5 Examples of How Trauma Can Turn into Depression

Portrait of sad womanDepression has many origins, but trauma is one of the major categories. People suffer from all kinds of traumatic experiences, but here are a few examples of how trauma could have caused you to become depressed.

1.    You got bullied in school and you concluded from the experience that you were a social misfit, weak, shameful. You carried that belief into adulthood, practicing it in your mind every day. You gave up on standing up for yourself or expecting to get what you want. You focus on trying to please other people to prove your worth, and very narcissistic people who need an adoring audience are drawn to you. You spend your time with people who are self-centered, critical, and see you only for what you can do for them, not for who you are or your inherent value as a person. You are alone with who you really are, and you have already concluded you are a social misfit, weak, and shameful, so you reinforce your sense of worthlessness. Feeling alone, full of shame, unseen, how can you not be depressed?

2.    You were in the car in high school when your friend who was driving and drunk crashed the car and died. You survived but felt so guilty that your friend died and you didn’t that you are stuck in “what if….” You think if you had stopped your friend from driving, or from drinking, or you’d insisted your friend go in a different direction, that your friend would still be alive. You feel like a murderer. You have sudden images and sounds from the accident flash in your mind, and each time you feel flooded with guilt. It is difficult to feel like you deserve to live, to be happy, to be in love, to be successful, when your friend never got the chance. So you sabotage any chances you get to be happy. Naturally, what’s left is depression.

3.    You gave birth and in the process you and/or the baby almost died. The pain was unspeakable, the terror overwhelming. After both of you are fine physically and you go home with the baby, you are crushed with depression. You are stuck in your brain in the moments of trauma. You are convinced someone is about to die, even though you know that’s probably irrational in the present. The part of your brain where the trauma is stored is still living in the moments of trauma, and in those moments, the reality is that someone is probably going to die. Because that memory is not linked with the rest of your brain, it doesn’t know time has passed, and you and the baby are safe now. So you live with the terror and conviction that someone you care about deeply is about to die. This is a grief that can’t be resolved until the trauma is resolved, so it holds you in a depressed state.

4.    Your father beat you as a child. You had to shut down emotionally in order to survive the experience of the person who is supposed to love and protect you being hateful and dangerous instead. That way, you don’t feel anything, so you don’t have to feel the rage and shame and hurt and sadness of this reality. You also find that if you shut down, he stops sooner than if you show anger or cry. Shutting down your emotions becomes your default state and gets locked in. Without access to your emotions, you can’t feel or express them as new events stimulate them. Every emotional response piles up in an enormous muffled pile that causes you to feel a numb general pain that doesn’t feel like any particular emotion and can’t be resolved until it can be untangled. This is how depression feels—intense pain that isn’t any particular emotion that can be expressed and relieved.

5.    Your parents were alcoholics and you had to be the adult in the house. You got your younger siblings to bed, to school, to sports. You woke your parents up so they would go to work. You kept yourself and your siblings out of their way when they were drunk and violent. You cleaned up the mess after a drunken evening. You were scared and traumatized over and over by this. You had to be on alert most of the time, ready to assess the danger and protect your parents, your siblings, and yourself from whatever came at you. In the process, you never really relaxed or knew what you felt or trusted anyone to take care of you.

So you grow up that way and as an adult feel on alert, responsible, and alone. You don’t even know who you are or what you want, because there’s never been a chance to focus on any of that. You are the hero, but empty inside. You don’t even think of discovering what might fulfill you, but you certainly don’t feel fulfilled. You are not getting much out of your life—joy, love, fun. You don’t even know how to have a real human connection, because the only ways you know to relate to people are to protect them or protect yourself from them. Feeling alone and empty, you try to fill yourself up with food, sugar, or maybe even alcohol. All of that makes you feel better momentarily, and then much worse. Depression is the result.

Of course these are only a few examples of an infinite number of possibilities. If you relate to any of these experiences, or have had others that could have caused you to become depressed, please get help to resolve the trauma, so you can be your full, best, happiest self.

Related articles:
Trauma is a Seed of Depression
Depression as Trickster and Communicator
Effects of Subtle Peer Group Bullying on Development of the Self, Part 1

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Cynthia W. Lubow, MS, MFT, therapist in El Cerrito, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • elaine


    April 16th, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    My trauma was emotional trauma in childhood. Parents being overly critical and never ever affirming or affectionate. I basically had small little traumas built up over the years. My doctor diagnosed my depression as PTSD related nonetheless.

