Trama Continuum

It can be helpful to look at the experience of trauma and the associated impact as being on a continuum.

Traumatic Event

Single event - Prolonged Family Violence -Colonization/Historical – War

Single Event:

  • A one-time experience
  • One event that has a beginning and an ending (i.e., car accident, surgery) 

Prolonged Family Violence:

  • Physical, sexual and emotional abuse
  • Neglect
  • Witnessing violence in the household


  • Disconnecting certain cultures from their families, relationships and cultural practices
  • Residential school
  • Holocaust
  • Ethnic Cleansing
  • 60’s scoop


  • Exposure to living in ongoing violence attributed to antagonists in armed conflict, systemic rape, arbitrary arrests, shortage of necessities and executions.

Impact of Trauma

Stress – Traumatic Stress – PTSD – Delayed PTSD – Complex/Developmental PTSD

Traumatic Stress:

  • An initial stress response where the body regulates itself relatively quickly after the event


  • Symptoms of PTSD
  • Reliving of memories
  • Avoidance of reminders
  • Increased arousal
  • Symptoms are ongoing
  • Becomes the organizing principle of how the person lives

Delayed PTSD:

  • Symptoms of PTSD
  • Occur sometime after the event (weeks, months, or even years)
  • Can be frightening and confusing because there might not be a clear connection to the symptoms and the traumatic event

Complex/Developmental PTSD:

  • Most severe symptoms
  • Trauma has been experienced at an early age in development
  • Trauma was chronic
  • Impacts brain development
  • Impacts attachment
  • Trauma involved an individual close in relationship (i.e., parent, caregiver, person in position of authority)
  • Profoundly disruptive
  • Impacts all relationships of individual

Those who have fewer traumatic experiences and were able to address the impact of the event either at the time it occurred or sometime later, will be closer to the lower end of the continuum. As the frequency and duration of traumatic events increases, so do the negative impacts and symptoms. When children experience trauma and their caregivers address it shortly after it occurred, the likelihood of developing PTSD is lower.

Complex PTSD is at the far end of the continuum and is characterized by a history of severe, long-term trauma that usually includes exposure to caregivers who were cruel, inconsistent, exploitive, unresponsive or violent. People who have experienced trauma struggle with more chronic selfdestructive behaviours like self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviours.

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