Types of Trauma

Interpersonal and External

Interpersonal Trauma:

  • Childhood abuse: sexual, physical, neglect, psychological, witnessing domestic violence
  • Sexual assault: any unwanted sexual contact
  • Historical trauma: colonization and the residential school experience of forcible removal from the family home, and destruction of culture and language
  • Domestic abuse: physical, sexual, financial, spiritual, cultural, psychological
  • Loss due to homicide
  • Torture and forcible confinement
  • Elder abuse: physical, sexual, financial, spiritual, cultural, psychological

External Trauma:

  • War: combat, killing, fear of being killed, witnessing death and extreme suffering, dismemberment
  • Being a victim of crime (which can also be interpersonal)
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Suicidal loss
  • Loss of a loved one to homicide
  • Sudden and unexpected loss of a job, housing, relationship
  • Living in extreme poverty
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents: vehicle, plane, etc.

Developmental Trauma:

  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Witnessing violence in the home 

It is important to understand that while traumatic experience at any time can disrupt attachment, it is not a given. The child may experience a trauma, but have a number of strong attachments and thus their sense of attachment is not impaired.

Developmental trauma includes sexual, physical and psychological abuse, neglect (withholding love, affection, and the necessities of life), and witnessing violence in the home. These experiences happen during the developing years of infancy, childhood and adolescence, and are perpetrated by trusted adults, caregivers and/or older figures in the person’s life. Given that children are completely dependent on the adults in their lives for survival, trauma that occurs at this stage of life deeply impacts identity and shapes beliefs about self and the world. Development is severely affected and can result in challenges across the lifespan.

More on the Impact fo Developmental Trama

The experience of many Aboriginal people in Canada due to forced attendance at residential schools encompasses all types of developmental traumas.

Basic Assumptions

  • The basis of normal human development is attachment.
  • Anything that interferes with the attachment of a child is experienced as traumatic and affects development.
  • Traumatic experience at any time disrupts attachment.
  • Disrupted attachement can interfere with every human capacity and that interference looks different in different people.
Sandra L. Bloom, M.D., 2009

The Experience of Immigrants and Refugees

Immigrants and refugees are a significant and growing part of our Canadian population. Therefore, it is crucial that service providers and service systems acknowledge trauma in these groups by being knowledgeable about their experiences in their home country and their experience of migration and settling in Canada.

An immigrant is a person who has been granted the right to live in Canada permanently by Canadian immigration authorities. There are many different classes of immigrants, depending on the circumstances under which the immigrant has come to Canada.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s definition of a Convention Refugee is based on the United Nation’s definition: A person who, by reason of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a  particular social group, or political opinion, is (a) outside their country of nationality and unable, or by reason of that fear, unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country; or (b) not having a country of nationality, is outside the country of their former habitual residence and unable, or by reason of that fear, unwilling to return to that country.

Immigrants and refugees may share similar experiences in their home countries and in the process of settling in the new country. However, because refugees are fleeing extremely traumatic conditions, almost all of them have experienced losses and may have suffered multiple traumatic experiences, including torture. Their vulnerability to isolation is exacerbated by poverty, grief, and the lack of education, literacy and skills in the language of the receiving country (Robertson et al., 2006).

Immigrants (non-refugee status) may have faced the same issues as refugees, and the two groups share the same experience of having to settle in a foreign country. Issues related to trauma that they have already experienced can be compounded by the following circumstances and challenges faced in the integration process:

  • Not understanding Canadian cultural norms
  • Feeling that the host country doesn’t understand their culture, or make any efforts to do so
  • Facing constant racism that is deeply rooted in Canadian society
  • Feeling unwelcome in Canada
  • Finding adequate employment
  • Learning English or French
  • Lack of recognition of education
  • Finding adequate housing
  • Few family supports
  • Dealing with bureaucracy
  • Feeling isolated
  • Inadequate childcare
  • Difficulties enrolling children in school
  • Grief of missing family in their home country and not seeing family for years at a time
  • Finding themselves living in lower living standards due to low income
  • Lack of societal acceptance of religious beliefs and practices
  • Facing continued family violence
  • Dealing with negative comments by politicians, the media, or in private conversations that reflect negative public opinions about immigrants and refugees

For those who faced discrimination, punishment and torture in their home country, some additional issues may include:

  • Continued discrimination in Canada
  • Distrust of the Canadian government because it could have been responsible for their maltreatment in the home country
  • Feelings of shame
  • Feeling guilty for having survived when other family and community members may have been killed
  • Feeling they need to prove how bad the situation was at home to stay in Canada and the associated fear of deportation
  • Living with the physical, psychological and emotional consequences of trauma, while trying to negotiate settlement and integration (Canadian Council for Refugees, 2002)
  • Living with little or no information about the welfare of family members in life-threatening situations
  • Constantly wondering when they will be reunited with their families
  • Being stuck for years without permanent status in Canada

All of these issues may contribute to a difficult transition into Canadian society. The process of transitioning into a new culture may trigger past and/or unresolved trauma. Additionally, people who have survived trauma may not feel comfortable asking for help due to the lack of understanding of their culture by service providers and/or the image of  weakness that this may invoke in their own culture.

As service providers, we can be helpful even though we do not understand the specifics of every culture represented in Manitoba. If we understand people who have experienced trauma and their challenges from their perspective, and make a concerted effort to understand their cultural interpretations of the traumatic events, then that will guide our work with them. It is how they interpret the trauma that is important and helps us understand the impact of the trauma now and how we can be helpful.

In summary, service providers working with individuals who have experienced trauma have a responsibility to be aware of the many challenges that immigrant and refugees face as they try to integrate into Canadian society. In addition, it is important to be aware of the cultural practices that may be important to their recovery. Displaying this knowledge and willingness to learn will help form a solid helping relationship that is essential to trauma recovery.

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