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Psychological Trauma


Victims of crime generally have to deal with a number of consequences, both of a psychological as well as a physical nature. It is widespread knowledge that crime may cause financial damage and physical injury; however, the psychological implications are known to few.


Victims of crime who suffer from psychological trauma often describe the way they feel as follows:

“Nothing is the same as it used to be.”

The symptoms concealed in this statement indicate a psychological trauma.

The term trauma originates from the Greek word for injury. A traumatic experience is described as a directly experienced or observed occurrence, which is accompanied by fear of death or danger of physical integrity of self or another person and feelings of helplessness and unprotected surrender, where one’s own possibilities of action are perceived as inadequate in mastering the situation (according to DSM-IV, Göttingen 1996).

This feeling of helplessness contributes to a permanent trauma of one’s strong self-confidence and understanding of the world that is described as follows [defined in 4 statements (Sebastian 2014)]:

  • I can rely on the other people and the world;
  • Life will do no harm to me – and others – innocently;
  • Life is predictable;
  • I can fend for myself.

Since victims of crime have something inflicted upon them by other people as the result of a crime, some victims develop a deep mistrust towards others. In extreme cases, this can result in them withdrawing from society completely. A feeling of helplessness may arise. Ultimately, this can limit the ability to cope with one’s own life.

Victims of crime often suffer from psychosomatic consequences, i.e. physical reactions to emotional distress. Certain stimuli such as sounds evocative of the crime not only trigger memories, but also cause stress reactions in the body, such as a rapid heartbeat or rising blood pressure.

3 Stages:
  • To begin with, the traumatic occurrence triggers a shock reaction. This may express itself as agitation, confusion or sadness, inability to remember important dates, anger, or numbness. This condition may last from one hour to several days.
  • This is followed by the impact stage of the trauma, which may last two to four weeks. During this phase, acute stress reactions begin to subside, whereas inwardly, the victims are still very preoccupied with the event. They experience strong feelings of self-doubt, depression, powerlessness, the prospect of an overshadowed future and frequently, hopelessness, too. Some suffer from feelings of guilt because they think they made mistakes; others experience outbursts of anger and may voice strong accusations against those potentially responsible for causing these feelings.
  • During the subsequent recovery stage, some victims begin to recover from their trauma. The traumatic occurrence is still the main focus. It may take a long time to get over it, i.e. to incorporate it into one’s perspective of the world and one’s understanding of oneself.
Post-traumatic stress disorder

If major symptoms persist beyond a period of four weeks and the recovery stage fails to kick in, experts speak of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or a psycho-traumatic stress syndrome. Key symptoms of this stress disorder include reliving the traumatic event, avoiding certain situations and places that might trigger reliving the event, and increased irritability of the person affected.

Victims of violent crimes exhibit a particular characteristic in their psyche:
They have classic symptoms of PTSD, but because another person intentionally inflicted suffering upon them, their relationship to others and their entire social life is affected. Withdrawal behaviour, the diminished ability to establish contact with others and social isolation are other signs of post-traumatic stress. Victims of violent crime will therefore exhibit particularly strong avoidance behaviour since they now perceive numerous social situations as threatening. Persistent and generalised fear as well as frequent psychosomatic symptoms may ensue. Apart from PTSD or beyond that, other less specific psychogenic and psychosomatic sequelae have been described.

The traumatised person is not crazy; instead, he is reacting to a crazy incident in a normal way.