What is a traumatic event?

Posted by khmernews on March 4, 2008

Traumatic Event: An event outside the range of usual human experience which would be markedly distressing to almost anyone. (8)

A traumatic event is an event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions.
Traumatic events are those that create a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death. Therefore, most of the daily experiences during the Khmer Rouge years can be defined as traumatic events.

Traumatic events affect survivors, rescue workers, and friends and relatives of those who directly suffered injuries loss. They may also affect people who have witnessed the event either firsthand or on television, Stressful reactions immediately following a traumatic event are very common. However, such reactions usually diminish or are resolved within ten days.

There is evidence from studies of victims of trauma that demonstrates that people may react in a variety of ways to a traumatic event: Some people are proactive (creative seeking to control a situation, causing something to happen rather then waiting), some people only react, and some people are over whelmed to the point of doing nothing.

People who are proactive tend to overcome the extreme stresses and cope well in the situation, while those people who react tend to cope less. Those people who are not able to react or to stay proactive, often tend to develop serious physical or psychological symptoms or to die with no noticeable coping actions.

Traumatic events involve threats to life or bodily integrity, or a close personal encounter with violence and death. They confront human beings with helplessness and terror, and evoke the responses of catastrophe.(9)


8 DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, USA (2000).
9 Hermann, J.I. (2003): Die Narben der Gewalt, Paderborn: Junfermann.

-Extracted from the Center for Social Development (CSD) : Understanding Trauma in Cambodia : What is a traumatic event? Phnom Penh, 8 October 2007.


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