My revised list — common reactions to a stressful event can include:

Shock and disbelief

Feeling powerless

(Short and/or long term immune system responses) headaches, back pains, and stomach problems

Sadness and depression (depression is an anxiety response)


Apathy and emotional numbing (dissociation, depersonalization, derealization)

(Denial – distortion or loss of memory)


Fear and anxiety about the future

(Over or under reaction to stimuli – hyper- or hypo-startle response)

Sleep difficulties

Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event (left-right brain cannot process trauma information while awake or during dream sleep — ambidextrous  and left handed people at higher risk)

Difficulty concentrating

Difficulty making decisions

(Difficulty assessing meaning and prioritizing)

Loss of appetite (or increase)

(For children – disturbance in play activities)

(Difficulty with social interactions)

(Inability to use words to describe the experience)


I cannot read information such as what is presented at the end of the post from any ‘ordinary’ perspective.  The list presented as “common reactions to a stressful event” describes the kind of traumatic stress reactions that are built into the growing body-brains of severely abused infants and young children.  On some level, these reactions have become our norm.  When additional traumas occur in our later adult lives all of these pre-existing traumatic reactions become stimulated and activated.  We are, therefore, at highest risk for having serious reactions to later traumas in our lives.

I hate having to write about these things.  I hate having to even think about them.  I hate it that my body knows far more than my conscious mind ever will about the reality of what the challenges of trauma can do to us.

Professionals call a reaction to trauma disordered when these reactions do not dissipate after a reasonable period of time goes by after a trauma has happened.  For those of us whose body-brain was built during trauma, we have never had the luxury of having a body-brain that does not include trauma reactions in its makeup.  We cannot return to a pre-trauma condition because we never had one in the first place.

That makes any childhood trauma survivor more vulnerable to post trauma stress disorders.  Personally, I don’t like the use of the word ‘disorder’ and would prefer a recognition that what happens to us after trauma exposure is as natural a reaction as what happens to us as the trauma occurs.  If our reaction is exaggerated or extended, there is a reason for this happening.  Until this fact, coupled with a complete recognition of how early infant-child abuse and trauma alter the developing body-brain from the start is recognized and respected, I do believe the word ‘disorder’ must be used carefully in trauma response considerations.  What ‘they’ see as ‘disordered’ is a different kind of ordering for the entire body-brain from the ground up, from the beginning of life onward for those who have survived severe infant-childhood traumas

Whatever words are used to describe the continued suffering from ongoing reactions to traumas, the long term effects are very real and can be debilitating in regard to quality of life and general well-being.  Adaptations in the body-brain of early trauma survivors means that we react to trauma differently than ‘ordinary’ people do.  We were ‘reordered’ and our ongoing processing of information reflects that condition in our body-brain.

To call us ‘disordered’ is to call us flawed.  We are different, not flawed.



Prevent Child Abuse New York Blog

Dealing with a Traumatic EventPosted: 14 Nov 2009 01:26 PM PSTIn the wake of the tragic events at Fort Hood November 5, 2009, it’s important to remember that when traumatic incidents occur, the Center for Disease Control’s Injury Center can assist by providing information that can help people cope and recover. Sometimes after experiencing a traumatic event, including personal or environmental disasters, or being threatened with an assault, people have a strong and lingering reaction to stress. When the symptoms of stress last too long, it can cause people to feel overwhelmed and have an effect on their ability to cope.Common reactions to a stressful event can include:
Disbelief and shock
Fear and anxiety about the future
Difficulty making decisions
Apathy and emotional numbing
Loss of appetite
Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event
Increased use of alcohol and drugs
Sadness and depression
Feeling powerless
Sleep difficulties
Headaches, back pains, and stomach problems
Difficulty concentratingFor more information, tips on how to handle a traumatic experience, or to read this full article please visit: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/HandlingStress/ or http://www2c.cdc.gov/podcasts/player.asp?f=5256



  1. Thank you for writing “these things” as much as you would rather not. There are so many healing thoughts and ideas in what you write.

    I love the list of reactions to traumatic events – especially your version. About 90% of that list describes me to a “T.” And most of those things I’ve blamed myself for instead of realizing that my mind and body were formed by the intense abuse and that it’s not a question of “getting over it” and “doing better.” My mind was formed in trauma and those reactions helped me to survive then. They aren’t real helpful these days, but my mind and body don’t know any other way of being. Maybe by not blaming myself for the way I deal with the world I can use the energy I put toward that to find some work-arounds.

    • Yes — and I find myself trying to honor how I am in the world rather than condemning those differences. I am so glad you are reading, and posting comments! Thanks!

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