Developmental Trauma vs Shock Trauma

Developmental Trauma vs Shock Trauma

Trauma is an umbrella term we use to describe a natural human response to something difficult that happened in our lives. However, this doesn’t mean that all trauma is the same. Trauma doesn’t necessarily stem from one large and terrible event, like war or assault. Sometimes, we carry trauma from small yet impactful repeated experiences. 

The way trauma affects our lives also depends on what caused it to begin with. Developmental trauma and shock trauma can each have similar outcomes, but very different root causes. So what sets these types of trauma apart? And how might they manifest in your life? Is there any overlap between the two, and how can you tell the difference?

If you think you may be carrying unhealed trauma, we want you to know that healing is possible. With holistic trauma treatment, you can begin a journey of empowerment that encourages natural healing from within. Whether you need help recovering from the emotional wounds of a life-or-death situation, you survived childhood neglect, or anything in between, freedom is possible and a better life awaits. 

What Causes Developmental Trauma?

Developmental trauma arises when you don’t get the love, care, or attention you need during childhood. Sometimes this stems from overwhelming events like the death of a caregiver. Other times, it’s smaller, repeated experiences like a lack of affection from emotionally distant parents.

Examples of Developmental Trauma

  • Prenatal or perinatal trauma
  • Childhood neglect
  • Loss of a parent or loved one at an early age
  • Childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, or emotional abuse
  • Growing up around addiction or violence

Everyone’s capacities are different. That’s why the same event may be traumatic for some and not for others. Keep in mind that even if you didn’t experience a massive loss or disturbing event during childhood, you can still struggle with unhealed developmental trauma. Anything that kept you in a prolonged state of fear or overwhelmed your ability to cope may still be something that you carry with you from childhood. Often, people don’t know that they’re moving through life while acting from a wounded place.

And sadly, childhood trauma is all too common. An estimated 67% of adults have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience (ACE). A recent study found that people with just two ACEs were far more likely to use drugs, have depression, and even attempt suicide. 

What Causes Shock Trauma?

On the other hand, shock trauma is caused by one, deeply impactful event. Typically, these events are abrupt and potentially life-threatening. Or, they at least feel that way in the moment. For many people, shock trauma can shatter their sense of reality. While the events that cause shock trauma typically have a clear start and end, you’ll often feel stuck in the event and unable to move past it. 

Examples of Shock Trauma

  • Accidents
  • Falls
  • Near drowning
  • Assault or violence
  • Acts of war or terrorism
  • Natural disasters
  • Emergency medical procedures

You can suffer from shock trauma from experiencing these sorts of events, or just witnessing them. Emergency responders sometimes incur shock trauma for this reason. Shock trauma can happen at any point in your life, in childhood or adulthood. If you experience shock trauma as a child — especially a series of shock traumas — you may struggle with developmental trauma as well. 

How Does Each Type of Trauma Manifest?

These traumas occur in various ways. And as such, they can show up differently in our lives. Of course, there’s also some overlap between the two. Any form of trauma is prone to making us feel unsafe in the world, regardless of how we were wounded in the first place. Here are the different ways developmental and shock trauma may show up in your life: 

Shock Trauma

Because this form of trauma is caused by a singular event, often it’s as if your nervous system is stuck in responding to it. This might keep you cycling through states of fight, flight or freeze. Even though you’re no longer in harm’s way, your subconscious doesn’t know this, and keeps you on high alert.

This can manifest in your life in a few ways. Most people struggling with shock trauma can’t emotionally regulate themselves as they once could. They’re “stuck” in crisis mode. Their nervous system can no longer differentiate between present danger and the old, stored danger of the event. 

Some people in this situation find themselves cycling between high levels of anxiety and crashing into depression, which can mimic the emotional cycles of bipolar disorder. For others, it results in behaviors like social withdrawal, rage, or loss of interest in things they once enjoyed. 

Shock trauma interrupts the flow of life. You may feel a distinction between what life was, and who you were, before and after your trauma. Symptoms of shock trauma can last for days, weeks, or much longer. These can include: 

  • Exhaustion
  • Restlessness
  • Panic attacks
  • Sense of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Hypervigilance

Shock trauma can greatly impact the way you see the world after a jarring or life-threatening event. But it doesn’t typically affect your childhood development or have the same consequences as developmental trauma. 

Developmental Trauma

The trauma we experience in childhood can alter the way our brains, immune systems, and hormonal systems develop. It can even affect the way DNA is read and transcribed. While the symptoms of shock trauma and developmental trauma are similar, developmental trauma uniquely affects the way our physical bodies develop. As such, developmental trauma often has deeper roots and can take longer to heal. 

How Childhood Trauma Changes Your Brain

Childhood trauma affects bran development. From birth to age five, our brains grow more than during any other period in life. Our experiences in early life teach our brains what to expect and how to respond. If you experienced repeated trauma while growing up, there’s a good chance it affected your neural networks. Each time you experience trauma, your brain fires on a pathway triggered by that trauma. And the more those pathways get used, the more the brain come to rely on them. 

This can cause you to fall back on maladaptive coping strategies. And, it can affect your ability to regulate your emotions. If you have unhealed developmental trauma, you may struggle to move experiences out of your working memory and into long-term memory. This can make memories feel fresh and painful even after they’ve long passed. And that makes it easier to become triggered by experiences that remind you of your trauma.  

Developmental Trauma Can Affect Your Adult Relationships

The nature of our childhood attachments largely informs how we connect with others as we grow older. When you’re little, your most important relationship is with your parent or caregiver. When this attachment is healthy, we build a close bond with our guardians. They make us feel safe, comforted and protected. This helps us grow up with healthy relationship patterns and makes it easier for us to connect with other adults.

