1. What is trauma?

Trauma is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as an ‘emotional shock following a stressful event’ and as a ‘distressing or emotionally disturbing experience’. It ‘results from events outside normal human experience which overwhelm usual coping mechanisms’. It is associated with terror and helplessness and often involves a feeling that the individual or someone important to them is at serious risk.  A traumatic incident is therefore one that threatens an individual’s sense of safety and security.

If the traumatic incident is either extreme in terms of severity or duration, or repeated, an individual’s sense of safety and security is likely to be further compromised; feelings of fear can become endemic to the way we view ourselves and the environment in which we live.

It is the endemic and repeated nature of trauma that impacts abandoned, abused and neglected children and those living with them and it is this endemic nature that can turn what might appear like fairly minor stressors, at least on the surface, into traumatic ones. How apparently minor stressors become traumatic ones is significant in considering trauma in the lives of ‘looked after’ children and their parenting figures.

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