Trauma can occur in many forms; however, three main types of trauma are recognized, with each one bearing different consequences. The first type of trauma is a dramatic event or experience which shocks the system but at some point comes to an end. The second type is an ongoing, continually distressing series of events or experiences from which there is no foreseeable relief. The third type of trauma is vicarious or secondary trauma, which occurs from being close to or in relationship with someone who is going through or has gone through trauma.
The first type of trauma is like a ball-peen hammer against a sheet of glass, the glass representing the internal structure of the personality. Depending on a variety of factors (the thickness of the glass, the weight of the hammer, the force of the swing, the number of previous hits), the glass can be left with a single ding, or spider-web cracks; larger fragmenting cracks, with broken out pieces; or, completely shattered in pieces on the ground, with nothing left in the frame but a huge hole.
The second type of trauma is more like waves against the sand and rocks on the shore. At first, you don’t see much happening, but the constant flow of water and recurrent crashing of the waves undermines the foundation of the land. It erodes the sand, wears down the resistance, and cuts into the rock. The constant pressure begins to leave deep gullies where the flow of water begins to collect, and soon the gulley turns into a canyon. Eventually, the sand is washed away, the dune collapses, and the foundation is swept away in the waves.
Secondary trauma is like standing some distance from the center of a bomb blast but still experiencing a shock wave after the blast occurs. The immediate impact of the trauma itself is not experienced, but the aftereffects and consequences of the trauma are, and it can impact the individual and drain life energy in a way similar to experiencing the trauma. Vicarious or secondary trauma can impact loved ones living in the home with the traumatized person, close friends and extended family, and professionals working with the trauma survivor in a caregiver role.
For all three forms of trauma, certain consequences and responses are consistently present. The next post will go over what causes our responses to trauma.
Dr. Donna E. Lane is a Christian Counselor who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss, along with the depression and anxiety often resulting from these experiences. She has been a counselor since 1979, and has owned her practice since 1993. She is co-author of the internationally-acclaimed trauma treatment resource, Trauma Narrative Treatment, and the accompanying story, Gold Stone. She is also the co-author of Strength in Adversity, a Biblical study on walking through difficulty with Christ.