first few years of life, surgeries that take place before the age of three have been demonstrated to cause psychic injuries. Likewise, birth is a very traumatic experience, and some people require treatment to overcome this initial injury.

Diagnosing psychic trauma is tricky, because the patient is usually not equipped to identify the root of the problem. Unlike physical injury, where the source of the problem can be seen, analyzed, and operated on, injuries of an emotional nature must be largely presumed to exist and worked around mentally. Sometimes, in an effort to diagnose the source of mental anguish, psychologists end up suggesting to patients the original source of their problems, thereby creating a false memory of trauma. Working with emotional and mental injuries is highly speculative and therefore dangerous, and great care must be taken to engage only with trusted doctors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon992043 — On Aug 09, 2015

Where does one seek help for psychic trauma?

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