Understanding Your Trauma Responses - Dr.Claudia Herbert

How would we react if traumatic events happened to us? Would we observe emotions, respond calmly, and proceed with a solution-oriented approach? Or would we never break our upright posture and act without sacrificing ourselves? When traumatic events happen to us, our behaviors and thoughts can be different. For the events we saw on TV, we can think like "I would act like I'm a Superman, why is no one helping?"

Sep 7, 2023 - 15:50
Sep 18, 2023 - 12:05
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Understanding Your Trauma Responses - Dr.Claudia Herbert

Traumas usually occur suddenly and unexpectedly. Before going into surgery, you may have time to prepare yourself for the surgery process. You are aware of possible post-operative symptoms and have researched them. You plan what to do. But we cannot plan every moment in our lives. We cannot predict what will happen to us. When trauma occurs, we try to cope with the situation in the best way by adapting to the situation mentally, emotionally, and physically. We exhibit behaviors that we do not expect from ourselves. Sometimes it is simply out of the question to prepare for a previously known traumatic event, such as death. We may encounter many stressful situations throughout our lives, but few of them can be called traumas.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) (2013), “Trauma is when an individual experiences or witnesses an event or events that involve real or perceived death or injury, or that pose a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others. The reactions of the individual include intense fear, helplessness, threat or horror” (Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders Dsm-5, p.146). The DSM-5 divides trauma into three important categories. These are; man-made disasters, natural disasters, violence, crime, and terrorism. However, it should be noted that not all stressors are trauma.

It is very important to make sense of the post-traumatic experience. In this way, the situation is improved. It is very important to understand the experience, combine it with your life, move on, take control of your life, and start a new life.

Trauma is not something to be taken lightly. During the healing process, people may react to losing direction, feeling tired, and acting as if the situation never happened. Likewise, the healing process differs from person to person. However, the reactions given in this process are common to many people who have experienced trauma. According to Herbert (2015);

Frequent reactions to trauma;

  1. Re-experiencing the trauma

            Recurrent distressing recollections of the trauma

            Recurring dreams, nightmares, and insomnia


  2. Numbness and avoidance reactions

            Numbness reactions

            Avoidance responses

  3. Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

            Irritability and outbursts of anger

            Difficulties with concentration and memory

            Increased attention and exaggerated concern for your own or others' safety

            Exaggerated startle responses

            Your bodily responses to situations that remind you of your trauma

  4. Other reactions to trauma

            Reactions to the loss of a close person

            Physical damage/Organ loss

            Chronic pain

            Sexual difficulties



    Blaming yourself for some or all of the trauma and/or behavior during the trauma

    Thinking that you should have died instead of someone else

A psychologist or psychiatrist may have told you that you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder is the definition given to the mixture of post-traumatic reactions (Herbert, p.42, 2015). If you've been experiencing symptoms for a month or more, these reactions are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some people do not react immediately after trauma and may experience post-traumatic reactions perhaps a month later. You may feel inadequate, weak, or sick. In fact, you have understandable responses to abnormal situations after sudden, painful, and distressing experiences caused by the trauma.

I would like to remind you that; Each person's reactions to the experiences that make up his life may be different. You may react differently while your friend, who has experienced the same traumatic event, continues his life. There is no right or wrong reaction. It is very important that we respect each other's experiences and reactions. There are two reasons why one of two people experiencing the same trauma, experiences PTSD and the other does not. First of all, each individual develops different defense mechanisms. Secondly, each experiences trauma through their own emotions and observations. Since we are all different from each other, our experiences in life, our defense mechanisms, our reactions to events, and our thoughts are different. Although people have different experiences and reactions to the same situation, all experiences and reactions are equally valid.

The book tells you how to deal with trauma and gives examples from people who have experienced trauma. Working with trauma can be overwhelming. You may be uncomfortable talking. People around you may act like this never happened because they don't know how to approach you. In fact, people who start therapy realize that they don't feel comfortable talking about this event with someone. You can talk to a person you trust about the trauma, record a video and listen to it later, write it on paper, or draw a picture. In this case, it is very important to proceed step by step. For example, you had a car accident. It will be healthier for you to proceed step by step instead of directly getting into the car and driving after the accident. First, you can start by just sitting in the car. As you progress step by step, you can drive to the nearest market. But in this case, we can say that coping with anxiety is the key point. As soon as you feel anxious, breathing exercises can help.

If you can't get over the trauma, can't participate in daily life, or find it too difficult to face the experience, you can seek professional help for your well-being. Herbert (2015) states that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and EMDR Therapy, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises are effective for traumatized people (p.61).

You are not alone. You don't have to deal with the traumatic event alone. You can get help from a psychologist, or psychiatrist.


A. P. Association. (2013). Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders Dsm-5. ISBN: 9780890425541. Yayınevi: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

Herbert, C. (2002). Understanding your reactions to trauma: A guide for survivors of trauma and their families. Blue Stallion Publications.


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Beyza Sıla Keskin Ben Beyza Sıla Keskin. ODTÜ Psikolojik Danışmanlık ve Rehberlik mezunuyum. Alanımda kendimi geliştirmek ve geliştirirken deneyim kazanmak benim için çok önemli. Hayata psikoloji penceresinden bakmak bana çok şey kazandırıyor.