  • Sydney


    April 16th, 2012 at 9:35 AM

    Experiencing just one of these situations would be enough to send almost anyone into a tailspin emotionally. There are some people who have dealt with numerous traumatic situations in their lives, so it is unimaginable to think about how they make it through them. But remarkably they do. I am always in such awe and amazement at those people who have the strength to work through thier problems and come out so much better for the process on the other side. But I know that there are those who do not process the pain so easily, and they have to work with it for a very long time in order to get happy and healthy again. Any trauma like this could cause anyone into that downward spiral, and I truly hope that anyone who is struggling with something like that can pursue help and find some peace in their lives.

  • Caleb powell

    Caleb powell

    April 16th, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    I grew up the only child of two alcoholics. It is amazing that I did not inherit their tendencies; but I think that I had to put up with so much of their abuse for so long that I vowed that I was going to be nothing like them.

  • sammi jo

    sammi jo

    April 16th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    There are a number of traumatic events which can lead one to becoming depressed. I lost my sister at a very early age and that has always affected me. I have always been scared of losing other loved ones, and that I would be left alone. That is such a fear of mine that I hold friends too close at times, and I can feel them shrinking away and needing their space. That is just my natural instinct, because my sister was my best friend and losing her was the most terrible thing that I have ever lived through. I do not wish that type of event on anyone, and looking back on it I see how it has negatively impacted me for a long time.

  • Frances Johnson

    Frances Johnson

    April 17th, 2012 at 4:47 AM

    For me my depression had no one defining moment from which it stemmed.
    You get kind of to the point where you wish that it did, that there was something that you could point to and say there! That’s what caused me to feel this way, but I have never really had that kind of aha moment.
    I had a hard childhood and lots of things that could have started it, as well as a lot of bad habits that developed as an adult that once again could add to the depression.
    But I have never been able to really get to the root of the issue, no matter how hard I try.
    Seems like the more layers that I peel away there is always another one there lurking. I guess I am destined to always be a work in progress.

  • Carlos Giovatto

    Carlos Giovatto

    December 1st, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Very nice article. I can see much of my life history in a “mash-up” of examples one and four and all I can say is that the way I used to feel was awful. The situation that was already unbearable got even worse when I started a relationship with a person in the very same condition. Well.. It’s not necessary to mention how much pain and disapointment we have been through.

  • Ken Rosser

    Ken Rosser

    May 29th, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    I was always in trouble with family, and with school as a child. If I grew upset, my mother tried to make me build strength and independence by leaving the room. It was Mitzi our Siamese cat who comforted me, and my sister. I was constantly bullied in school and was subject to depressions, and yes, letting narcissists take advantage of me. I was 39, when I finally got a diagnosis of being on the autistic spectrum. No wonder life seemed so hard and unfair!

  • carolyn


    February 6th, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    i was raped in hospital that i was committed to@16 and forced to stay up there for 2 months in 1973-74. i am 57 years old and was raised 4 daughters, then my mother 4 years in hospice and now suffer PTSD as the mememories came flooding back when she blamed me, saying i deserved everything because i brought it on myself. so i found this guy on facebook, he responded , admitted everything. there is no stature for criminally prosecuting him, but need legal help.

  • kimberly


    May 2nd, 2014 at 6:06 PM

    Call legal aid in your area. If they can’t help, they can tell you where to go. Or save the messages, and take them to the cops, and file a report. There may (and probably are) other victims out there.

  • Lisa


    December 22nd, 2014 at 10:42 PM

    You missed being separated from your mother at a young age, whether through death, abandonment, foster care or adoption. Babies especially experience a deep, permanent trauma from this separation.

  • Razan


    February 17th, 2015 at 1:27 AM

    This is so beautiful and informative! More articles on how trauma can turn into depression scenarios like this one, please :)

  • caroline


    February 18th, 2015 at 1:02 PM

    Reading this made me understand that my past can cause me to be so so depression for so long .depression is winning over my tablets .seeing your partner hanging from a rope at 19 and being abused at 5 can really cause all these problems

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