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shock and developmental trauma

Shock Trauma & Developmental Trauma

by Henriette Politano

Trauma is a fact of life, but does not have to be a life sentence.
       - Peter Levine

Trauma falls into two classifications – shock trauma and developmental trauma. They can overlap or occur separately and can have many different faces. Duration and approach to treatment between shock and developmental trauma are different.  Generally treatment for shock trauma tends to be shorter than for developmental trauma. 

Shock Trauma

Shock trauma results from feeling overwhelmed usually by a one off event. Most of the time this is a sudden and unexpected event with a distinct beginning and end. This interrupts the flow of life and often is accompanied by a “frozen” response throughout the event. This can create some level of dissociation together with emotional and physical numbness.  The person also can feel as though their world has suddenly fallen apart or shattered.  Shock trauma can be experienced as anxiety or mania to be followed by a crashing perceived as depression. This alteration in moods and behaviour may appear like manic-depressive or bipolar disorder.

Some examples of shock trauma are:
Falls, accidents, assault, near drowning, natural disaster, invasive medical procedures, witnessing of violence. First responders, policemen and similar professions can be exposed to shock trauma.

Some symptoms of shock trauma can include:
Rage, panic attacks, depression, exhaustion, withdrawal from family and friends, sense of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, disturbing memories or flashbacks, hypervigilance and a sense of needing to be on guard even in the absence of a threat. 

“The symptoms of trauma can be stable, that is, ever-present.
They can also be unstable, meaning that they can come and go and be triggered by stress.
Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface.
Usually, symptoms do not occur individually, but come in groups.
They often grow increasingly complex over time, becoming less and less connected with the original trauma experience.”

-  Peter Levine

Developmental Trauma

Developmental trauma results when an infant or child does not receive the nurturing or support needed. Usually this involves events that are so overwhelming to a child that the nervous system cannot mature in an age appropriate manner. This disruption in the nervous system can cause long-lasting changes and delays in physical maturation, behaviour, capacity to think, handle emotions and socialise. Often people do not know that they are living with developmental trauma.

Some examples of developmental trauma are:
Neglect; prenatal or perinatal trauma; growing up in families with addiction and/or violence; loss of a significant person during early childhood; bullying; family illness; poverty; physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Some symptoms of developmental trauma can include:
Unstable or painful moods, feeling isolated or emotionally distant, difficulty bonding with one’s own children, feeling disconnected from parts of the body or from others, inability to control emotions or adapt easily to stress, unpleasant sensations that move randomly throughout the body, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, thoughts of not belonging on the planet, hypersensitivity to sounds, sights, touch and many others.



Peter Levine. Healing Trauma: a pioneering program for restoring the wisdom of your body.

Article posted 28 July 2018
Henriette Politano hakomi therapist nelson
Henriette Politano is a counsellor and psychotherapist with a private practice in Nelson.
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