But if you experienced abuse, neglect or other childhood trauma, you may struggle with healthy attachments in adulthood. This might mean that you have trouble letting people in. You may avoid intimacy and close relationships, or shut your loved ones out when you feel triggered. Or, you may carry a lot of anxiety around your relationships. You may have a hard time trusting other people, and always assume the worst. In any case, these attachment issues can act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, the more you act according to your negative beliefs about relationships, the more you find them coming true. 

Or, you may find yourself seeking toxic relationships that mirror the attachments you had as a child. You may continually partner with people who are abusive, neglectful or emotionally unavailable. This is because you learned this is normal, and that this is the love you deserve. 

Childhood Trauma Can Lead to Addiction

Childhood trauma has also been linked to addiction. In one study, over 70% of teens in substance abuse treatment had some form of childhood trauma. The relationship between trauma and addiction is complex, but the implications are real. If you’re used to being in a constant state of fear, you’re likely to grasp at any method you find helps you to avoid triggers.

Drugs and alcohol can temporarily lessen the pain, ease anxiety, and distract you from your suffering. Some people with developmental trauma also find themselves engaging in self-harm or disordered eating. While these maladaptive strategies relieve symptoms of developmental trauma in the short term, ultimately, they can have devastating effects.  

How Can I Heal Trauma Wounds?

Trauma can be confusing and hard to unpack. Whether you think you’re suffering from shock trauma, developmental trauma or perhaps both, it’s likely because you’re struggling in your daily life. Typically, shock trauma is more likely to heal on its own with time. Childhood trauma, however, has deep roots in the ways we perceive the world around us. It can therefore take more time and effort to heal. 

Think You Might Be Struggling with Shock Trauma?

Consider the following questions:

  • Did you experience or witness something that deeply troubled you?
  • Do you feel stuck in that moment, paralyzed in fear or anxiety?
  • Do you find yourself having nightmares or flashbacks to the experience?
  • Are you withdrawing from loved ones or having a tough time finding pleasure in activities you once enjoyed?
  • Do you feel helpless or hopeless where you once felt empowered and capable?

If you’re struggling to move on after surviving a traumatic experience, there’s a chance you’re dealing with shock trauma. Keep reading to learn how you can holistically heal your wounds and live a life full of joy, meaning, and peace. 

Are You Carrying Unhealed Developmental Trauma?

Check and see if any of the following resonate with you:

  • Do you struggle to remember much of early childhood at all?
  • Do you find yourself in a pattern of toxic relationships with neglectful, abusive, or unavailable people?
  • Have you ever felt like you don’t have a firm grasp on your personal identity?
  • Are you hypersensitive?
  • Or, do you often feel out of touch with your emotions?

Developmental trauma can be hard to identify specifically because many of us block out our most painful memories of neglect, abuse, or mistreatment. If some or all of the above sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. Know that regardless of what sort of trauma you’re struggling with, healing is within your reach. 

Holistic Trauma Treatment at The Sanctuary

Mainstream treatment philosophy says that trauma never fully goes away. But fortunately, we think differently at The Sanctuary. Our non-12-Step, holistic trauma treatment program empowers you to heal on a deeper level than conventional programs. We’ve seen this happen for countless graduates. Here’s what some of them have to say: 

“I am thrilled with the changes I’ve been able to make in the last 30 days. The integrative approach to healing mind, body, soul and spirit were key in my being recovered.

“I’ve been blown away by the amount of love and passion that emanates from the staff, land, and other clients. Thank you!”

At the Sanctuary, we help you to uncover the roots of your trauma and unravel the stories it’s formed in your life. These are the stories that keep you stuck in anxiety, fear, and unhealthy thought patterns, behaviors and relationships. 

Your Healing Journey is Unique to You

During our holistic program, you’ll spend at least 30 days with us healing your trauma from the inside out. You’ll:

  • Receive detailed assessments to determine the extent of your trauma and pinpoint areas of concern
  • Begin to feel safe, secure, and accepted in our warm and loving environment
  • Establish meaningful relationships with your peers and members of your treatment team
  • Identify core themes and disempowering beliefs you’ve developed over time
  • Recognize the coping strategies you use to help yourself feel better
  • Get clear on what your specific needs are
  • Be able to name and discuss your emotions
  • Release trauma that’s stored in the memory of your nervous system
  • Learn how to better care for your body, brain, and energetic field

Over time, you’ll gain the freedom to fully express yourself in the world. You’ll no longer feel constantly unsafe or under attack. Instead, you’ll be able to move forward in life feeling confident and capable of handling previously triggering situations. 

We know how debilitating unhealed trauma can be. We also know that you have the ability to change. You deserve so much more than managing PTSD — you deserve to realize your dreams. Because the world needs what you have to offer. 

The Sanctuary’s trauma treatment program is a pathway to true transformation. Get in touch with us today to learn more about how this healing journey can empower you

Kelley Alexander JD. photo

Kelley Alexander JD.  is the co-director of The Sanctuary at Sedona and has worked over the last decade to develop its innovative Integrative Addiction Recovery Program that has helped hundreds of clients to be recovered from addiction and co-occurring disorders. Through her pioneering work, Kelley and her team at The Sanctuary also work with clients to overcome issues related to codependency, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A JD and former practicing attorney, Kelley holds a BA in World Religions and has done graduate work in psychology. She is an ordained minister, certified shamanic breathwork facilitator, and a graduate of the Four Winds Healing The Light Body School, the premier energy medicine program founded by Alberto Villoldo. Kelley has also been a student of Dr. Joe Dispenza since 2009. She is a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology and the Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. She is a frequent lecturer at seminars and conferences throughout the United States.
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