Trauma as an invisible wound. A useful consideration?

Essay, 2016

10 Pages, Grade: 2,7


In your opinion, how useful is it to consider a trauma as an ‚invisible wound’?

In the present work, I will try to find an answer to whether trauma can be defined as an invisible wound or not. Trauma can be caused by different kinds of things and can happen to everyone: Not only firemen or policemen can be traumatized by what they have to deal with at work, trauma can also be caused by sexual abuse, wars, accidents and so on. Thus, a combat veteran can associate the sound of a helicopter with a horrifying battle experience or a survivor of a bad train crash can identify the sound of a locomotive with the trauma of the crash. This already leads us to possible consequences of a traumatic experience, called posttraumatic stress disorder or simply PTSD. In the following paragraphs, I will try to set up a general definition of trauma, see how the body and soul react to traumatic experiences and how a trauma can be expressed. After that, I will analyse Wolfgang Borchert’s short story Die Küchenuhr[1], an after-war story about the bombings in Hamburg. I will try to see parallels between the theoretical part of this essy and the short story, in order to answer the main question of this essay, whether trauma can be considered as an invisible wound or not.

Trauma has its etymological roots in the Greek, meaning wound. It has often appeared as a medical term and means an injury where the skin has been broken as a consequence of external violence and the effects of such an injury as a whole. But this implication of the skin being broken does not need to be present when talking of a trauma. Speaking in medical terms, yes, but not in psychological terms. Here, it is often defined by ‘an event in the subject’s life defined by its intensity, by the subject’s incapacity to respond adequately to it, and by the upheaval and long-lasting effects that it brings about in the psychical organisation’ (Laplanche&Pontalis 2006, p. 465). In other words, trauma is something that happened with an intensity that is not conform to one’s standard, which is too much for one to handle. It is a pain or a suffering that is difficult to locate, which also constitutes the main issue when it comes to defining trauma. It can also be defined by a violent shock (Laplanche&Pontalis 2006, p. 466). In order to know, what the standard of everyone is, the American Psychiatric Association introduced a new definition: ‘The traumatic event has to be of considerable severity posing a threat to one’s life or that of others, involve actual death or serious injury or threaten one’s physical integrity or that of others. It can be either experienced or witnessed by the individual’ (American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). But it is important to note that the term ‘trauma’ does not correspond to the reactions to the event, ‘but to the actual event whose nature is traumatic’ (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 26). Thus, something only becomes traumatic in a retrospective analysis, because at the moment when it happened, there was no understanding of what really happened. Another fact is that not everyone experiencing a traumatic event also develops a posttraumatic stress disorder. The response to such a trauma can involve intense fear or helplessness. While these symptoms often appear very soon after the event, they also disappear in a few weeks or even days. This is called acute stress disorder (ASD) and appears within four weeks of the traumatic experience and lasts a minimum of two days and maximum four weeks. Posttraumatic stress disorder only comes when the individual has those symptoms for more than a month (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 26). This can lead to a shift from ASD to PTSD. Only a few of the possible symptoms could be a subjective sense of numbing, detachment or absence of emotional responsiveness’ (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 27). This is often defined as a ‘psychic closing-off’. For example a rescue worker at Hiroshima after the atomic bombing was quoted as following: ‘After a while they (the bodies) became just like objects or goods that we handled in a very businesslike way. […] We had no emotions…Because of the succession of experiences I had been through I was temporarily without feeling’ (quoted in Lifton 1971, p. 126). This emotional shutdown may ’also lead to an inability to experience pleasure and may be associated with a feeling of detachment from one’s body’ (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 27). It also often causes a modification of time perception and a change in cognitive ability. For example, long-term thinking is declined and the focus is on short-term thinking. Other reaction may be the feeling of hopelessness, sleeping problems, difficulties of concentrating or feeling guilty for having survived. The main symptoms however are intrusion, avoidance and hyperarousal. Intrusion includes constant re-experiencing of the traumatic event by seeing distressing images, having bad thoughts, dreams and perceptions or reliving the traumatic experience. These symptoms just happen to the person, they do not do it on purpose. They can be triggered by simple sights, smells or sounds that are related to the traumatic experience. ‘Symptoms of intrusion can be psychological as well as physiological’ (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 27). For example, a little girl that had been sexually assaulted by a family member can see rape-related images or have related thoughts every time she hears the same music that had been played during the night she got raped. She also has nightmares about the traumatic experience and wakes up from them by breathing heavily. Images and thoughts are also the most common symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. They are a lot more common than flashbacks or bad dreams for example. Also, images are more common than thoughts, as most victims describe them as pictures that pop into their mind (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 27-28). Less common than images, but very common for patients with war trauma are intrusions of auditory, tactile, olfactory or gustatory origins. War veterans for instance often ‘hear’ bomb explosions or gunfire, while a car accident victim might relive the traumatic experience by smelling gas or oil. Another symptom of these consequent effects can be continuously asking themselves if they could have prevented what happened or why it did happen to them. Those unanswered questions are not recollections of the trauma itself, but they nevertheless constitute a big distress for the victims and can cause abnormalities in their everyday functioning. All these symptoms are linked with a high possibility of avoiding do think about what happened to them. Victims often do not want to discuss what happened with anyone or may want to move away from the area it happened, because it is just too disturbing to even think about it on purpose. This can also lead to amnesia, as some victims often cannot remember anything at all from the incident, as they only want to forget about it, but as another consequence of this avoidance, this could lead to even more stress for the individual. Thus, these persons are caught in a sort of vicious circle. ‘The more a person tries to suppress the intrusions, the more frequently they occur and the more uncomfortable they are found to be (Trindler&Salkovskis 1994, p. 833). Unfortunately, this only worsens the situation (Vees-Gulani 2003, p. 28). Lastly, the third major symptom of PTSD is hyperarousal or increased anxiety. It is often expressed by sleeping problems due to reappearing nightmare, inability to relax or constantly feeling on guard. This can be triggered by the smallest things, which directly lead to a huge anxiety or difficulties of concentrating. Other may even be very irritable, which can lead to anger outburst and even to violent behaviour. All these symptoms are called ‘re-experiencing criteria’ (Bouton&Waddell 2007, p. 41).


[1] Link to the short story: (German) and (English).

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Trauma as an invisible wound. A useful consideration?
University College London
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trauma, psychologie, Literarische Beobachtung, unsichtbare Wunde
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Jil Hoeser (Author), 2016, Trauma as an invisible wound. A useful consideration?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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