Book notes: Trauma by Paul Conti

Trauma by Paul Conti book summary review and key ideas.

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Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic – How Trauma Works and How Can We Heal from It by Paul Conti


“Imagine, if you will, a disease – one that has only subtle outward symptoms but can hijack your entire body without notice; one that transfers easily between parent and child; one that can last a lifetime if untreated. According to Dr. Paul Conti, this is exactly how society should conceptualize trauma: as an out-of-control epidemic with a potentially fatal prognosis.

In Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic, Dr. Conti examines the most recent research, clinical best practices, and dozens of real-life stories to present a deeper, richer, and more urgent view of trauma. Not only does Dr. Conti explain how trauma affects the body and mind, he also demonstrates that trauma is transmissible among close family and friends, as well as across generations and within vast demographic groups.

With all this in mind, Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic proposes a course of treatment for the seemingly untreatable. Here, Dr. Conti traces a step-by-step series of concrete changes that we can make both as individuals and as a society to alleviate trauma’s effects and prevent further traumatization in the future. 

It’s only when we understand how a disease spreads and is sustained that we are able to create its ultimate cure. With Trauma: The Invisible Epidemic, Dr. Conti reveals that what we once considered a lifelong, unbeatable mental illness is both treatable and preventable.” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I found this through recommended reads on audible and it sounded interesting. This is another topic that I felt would be useful to so many people. I feel like we all have gone through things that have traumatized us, or at least will or will deal with people who have trauma. Therefore, this would be valuable to learn about.

Key notes:

  • He wrote this book to expose the invisible epidemic that is trauma 

Part One: What Trauma Is and How It Works

Chapter 1: How We Talk About Trauma

  • Trauma: anything that causes emotional or physical pain and leaves it’s mark on a person as life moves forward
    • This trauma goes unseen and changes our brain biology and psychology
    • A wise response to a trauma pandemic is to become more open so that we ourselves become the vaccine
      • We need to open ourselves to understanding, compassion, and to change
  • Multiple hit hypothesis: our coping mechanisms are weakened by successive traumatic experiences
  • In his experience in the medics field, he thinks about how the listed surface cause of death hardly if ever shows the deeper trauma that led to it, like abuse leading to an accident or suicide
  • Trauma changes our experience of the outside

Chapter 2: types of trauma and post-trauma

  • Chronic trauma comes from prolonged exposure from harmful situations and people
    • Chronic trauma allows shame to hide better
  • Vicarious trauma comes when we internalize other people’s suffering and trauma
  • Post-trauma syndromes are the array of problems that affect the persons life in a negative way after trauma occurs
  • Trauma re-experience means that a person continues to be haunted by what happened to them in the past
  • When people are exposed to trauma, their threat sensor can become active and cause hyper vigilance, constantly
    • Hyper vigilance can cause fatigue, hypertension, higher stress and tension, and reduces the ability to enjoy and ease
    • Trauma can raise baseline level of anxiety
    • Trauma reduces the length and quality of our sleep

Chapter 3: shame and it’s accomplices

  • Shame has a way of making us take the blame for something that happened even though it happened because of someone else

Reader’s note: This discussion on shame is covered extensively in the book The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

  • Exercise: Write out what you think are basic things people would need, then also what you would change about your current situation
  • The antidote to risk taking behaviors is to examine the motivations behind them
  • The antidote to poor sleep is relaxing your body and mind 
  • The antidote to mood decline is to continually activate your body and mind
  • The antidote to anxiety is to limit media
  • We’re all susceptible to shame, punishing ourselves when we deserve compassion
    • We all need help sometimes
  • Trauma and shame are effective at turning us against ourselves

Chapter 4: a conversation with Stephanie Zu Guttenberg

  • The effects of trauma can affect us biologically and also can be passed down generationally if not dealt with
  • Trauma isn’t an isolated event confined to a point in time
    • Trauma affects everything moving forward
    • This is why childhood trauma drastically affects people their entire lives
  • Traumas effects are durable and pervasive, especially when it comes to kids
  • It’s also very difficult to talk about the trauma because of the shame
  • A lot of times there is compounded subsequent trauma because the victims aren’t believed and are sent back into the situation
  • Education is the most powerful anti-trauma mechanism we have
    • We need to educate children early on about built in trauma avoidance mechanisms

Chapter 5: compassion, community, and humanity

  • Compassion allows us to care about other people and relate to them with kindness
  • Community is the acknowledgment of our combined interdependence with other people
  • Humanity is the recognition that as people who share this world, all of us suffer
    • Furthermore, that suffering matters
  • Sometimes the best and the worst things come together

Reflection: Think about a time when doing the right thing also meant doing something truly difficult

  • Generative means creating something of value or adding to the world in a positive way
    • It can be big or small
    • Compassion, community, and humanity require that we be as generative as possible

Part Two: The Big Picture – The Sociology of Trauma

Chapter 6: The Problems with Trauma and Health Care

  • Our social systems that affect all of us either promote well-being or they don’t
  • Many times the actual healthcare system, not the workers, seem to be self-serving more than the actual people coming in to see kelp
  • We have to realize that we can be perfectly well intentioned and still cause trauma for others
    • When it comes to helping others, we have to be more than well-intentioned
    • We have to understand who people are and what their particular life situation is
  • Fear creates more trauma just as trauma creates more fear
  • