Women and Trauma: Dealing With Heightened Risks

The effects of a traumatizing event can cause significant issues for anyone. As research on women and trauma continues to prove, though, there are major differences in how separate genders deal with these issues. Women are more prone to certain negative outcomes following distressing events, but this doesn’t mean they’re destined to keep suffering.

At Transformations Mending Fences, our staff of certified mental health professionals recognizes the differences that men and women with trauma experience. While variations may exist in the causes and manifested symptoms, approaches to treatment are very similar. If you’re still suffering the aftermath of a traumatic event, contact us today to learn how we can help.

Women and Trauma Differences

psychological trauma in women

There are a variety of differences observed when looking at the causes and effects of trauma on women versus men. The variations begin much earlier than the precipitating traumatic event, though, since females have an inherently higher risk of developing trauma disorders. Research on women and trauma supports this, and the differences in traumas experienced likely play a role.

The lifetime prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in men ranges from 5% to 6%. This rate for women is at least 10%. These statistics from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are especially distressing since men experience far more traumatic events during their lives than women. Deciphering this disparity requires understanding women and trauma events that most affect them:

  • Child sexual abuse
  • Rape victimization
  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • Domestic violence
  • Emotional abuse
  • Death of a loved one through unexpected natural disasters or accident

Each of these traumatic events can devastate the person who experiences them, and this does not confine itself to a single gender. In fact, rape is more likely to cause PTSD in both men and women than any other stressor. Statistics continue to show, however, that women face sexual assault more often than men. In fact, each of these distressing traumatic events affects women more frequently.

The nuances related to women and trauma, though, are more complex than simple differences in trauma occurrence. Studies show that even when males and females experience the same events, women still have higher rates of PTSD. While some of this variance relates directly to men not seeking treatment, researchers believe that female post-traumatic stress disorder often goes undiagnosed.

physical health and mental health care consultation for trauma

Causes of Women and Trauma Variations

Since women have higher rates of trauma disorders — even when experiencing the same traumatic events as men — it’s impossible to attribute all differences to specific stressors. What could explain these variances, though, are the backgrounds of victims and perpetrators. Studies on mental illness in the Armed Forces, for instance, found that pre-military sexual trauma increased the risk of developing PTSD in women and topple mental health of first responders.

Since women are more likely to experience childhood sexual abuse, neglect and sexual assault as adults, many of them are essentially “primed” for traumatization. This link between women and trauma becomes especially troublesome if they never sought treatment. Unfortunately, this shows that a traumatic event can follow us for a lifetime.

The other explanation for increased rates of trauma does relate to the precipitating events. Most cases of rape, child abuse, child neglect and domestic violence occur at the hands of a trusted individual. Studies show that traumatizing events affecting men usually involve strangers. The shock, confusion and suffering of getting hurt by a trusted individual increase the risk of trauma for women.

A woman soldier developed PTSD while at war

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Women and Trauma Types

The differences in risk factors, causes and effects of a traumatic event show the complexity of the issue. In fact, there are many types of trauma that affect people. Some of these are common — such as the acute trauma that impacts nearly everyone within a month of the precipitating event. When looking at women and trauma types, though, there are some notable disorders.

While men may experience some of these, women face a significantly higher risk:

  • Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): Occurs due to childhood neglect. Effects can follow an individual through life.
  • Postpartum PTSD: About 9% of women experience PTSD following childbirth because of trauma during or immediately following labor.
  • Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS): The physical symptoms and behavioral changes of trauma that’s linked to rape can last for years.
  • Complex PTSD: Linked to prolonged and repeat trauma experiences such as domestic violence and childhood abuse.

While men may experience some of these trauma disorders, the risk for women is much higher due to underlying causal events. Higher rates of childhood abuse, sexual assault and long-term trauma mean women will more often meet diagnosis requirements. Female victims are more likely to develop any trauma, though, so it’s no surprise that some conditions disproportionately impact them.

Treatment for Traumatized Women

mental health professional helping patient cope with psychological trauma

One of the more significant problems with women who suffered from traumatic events is the tendency to internalize. Men may recognize something is wrong and choose to “tough it out.” Conversely, women often assume they are the problem rather than the circumstances they lived through. Instead of attributing their feelings to trauma, they’ll just believe their personality is a certain way.

This can make female recognition of the problem difficult. Once someone realizes they need help, though, there are a variety of therapeutic options available. At Transformations Mending Fences, we understand the complexities involved with women and trauma. That’s why we offer a variety of treatment approaches:

These are just a few of the therapeutic approaches that have been effective for women with trauma and other mental health problems such as anxiety disorders or co-occurring substance abuse problems. Many other techniques have shown promise as well, but it’s rare for two individuals to benefit from identical treatment plans. Regardless of their gender, everyone experiences trauma differently. Finding a plan that works for you is essential.

Don’t Suffer Through Trauma Alone

While special considerations definitely exist for women and trauma, the effectiveness of modern treatments means there’s always hope. Even if your symptoms haven’t lasted long, reaching out for help is important. The side effects of distressing events can get worse over time, and if you don’t take action, trauma will slowly take over every facet of your life.

At Transformations Mending Fences, we understand the unique mental health risks faced by women. We also recognize, however, that gender doesn’t define your experience. This is why we start by creating a customized treatment plan based on the specific needs of each client. Research on women and trauma has come a long way, but a focus on the individual is more important.

Contact us today to get started on taking control of your life.