7 Subtle Experiences That Cause Trauma

Trigger Warning.

Trauma often refers to abuse or violence exposure during war or early childhood. However, the scope of a traumatic event is broader than wartime experiences. 

The American Psychology Association defines trauma as any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, confusion, or other disruptive feelings, which must be intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s mental health and attitude. 

Thus, trauma can affect anyone at any point in their lives. 

Below are a few different experiences that can generate trauma. 

  • Lack of emotional attachment.

Early studies on attachment theory categorize individuals into four distinct types: secure, insecure, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant. These categories refer to the kind of attachment a child forms with its mother during early childhood. 

Many psychoanalysts believe that your attachment style may forecast the development of your future relationships. In this thinking, many people believe attachment styles are fixed. 

However, in many of the studies and conversations about attachment theory, it is easy to overlook the impact trauma can have on the development and repetition of that attachment style.

For example, if a parent undergoes a traumatic experience that changes their attachment style, could their offspring inherit their parent’s changed attachment style? This question refers to the relational dynamics within intergenerational trauma, but there are other scenarios where trauma can impact the development and growth of an attachment. 

Attachment theory stems from the early works of psychanalysts John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. Upon observation, they determined that attachment is part of a child’s primary motivational system– the same system that includes hunger. Hence, the bond between a child and its mother is necessary for development. 

If there is emotional or physical neglect during the early stages of child-parent attachment, it can cause trauma for the child. 

Trauma begets more trauma.

  • Personal loss

Suddenly losing a loved one can be incredibly traumatic; hence, grief and trauma can overlap. 

 The sudden loss and the event that caused the loss, such as suicide or a car accident, can be overwhelming and may cause one to feel as if their entire world changes overnight. 

It may be difficult to process emotions such as bewilderment, confusion, or despair. Grief often throws us into anxiety and confusion– circumstances that you once knew suddenly change.

I am sure you are aware of the five stages of grief. There is no fixed time frame for getting over the death of a loved one. 

At times it may seem easier to remain in denial about their death. Yet, staying in denial can prolonge the ache and pain and even lead to trauma.    

  • Dysfunctional families

Dysfunctional family dynamics can also cause trauma. There are no perfect families, but most families are not hostile to each other. Dysfunctional families tend to make others unsafe as there are a lot of rules and little unconditional love. Dysfunctional families usually resort to gaslighting, stonewalling, or triangulation to divide members from the rest of the group. 

These tactics only make the isolated members feel unsafe and anxious. Prolonged feelings of insecurity can produce traumas. 

  • Racism 

Studies have shown that racism and systemic oppression can bring about trauma in people of color. Systemic oppression is enforced and sustained through prolonged violence–physical or microaggression. These senseless acts of violence instill fear and anxiety in those who experience it directly or witness it. Unfortunately, it is a common part of the American experience for people of color. 

Racism affects many groups across different intersections of identity; hence the experience is different for everyone. Similarly, the trauma someone experiences because of racism or ethnoviolence is different across the board. However, there are signs that you might be experiencing trauma related to racism. 

Some signs are:

  • re-experiencing distressing event
  • chronic stress
  • depression
  • hypervigilance
  • avoidance
  • Poverty

Poverty is another factor that can produce trauma. Poverty brings about many traumatic experiences such as housing instability, neglect, food insecurity, and many other experiences that no child or person should have to experience. 

These experiences produce chronic stress, which can become toxic and detrimental to one’s health. 

Because racism and financial insecurity are intrinsically linked, it is difficult to ignore the impact that poverty and racism have on a person’s mental health. Along with the strife that racism and systemic oppression bring, poverty presents a new set of traumatic experiences. 

It presents a lack of stability that can cause hypervigilance, chronic stress, and anxiety. 

  • Medical malpractice, negligence, or inattention

One other event that can cause stress is medical malpractice. Medical malpractice can bring anyone stress and trauma. But, if the issue is prolonged or it worsens over time, the trauma can deepen. 

Medical malpractice encompasses a misdiagnosis or a incorrect medical treatment. 

  • Chronic stress

Believe it or not, chronic stress can cause trauma. When you are chronically stressed, your body is in a constant state of fight or flight. Hence, your mind cannot find an ounce of rest and it is always on the edge. This mental state can cause you to feel insecure in your surroundings. 

There are many different factors that can cause chronic stress– work, relationship, or family; however, repressed emotions can also bring stress. Emotional stress is a psychological strain and uneasiness caused by perceived situations of danger, threat, or personal loss. 

If chronic stress is something you deal with, please reach out to a licensed medical health professional for assistance. 

Trauma is part of life, but it is manageable. With the right support systems you can overcome your trauma and live a healthier life. 


Chamberlain, E. (2020, June 15). 14 signs of trauma you may not recognize. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/eye-the-unseen/202006/14-signs-trauma-you-may-not-recognize 

Lahousen, T., Unterrainer, H. F., & Kapfhammer, H. P. (2019). Psychobiology of Attachment and Trauma-Some General Remarks From a Clinical Perspective. Frontiers in psychiatry10, 914. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00914

Peterson, S. (2021, March 1). Traumatic grief. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/traumatic-grief 

Phillips, L. (2021, May 4). Untangling trauma and grief after loss. Counseling Today. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://ct.counseling.org/2021/05/untangling-trauma-and-grief-after-loss/ 

Polanco-Roman, L., Danies, A., & Anglin, D. M. (2016). Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies, and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults. Psychological trauma : theory, research, practice and policy8(5), 609–617. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000125

Roberts, N. F. (2020, October 7). 5 ways trauma and poverty affect childhood development. Forbes. Retrieved April 27, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicolefisher/2020/10/07/5-ways-trauma-and-poverty-affect-childhood-development/?sh=7ea2d9e86cb3 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2021). Understanding the impact of trauma and urban poverty on … The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/resource-guide/understanding_impact_trauma_urban_poverty_family_systems.pdf 

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