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The three “E’s” of trauma

The three “E’s” of trauma
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The three “E’s” of trauma: Event(s), Experience of event(s), and Effect.

Trauma is a highly subjective experience. What may be traumatic to one person might not have the same impact on another. We can’t always know going into a situation whether we will be traumatized by what’s going on, because it’s only the aftermath that we see when someone becomes traumatized or not.

Different people have different life experiences, coping mechanisms, and resilience levels that shape how they perceive and respond to distressing events.

We’ll delve into these later in the course, but for now, it’s important to understand that the three Es can be used as a framework to understand the impact of a traumatic event(s).

The three E’s of trauma framework

The three ‘E’s of trauma – event, experience, and effects – form a comprehensive framework for understanding the profound impact of traumatic events on individuals.

Understanding the three ‘e’s of trauma provides a holistic perspective on the complex and multidimensional nature of its effects. It highlights that trauma encompasses not only the initial event but also the subjective experiences and subsequent consequences that individuals endure.

The first ‘E’

The first ‘e’ represents the traumatic event itself. Events and circumstances may include the actual or perceived threat of extreme physical or psychological harm (ie natural disasters, violence, etc.) or severe neglect for a child that imperils healthy development. These events and circumstances may occur as a single occurrence or repeatedly over time. Traumatic events can vary widely in their nature and intensity, but they all share the potential to profoundly disrupt an individual’s sense of safety and well-being.

The second ‘E’

The second ‘e’ refers to the individual’s subjective experience of the traumatic event. The individual’s experience of these events or circumstances, such as the internal, emotional, and cognitive responses that occur during and after the trauma, helps to determine whether it is a traumatic event. A particular event may be experienced as traumatic for one individual and not for another (eg a child removed from an abusive home may experience this differently than their sibling).

The third ‘E’

The third ‘e’ denotes the effects of trauma on an individual’s functioning and well-being. The long-lasting adverse effects of the event are a critical component of trauma. These adverse effects may occur immediately or may have a delayed onset. The duration of the effects can be short to long-term. In some situations, the individual may not recognize the connection between the traumatic events and the effects, and the effects can present differently depending on the person (more on this in Week 2).

Source: SAMSHA – Trauma Informed Organisation, (2014).

Watch and reflect

Watch Professor Bessel van der Kolk, an expert on trauma and author of The Body Keeps the Score talk about trauma.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

What are your thoughts about trauma after watching this video?


Huang, L.N., Flatow, R., Biggs, T., Afayee, S., Smith, K., Clark, T. and Blake, M., 2014. SAMHSA’s Concept of Truama and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.

© Deakin University
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