Rate of Current Individual Trauma

My main emphasis in this piece is how historical traumas and our reactions to them produced cultural level problems. But we are still shaping our cultures today, arguing over how best to do that. And we may not be aware of our own TBRs.  The reality is a large percentage of people have experienced what I call “Big T” traumas.  A large percentage of people have been assaulted or otherwise victimized in ways that produce trauma, a large percentage of people have experienced accidents or other events (maybe as helpless bystanders) that can and do produce “Big T” traumas.

Numerous others have experienced other very disturbing events that can and do leave lasting TBRs.  These are dults who experienced their parents divorce, had an alcoholic parent, had a loved one die, those with a profound sense of isolation or fear of rejection from growing up or being _____ in an environment that was either not appreciative of that quality, or where there was no one else like you (insert almost any category here- white, black, gay, short, fat, gifted, with learning disabilities, rich, poor, Catholic, female, geeky, etc).  These experiences can and do shape how we see the world and ourselves in it.  These experiences can and do produce psychological distress that resemble TBRs.  And a lot of us are carrying baggage from those events.  We cope well enough, but we aren’t really thriving because of how we’ve processed our own histories of trauma or emotional pain.

The Rate of Individuals Who Experience Trauma Events

In a widely respected American study, 28.3 % of over 17,000 respondents reported being physically abused at least once as children, and 20.7% reported being sexually abused as children.[1] That’s over one in 4 kids experiencing physical abuse and over one in 5 children experiencing sexual abuse. In 2010 the US Justice Department issued a fact sheet on child abuse that said “Sixty percent of American children were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, and communities” at least once[2]. Obviously, these statistics are not acceptable, but they are the current reality, and therefore a necessary starting place.

An important issue to note is that adverse incidents that can and do cause trauma do not end in childhood. I know of no studies that track the overall rate of individuals who have suffered from events that normally cause trauma reactions, but I’m willing to bet the percentage is pretty high. While many people are able to resolve trauma experiences, a good percentage get stuck through no faults of their own.

The reality is that trauma based symptoms are very common to see when working with people in mental health counseling. As a mental health professional, I’ve worked with hundreds and probably thousands of people affected by trauma, and I have -seriously- not even tried to specialize in this area up until recently. It is widespread.

These people are voting, these people have ideologies, these people are being marketed to and buying up products.  These people are functioning within a culture that they are responding to, but also a culture that they themselves are shaping. A good many of us are “these people”.

Crossroad of Personal And Cultural Psychology

My point for including this depressing information is that we are already surrounded by cultural norms that I believe are unrecognized TBRs, and we may be even less likely to notice these things as the TBRs they are because a good percentage of us are also dealing with our own personal traumas.  We are shaping our cultures even as we are still struggling with the effects of our own personal experiences of trauma or difficult events. Our personal histories may leave us vulnerable to accepting other cultural TBRs blindly.

And for those not personally affected by trauma, the terrifying possibility of becoming a victim is always there.  Those of the population unscathed by personal events may also unconsciously accept cultural level TBRs as a way to ward off the possibility of becoming a victim: A person may consciously or unconsciously think “I may not have ever been on an unsafe airplane ride, but I saw pictures of a hijacking as a kid and it was terrifying.”  This is not uncommon logic even if the odds are extraordinarily low of the event ever becoming a reality.

What is clear is that instead of dealing with trauma (or even the potential trauma), we tend to bury it, and sometimes engage in victim blaming, or find ways to ensure that those victimized are limited to certain groups by unconsciously furthering cultural norms and expectations that end up increasing their vulnerability. The sexualization of girls comes to mind as a depressing dynamic that may be unconsciously spurred on to ward off the possibility of less vulnerable people (adult men or women) being victimized instead.  Even if that scenario is not convincing, the level of cultural denial about the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse is undeniable and it is staggering. While these are very dark topics, the extremes humans go to when our survival is even remotely at risk, and the extent of our irrationality in the face of fear needs to be squarely acknowledged before we can ever hope to change our behaviors.


[1]The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more information about this study, a good starting place is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_Childhood_Experiences_Study

[2] US department of Justice, Defending Childhood Initiative Fact Sheet 2010: https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/ag/legacy/2010/09/23/dc-factsheet.pdf