The Social Psychology of Responses to Trauma


“Trauma is not what happens to you, but what happens inside you.”


Psychology is fundamentally studying the mind and behaviour relationship. It helps to explore why people behave in a certain way they do. Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours are affected by other people’s presence and the ingrained social standards that people are subject to even when they are alone. Any kind of upsetting encounter or event that affects a person's capacity to cope and function is considered a trauma. It can result in emotional, physical, and psychological harm. The social identity approach places a strong emphasis on the value of group affiliations in daily living. Since traumatic events are not evenly distributed, the notion that some groups are more (or less) at risk of exposure to trauma at the most fundamental level helps to explain some of the diversity in outcomes related to group membership.

Changes in the social identities and social identity resources accessible to persons impacted by trauma can explain disparities in trauma outcomes.Trauma damages people by changing how they see themselves to be as members of a group. It transforms "children" into "orphans," "soldiers" into "veterans," and "people" into "victims." There is research which employs the social identity method to comprehend how aspects of social groups and group dynamics may affect how people react to trauma. The links between traumatic experiences and posttraumatic outcomes are mediated by group memberships. Group memberships include support, solidarity and belongingness that lead to developing social psychological abilities that can be referred to as social identity resources. When we look closely, certain traumatic events that we see or hear in our daily lives actually undergo a complete makeover. To be more precise, either they prove to be weak and continue to live in dread, or they attempt to get past it by learning and strengthening themselves even more than before. An increasing body of research on people's Post Traumatic Growth capacity implies that different facets of this transformation are emerging features of social identity revival after trauma. This reflects the reality that, following exposure to traumatic events, people often find themselves in a fundamentally new (psychological) world – one that needs an overhaul of the identities that were formerly vital to their self-concept. It is also believed by some that it is this revitalization of the social self that enables post-traumatic positive change. This new sense of social self is made possible by social identity shift, which also delivers new feelings of significance, purpose, and kinship. Membership in a group offers a crucial platform for resources including social support, a feeling of belonging, and group empowerment. Social identities offer much more than just pleasant interpersonal relationships, yet they also promote those. In particular, even in the absence of interpersonal interactions, one's strong social identities that arise from viewing oneself in terms of a larger collective can be a significant source of strength.



Acute Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) responses, according to some observers, are a reasonable standard or even expected response to traumatic or upsetting experiences. Many persons who endure traumatic situations exhibit some PTS symptoms, although these symptoms typically do not significantly impair their ability to operate in social or professional contexts (or, if they do, this is short-lived). As a result of war, political violence, sexual assault, accidents, and natural disasters, it has been discovered that resilience is the primary response to adversity. It seems that knowing the foundations of psychological resilience in the face of trauma is just as crucial as knowing psychological vulnerability.



There are different psychological interventions which are helpful in healing trauma. Some of them are~

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: It is based on the notion that one must repair and alter faulty beliefs while enhancing knowledge and abilities, along with educating people about typical responses to trauma. It assists in analysing and replacing unhelpful, false, and irrational thoughts with accurate ones that are less harmful.

  • Hypnotherapy: It is believed that healing is greatly aided by the emotions and thoughts that a person experiences while under hypnosis.

  • Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR): In order to lessen and ultimately resolve the emotional effects of trauma, EMDR combines imaginal exposure with concurrent induction of rhythmic eye movements that are thought to help rewire the brain. The client is instructed to recollect a painful event during the EMDR procedure, and then they work on the conflict between negative and positive cognitions.

  • Psychological first aid (PFA): It consists of a series of supportive activities meant to lessen the discomfort associated with the first posttraumatic incident and improve both short- and long-term adaptive functioning. PFA is built on eight key acts and is intended to be the first stage of a complicated trauma response.

  1. Contact and engagement

  2. Comfort and safety

  3. Stabilisation

  4. Collecting information

  5. Practical aid

  6. Connection to social supports

  7. Knowledge of coping strategies

  8. Linkage to collaborative services.


There is a real or perceived risk to life in certain specific cases of sexual assault, severe injury, or other incidents. When a person encounters such events, indirectly (for example - by witnessing them) it is deemed to be traumatic. Just as there are experiments which investigate the cause-effect relationship of a particular phenomenon, similarly experience of traumatic events results in the vulnerability of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An individual that has encountered trauma may experience a variety of feelings presently and in later years. They could struggle to understand their sensations or feel overpowered, helpless, stunned, or overwhelmed. Physical symptoms might sometimes be a result of trauma. There are different types of trauma depending on their intensity -acute, chronic and complex. A single stressful or risky incident causes acute trauma.Example of acute trauma could be a major car accident which may develop fear in that person for his or her life. Chronic trauma is the outcome of sustained and recurrent exposure to extremely stressful situations. Cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence are a few examples. Multiple traumatic occurrences expose a person to complex trauma.

There are many life-changing experiences or events that occur in one’s life which would have either a positive or negative impact. It is significantly dependent on one’s perception and approach. Basically, our responses or reaction to a particular situation, or trauma, in the same way, has graving emotional and psychological responses. A person who has experienced traumatic events often portrays the emotional and psychological responses of- denial, rage, depression, confusion, numbness, anxiety, guilt, less focused and worthless,and irritability. They might lose their temper easily, struggle to regulate their emotions, or isolate themselves from other people. Both dreams and flashbacks, in which a person mentally replays the distressing incident, are frequent. Trauma can result in both an emotional response and physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive issues, lethargy perspiration and feeling restless. Hyperarousal is a condition in which a person occasionally feels as though they are always on the lookout. Sleeping might be challenging as a result. Therefore, try not to judge a person, rather try to understand the cause which made his/her present stressful or unpleasant.

References ~

Dillmann, S. M. (2015, November 16). Common therapy approaches to help you heal from trauma. GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/common-therapy-approaches-to-help-you-heal-from-trauma

Leonard, J. (2020, June 3). What is trauma? types, symptoms, and treatments. Medical News Today. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma#definition

Muldoon, O. T. (n.d.). The social psychology of responses to trauma: Social identity pathways associated with divergent traumatic responses. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10463283.2020.1711628

Vasile, C. (2014, May 9). An analysis of psychological trauma interventions. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814024458?ref=pdf_download&fr=RR-2&rr=741e530b98c8a907

Orla T. Muldoon, S. Alexander Haslam, Catherine Haslam, Tegan Cruwys, Michelle Kearns & Jolanda Jetten (2019) The social psychology of responses to trauma: social identity pathways associated with divergent traumatic responses, European Review of Social Psychology, 30:1, 311-348, DOI: 10.1080/10463283.2020.1711628

 

This Blog on ' The Social Psychology of Responses to Trauma ' has been contributed by Nidhi Panchal. She is an inquisitive student pursuing her Bachelor's in Psychology with great dedication, adaptable to a different perspective and tends to build knowledge and experience with proper strategic management.


She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP). GIRP is an IJNGP initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.