Forms of Trauma

An individual person’s experience of trauma and the impact it has on them varies from person to person. A person can also experience multiple forms trauma. For example, a young person who is growing up in a community in which they may be experiencing racism and may also be exposed to ongoing violence in their neighborhood or family.  

Improving awareness of trauma

The first step to healing trauma is increasing our awareness of the various forms of trauma that people experience and its effects on yourself and others.

The following questions may be useful to reflect on as you read the following descriptions of different forms of trauma that people may experience. 

  1. What types of trauma do you see with the people you work with?

  2. Are any of the types of trauma surprising?

  3. Are there other types or causes of trauma that you would add?

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Single event or ongoing trauma

Trauma can be experienced from a single event. It also can be influenced by ongoing or continuous events or conditions. For example, exposure to violence in one’s family or community may be an ongoing and repeated experience.

Individual or societal/collective trauma

Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being (1).

Societal or collective trauma can result when a traumatic event/series of events affects a large number of people. It can be directly experienced, witnessed (on TV) or heard about. The traumatic experience can bring forth fear, horror, helplessness, or anger (2). Examples of societal or collective trauma include terrorist attacks, natural disasters, wars, genocide, oppression and racism experienced by certain ethnic group or culture, murder/fires in a community.

Dignity violations

Dignity plays an important role in the breakdown and restoration of relationships. Dignity violations contribute to a breakdown in relationships. We may react to a threat to our dignity in ways that escalate negative interactions and maintain cycles of conflict and/or violence. In order to break the cycle, it is important to acknowledge and address violations of dignity. When we extend ways that honor each others' dignity we promote healthy relationships (3).


Microaggressions are statements or actions that are often subtle, unintentional, and ambiguous about socially constructed identities that embody privilege in different ways - including sexual orientation, gender, class, religion, education level. Recognizing microaggressions can help to make visible the ways in which social difference, marginalization, and identify consciousness are formed from structures of power and privilege and produced and maintained in everyday lives through people's comments (5).

"Racial microaggressions are the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities and denigrating messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned [people] who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated." - Derald Wing Sue, Columbia University

Click here for examples of racial microaggressions. 

Structural or historical trauma

Structural trauma can be individual or collective like structural racism, inequality or oppression. Youth voices from the RYSE Listening Campaign identified the following factors that contributed to their experiences of trauma: economic disempowerment, histories of oppression, mass incarceration, immigration & legal status, environmental racism (4).

This video gives an example of historical trauma experienced by indigenous peoples in the United States.

Historical trauma is the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations emanating from massive group trauma” (2). 

Examples of historical trauma include slavery, genocide, colonialism.



Vicarious or secondary trauma

Vicarious or secondary trauma refers to the cumulative physical, emotional, and psychological toll that can occur when we are exposed to the suffering, hardship, crisis, or trauma of others. It is the impact from exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life. There is a toll individually, individually, organizationally, and societally. Other terms used include trauma exposure response, compassion fatigue, empathic strain, or trauma stewardship.

See Module Ten and Eleven for more information on secondary trauma. 

Participation-induced trauma

Participation or participatory-induced trauma is a form of trauma that occurs when a single person or group of people are active participants in causing harm or trauma to others. Participation-induced trauma can be voluntary or involuntary, intentional or unintentional. Examples of participation-induced trauma include soldiers in war, police officers, people who have participated in gang activity, someone who has committed a crime such as murder.

Socioecological model and trauma


Trauma can be an individual, family, group or societal experience. To learn more about the social-ecological model as a framework for violence prevention please see


  1. SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions -

  2. Yoder, 2015. Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes And Community Security Is Threatened. Little Books of Justice & Peacebuilding. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

  3. Hicks, D., & Tutu, D. (2011). Dignity: The essential role it plays in resolving conflict. New Haven: Yale University Press.

  4. The RYSE Center’s Listening Campaign: Community-engaged inquiry of young people’s experiences and articulations of trauma, violence, coping, and healing (2016).

  5. Microaggressions. Power, privilege, and everyday life.