The Subjectivity of Trauma: It's All in the Brain of the Beholder


3/26/20242 min read

person looking out through window
person looking out through window

Trauma is a complex and deeply personal experience that varies from person to person. While some may associate trauma with specific events or situations, it is important to understand that the impact of such events is subjective and dependent on various factors.

The Meaning We Assign

One of the key factors that determine the level of trauma experienced is the meaning we assign to the event. A situation that may be traumatic for one person may not have the same effect on another. Our individual experiences, beliefs, and values shape our perception of events, influencing whether we perceive them as traumatic or not.

For example, a car accident may be a traumatic event for someone who has previously experienced a similar incident, triggering memories and emotions associated with the past. On the other hand, someone who has never been in an accident may not view the same event as traumatic.

More surprising to many is that there may be a big experience that seems traumatic in the past, but something that is affecting a person more is a more "benign"-seeming event before or after that "bigger" event. Sometimes it is easier to see that a "big" trauma is not about us, it isn't our fault. But the "smaller" event sticks, because it has us thinking we should do or be different from how we are.

Past Experiences and Resilience

Our past experiences play a significant role in determining how we respond to potentially traumatic events. If we have encountered similar situations before, the impact of a new event may be heightened. Our brain draws connections between past experiences and the present, influencing our emotional response.

However, it is important to note that not everyone responds to trauma in the same way. Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from adversity, varies from person to person. Some individuals may have a higher level of resilience, allowing them to cope with traumatic events more effectively. Others may require additional support and resources to navigate through their trauma.

The Importance of Support Systems

The presence of a strong support system can significantly influence how we process and recover from trauma. Having friends, family, or professionals who can offer emotional support, guidance, and validation can make a world of difference. These individuals can provide a safe space for us to express our feelings, helping us make sense of the event and facilitating our healing process.

Conversely, a lack of support can exacerbate the impact of trauma. Without a network of understanding individuals, the burden of processing and coping with the event may fall solely on the individual, potentially leading to prolonged distress and difficulty in recovery.


Trauma is not an objective concept but rather a deeply subjective experience. It is influenced by the meaning we assign to events, our past experiences, and the support systems we have in place. Recognizing and respecting the individual nature of trauma is essential in providing effective support and understanding to those who have experienced it.

By acknowledging the brain's role in processing trauma and understanding the various factors that contribute to its impact, we can foster a more compassionate and empathetic society, helping individuals on their journey towards healing and resilience.