Connecting Trauma To Learning   Leave a comment


When the learner feels safe, curiosity lives…

Is there any correlation connecting trauma that an individual has experienced and their capacity to learn while functioning effectively in today’s society?

In today’s society it is difficult for traumatized individuals to find a place where they feel secure, sheltered and protected. (2012) definition of trauma is “A body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident. The condition produced by this; traumatism. An experience that produces psychological injury or pain. The psychological injury so caused.”

Traumatic events occur when there is bodily harm, emotional anguish, or impairment. It is an experience that is a threat to one’s safety or to the stability of one’s world. These types of disturbing events may involve: physical injury or illness, anxiety, fear, loss of trust, humiliation in childhood, violence, war, terrorism or a mass catastrophe. After a traumatic event, memories of the suffering can bring out feelings of vulnerability, fear, or a sense of reliving an incident over again called flashbacks.

Our world is filled with child cruelty, crime, interpersonal violent behaviors, sexual mistreatments, mental/physical abuse and war. A victim’s life is filled with the emotional aftermath and worries on a daily basis due to the potential of being harmed by another, whether it is a family member, a stranger or even reliving post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms of war. Not only does this affect the physical side of living but a person’s emotional and mental stability as well.

 Psychological trauma is a stressful disorder. It is a breakdown of the nervous system that contributes to mental, emotional and physical ailments including apprehension and depression. Emotional traumatizing events can take a severe toll on individuals who are involved even if the event did not cause physical injury. Numerous stress responses signal trauma in adults including hypersensitiveness, hyper-reactive conduct, hypervigilant actions and shutting down called “tuning out” behavior. Neural systems appear to trigger changes as an individual portrays a hypervigilant state of arousal and constant anxiety mode. Traumatized victims will have a hard time retaining information in a classroom setting due to the different aspects of the brain controlling its performance.

Fragmented attention (memory deficits) occurs when an individual’s memory of a traumatic incident becomes inaccessible in the unconscious which enables the anguish of that moment in time to be locked away in their mind. It is at this time that seclusion begins to exist in their body and mind. The next phase for a person is to experience missing the executive psychological process of thinking and reasoning. The extreme side of this condition is when there are identifiable time frames of dissociation, separating and zoning out. What appears to be learned in this condition is separated as grouping of the mental processes from the rest of the mind, causing them to lose their normal relationship. When disconnected, anything that is described behavior or knowledge acquired through training or experience rather than being instinctual remains constricted from the main cognizant mind that is capable of thinking, choosing, or perceiving.

 Several reactions may take place due to a feeling of being threatened. One type of effect on an individual is the fight-or-flight reaction due to the feeling of being in jeopardy by someone or something.  Also, in the beginning phase’s one response could be the alarm reaction which destroys a person’s academic inquisitiveness and puts a constraint on their learning capabilities. It is at this stage that the mind and body begin to journey towards the arousal continuum where individual functioning begins to change. Perry (2003) discusses this outcome by stating, “During the traumatic event, all aspects of individual functioning change – feeling, thinking, and behaving” (p.3). During this phase a person has reduced competency in the learning process and using the cognitive side of the brain.

Trauma can drastically hinder one’s learning potential as this anxiety can lead to a lifetime of constant mental learning impairments as well as emotional disorders including feelings of despair. Significant findings have proven that individuals suffering from any of these disturbances could actually have changes within the composition of their brain. The frontal cortex (where higher thinking capabilities occur) and the limbic system (where cognition and survival develop) unite causing functional irregularities. There are numerous cognitive symptoms of psychological trauma that develops in individuals reflecting their ability to learn. This leads to feelings of being distracted, trouble in making decisions, recollection lapses, a lack of ability to concentrate/focus, reduced retention as well as short/long term memory deficits.

In summation, to answer the question: Is there any correlation connecting trauma that an individual has experienced and their capacity to learn while functioning effectively in today’s society? After researching this issue, it is my opinion that the relationship between trauma and learning is significant since physical or psychological damage is a main contributor to learning deficits. Trauma and the adult learning process must be examined through the learner’s internal state of mind. To accomplish positive learning capabilities the educator needs to create and provide a safe, secure and trusting atmosphere in order for an individual to properly retain classroom information and to succeed academically to build a better life for themselves. Sandra Kerka (2002) states, “To overcome these constraints and to help learners regain control, connection, and meaning, educators might adopt a comprehensive, multifaceted approach that includes the following: a holistic perspective, creation of a safe learning environment…” To give the essential sense of feeling protected to traumatized victims means building their confidence to learn through fostering encouragement while being sensitive to their state of mind.


Bruce D. Perry, B. D. (2003). Effects of traumatic events on children. Retrieved September 28, 2005, from effects-of-trauma.pdf (2012). Retrieved January 22, 2012, from

Kerka, S. (2002). Trauma and Adult Learning. ERIC Digest, 239. Retrieved October 25,             2005, from


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