Reactions to traumatic events


Just after the traumatic event you may feel numb. It may be difficult for you to figure out what really happened or to remember everything. Often, people feel as if someone has just woken them from a nightmare and they are not quite sure if what happened was real or a dream.

Thoughts about the event

Painful experiences and graphic memories of past events can "get into" into your head. You don't want to think about them, you want to forget about them, but they persistently return, often at the least expected times. These thoughts and images may appear when you are awake (when you try to live your life as normal) or in your dreams. The memories may become so expressive and accurate that you begin to relive the whole event.


Anger is a common reaction to a traumatic event. Often the question arises: "Why did this happen to me?" In search of answers, you can look for a "scapegoat", or the person who is responsible for what happened. Your internal tension and negative emotions can accumulate and lead to uncontrolled outbursts of anger, even towards people who have nothing to do with the situation.


This is another reaction to a traumatic event that often changes our perception of the world and destroy our belief that the world is safe and predictable. What we have experienced can make us feel as though very bad and cruel things can easily happen and that the world is around us can be dangerous. People are often afraid that a similar event may happen again, they feel worried about the safety of their loved ones, and they can become overprotective of children. The anxiety associated with a traumatic event can be so intense that a fear of leaving home arises.

Shame and feeling guilty

Feeling shame or guilt are also typical and natural reactions. It may feel like we did not utilise all the possible options to avoid danger. We blame ourselves for not doing enough or for something else that "certainly" would not have led to what happened. Sometimes people blame themselves for surviving while others lost their lives or health.


You can feel completely helpless - deprived of control over your feelings and reactions. You may be afraid that you are "going crazy" and ashamed of your behaviour or reactions.


Sometimes it happens that you are the only person who survived, e.g., from an accident in which others died. Such events cause deep sadness and despair. In this situation it is best to limit the use of substances.

Physical reactions

The stress you experience can be expressed not only in the form of thoughts and emotions that are difficult to bear, but also reflected in the reactions of your body. Below you can find a list of typical physiological symptoms that you may experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heartbeat, the impression that it will jump out of the chest
  • Tremors or shaking of the whole body or limbs may appear right after the event
  • Nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, difficulty breathing (throat dryness, short shallow breathing)
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Headache, neck and spine pains and other muscle aches.
  • Sleep disorders are such as:
    • Difficulty falling asleep
    • Frequent waking up
    • Getting up at dawn and having trouble falling asleep again
    • Nightmares.
Loss of interest in daily life

After a tragic event, people often experience difficulties associated with returning to everyday life. Matters that were interesting before the event may cease to engage us. Typical feelings include numbness and automatic and non-reflective performance of daily activities. Survivors of such events often report that they feel "washed out" or empty, nothing pleases or interests them, they do not care about anything.

Loss of self-confidence

A common result of a traumatic event is a loss of confidence. For example, this can be manifest as work that is usually carried out easily, becomes more difficult and requires more effort to do. Sometimes even everyday activities, such as washing dishes, seem to absorb all the energy we have in ourselves to complete.

Feeling alienated

After experiencing a traumatic event, nothing may seem quite as it did before. We may feel a sense of judgement from other, that makes it difficult for us to talk to others. We can feel lonely and alienated from our close family and friends. If this reaction is accompanied by persistent aggravation and anger, it can cause serious family problems.

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The EMPOWER project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 848180