NHS Lothian

Common emotional reactions to trauma

Making sense of trauma - 3

2 min read

It’s common to experience a range of different emotions following a trauma event:

  • Fear and anxiety are common reactions to a traumatic event, as fear is a natural response to a dangerous situation. For some people, the feelings of fear and anxiety last long after the trauma has ended. This can happen when your view of the world and your sense of safety have changed. Sometimes, you can feel anxious just thinking about the trauma and sometimes the anxiety can just come out-of-the-blue. As you start to pay attention to the times you feel anxious or afraid, you may discover the triggers for your anxiety. You‘ll then learn that some of the out-of-the-blue anxiety is really triggered by things that remind you of the trauma.


  • Anger is a common emotional reaction to a traumatic event. If you’re not used to feeling angry, this can feel quite scary. It may be especially confusing to feel angry at the people who are closest to you. Anger can also arise from a feeling that the world isn’t fair.


  • Grief and depression are also common reactions to trauma. This can include feeling down, sad, hopeless or despairing. You might find that you cry more often, or you may lose interest in people and activities that you used to enjoy. You might also feel that the plans you had for your future don’t seem to matter anymore, or even that life isn’t worth living. Because the trauma may have changed the way you see the world and yourself, it makes sense to feel sad and to grieve for what you’ve lost.


  • Guilt and shame are also common responses. Many people blame themselves for things they did, or did not do, to survive. For example, people who have survived an assault sometimes believe that they should have fought off an assailant and they blame themselves for the attack. Others feel that if they had not fought back, they wouldn’t have been hurt. You may feel ashamed because during the trauma you acted in ways that that you would not otherwise have done. Learning about the fight, flight or freeze response can help with these feelings.


  • Feeling numb, where you find it difficult to have pleasant or loving feelings. This numbing response can come from your body and mind protecting themselves from overwhelming emotions. When painful thoughts or feelings are too intense, your mind can just block them out.

This is a series of articles covering trauma reactions including: re-experiencing of the trauma; avoiding things relating to or reminding you of the trauma; changes in how you perceive yourself, others and the world; being on edge and high alert,  and increased use of alcohol or other substances.

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