Factors which can exacerbate or mitigate the negative effects of trauma exposure.

Jason Brien.

     Trauma, whether it be emotional, psychological or physical, damages the psyche and can, if left untreated, disrupt daily functioning and coping. The degree to which one experiences the negative effects of trauma can be exacerbated by risk factors or mitigated by protective factors. Some of these risk and protective factors include:

Risk factors:

-low socioeconomic status,

-poor cultural assimilation,

-substance abuse,

-poor mental health or emotional reactivity,

-money problems,

-lack of support systems such as family, friends, institutions, etc,

-low or no employment,

-being bullied or harassed,

-living in high risk environments which increase one’s exposure to trauma inducing events,

-low self-esteem and poor self-image,

-poor education,


     Individuals that are exposed to multiple risk factors concurrently and for long periods of time can go on to develop Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).

Protective factors:

-Lots of family, friends, work colleagues,

-secure and reliable income or access to financial support from others,

-good emotional and psychological health,

-good social skills,an openness to experience,

-good cultural and community integration,

-access to institutions such as schools, hospitals, health care providers, etc,

-good religious and spiritual connections/beliefs,employment.     

     Whilst everybody responds to trauma differently, many people can experience very strong emotional or physical reactions immediately following exposure to a traumatic event. If left untreated, the symptoms of psychological trauma can become increasingly severe, frequent and rigid. Some of the most frequently experienced symptoms of trauma may include the following:


-Intrusive thoughts or mental re-enactments of the event,                

-nightmares related to the event and/or difficulty sleeping,                

-loss of memory and difficulty concentrating,                

-emotional lability (mood swings),               


-Social and familial withdrawal and isolation,                

-avoiding places or activities that may trigger memories of the traumatic event,                

-loss of interest in previously enjoyable pursuits (i.e., sports and recreation).



-atypical fatigue and exhaustion,                


-sexual dysfunction,                

-changes in eating patterns leading to excessive weight gain/loss                

-body aches and pains


-Constant and overwhelming sense of fear,                

-atypical obsessive and compulsive behaviours,                

-dissociation and emotional detachment,                

-depression and constant sense of sadness or emptiness,                


-anger and hostility,                

-atypical anxiety or panic attacks.


Carlson, E. B., Palmieri, P. A., Field, N. P., Dalenberg, C. J., Macia, K. S., & Spain, D. A. (2016). Contributions of risk and protective factors to prediction of psychological symptoms after traumatic experiences. Comprehensive psychiatry, 69, 106-115.

Gerring, J. P., & Wade, S. (2012). The essential role of psychosocial risk and protective factors in pediatric traumatic brain injury research. Journal of neurotrauma, 29(4), 621-628.

James, L. M., Van Kampen, E., Miller, R. D., & Engdahl, B. E. (2013). Risk and protective factors associated with symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression, and alcohol misuse in OEF/OIF veterans. Military medicine, 178(2), 159-165. 

Slattery, S. M., & Goodman, L. A. (2009). Secondary traumatic stress among domestic violence advocates: Workplace risk and protective factors. Violence against women, 15(11), 1358-1379.