Trauma: Any emotional distress that lingers, whatever the reason. The ancient Greek word trauma most closely means “wound.” According to Merriam-Webster, physical trauma is an injury to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent.  Emotional trauma is any injury to our dignity, sense of security and/or wellbeing.  Therefore, our working definition of traumatic stress, taken from Greenleaf’s 2015 recommendations for a civilian federal agency, is responses to acute or protracted events that disrupt normal emotional, psychological, or behavioral functioning.

In the great majority of cases, having traumatic stress does not suggest having a psychiatric disorder, like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  To qualify for a disorder, functioning must not only be disrupted, but the trauma leads to obvious life chaos (hence the word dis-order).  A more ordinary language definition of trauma is “distress that still aches.”

Related concept:
Traumatic Stress.