Who experiences trauma?

Excerpted from Feel to Heal: Releasing Trauma Through Body Awareness and Breathwork Practice 
By Giten Tonkov 

It’s easy to agree that a “bad day” is different from “trauma,” and that “trauma” is a term that’s reserved for people who have experienced something very unusual. However, research across the world shows that the experiencing of traumatic events is more common—and “routine”—than we would like to think. Trauma statistics are available from many sources worldwide, and they paint a startling picture. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), a division of the U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control, trauma is the number-one cause of death for people aged 1 to 46, and is the most likely reason to shorten a person’s life before the age of 75. “Trauma” in this reference can mean physical and burn injuries; intentional trauma, such as suicide or assault; and unintentional accidents, collisions, falls, drownings, and poisonings.

But death is absolutely not the only result of trauma, and the primary person experiencing a specific event might not be the only sufferer. For example, witnesses to “someone else’s” traumatic event might retain the residue of the experience in their own bodies. Personal trauma can result from a shock, such as a disaster or an accident, abuse, problems within a relationship, or negative interactions related to cultural, personal, or community identity. It can be obvious from the outside, or private and secret. Trauma can result from one event or repeated, prolonged, or chronic events. It can even result from situations that might not even seem “traumatic,” such as shame. Therefore, in some form or other, trauma happens to everyone. Its impact depends both on the circumstances of an event and the resiliency of the person’s nervous system at the moment in question. Sometimes we’re more able to process and release, and sometimes we’re not.

Let’s face it. More than seven billion people live on Earth, and they experience innumerable personal interactions, social and political circumstances, and natural and global events each year. Our ability to function in an ever-more-complex world requires fine-tuned bodies, minds, and spirits—and in the process of living, trauma in inevitable. Each individual exists on a continuum of personal development, all the while bumping into other people and unexpected moments.

Suffering can become a habit, a lifestyle, a part of our bodies that seems unshakeable. Of course, everyone experiences the ups and downs of normal life—triumphs and disappointments, birth and death, accidents and good fortune. Sometimes, we successfully process the “downs,” and sometimes we don’t. This is to be expected—and it’s why soldiers and other sufferers of PTSD have provided such a great service for the rest of us. Some of them have been walking around with incredibly high levels of activation and really crushing symptoms. They have needed help, and that help has spilled over into the general population. That is, if something works for PTSD, chances are it will work outside of PTSD.

In general, of the adults in the United States who have experienced a traumatic event, up to twenty percent of them go on to develop PTSD.i Reports vary as to the number of Americans with PTSD at any given time, from approximately seven to eight percent.ii Although statistics reported from other countries have been collected and managed in different ways—and therefore are not directly comparable to one another—estimates have been as low as three-hundredths of a percent in China to just over six percent in New Zealand.iii

Studies commonly focus on a variety of underlying causes of PTSD. Along with military trauma, these usually include terror situations, sexual assault, and complex trauma—which results from prolonged exposure to traumatic relationships, often with parents or others with whom a person feels disempowered.

The somatic work that most informs and relates to BBTRS has been done by researchers like Bessel van der Kolk, MD, Peter Levine, PhD, David Berceli, PhD, and their colleagues. Their work helps practitioners whether or not they are consciously aware of the source of the suffering. By focusing on the physical release of tension, they avoid potential reactivation or retraumatization that can sometimes result from other forms of therapy. These subtleties were crucial in the development of successful PTSD therapies—the “gold standard” of trauma relief. If a treatment has worked with PTSD, then there’s a great chance it can help for the countless other causes of trauma.


  1. Whenever I try to explain what I do as a BBTR practictioner, it is a bit hard because when the word “trauma” is used, many people will immediately think of abuse. However, trauma comes in different forms and impacts people in different ways. This is a wonderful, simple and detailed way to explain trauma to other people, especially to those who are first time experiencers of BBTR. Thanks for this!

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