Psychological trauma may occur after a distressing shocking event that happens to you and disrupts your sense of security, like being mugged or robbed, witnessing or being in a terrible accident, being the victim of a natural disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, mudslides), or being the victim of violent assault--physical or sexual. People react to trauma differently. A person may be panicked or depressed, may keep busy all the time or feel immobilized, may feel very emotional or be emotionally numb.
"Cumulative trauma" does not come from one event but from a series of mistreatments by another person. One event can be handled, but the relentless repetition of harmful treatment can accumulate into a traumatized state. People who are going through divorce often feel traumatized by the painful events that have led up to the loss of their spouse. Adult victims of child abuse or child neglect have experiened cumulative trauma. The illness or death of a parent during childhood can have a traumatic impact.
A traumatized person may have a hard time coping with everyday activities and close relationships. Life seems overwhelming. A therapist can serve as an important sympathetic witness to what has happened, providing understanding and validation. Therapy helps to reduce symptoms and re-ground people, so that they can pull themselves together and cope.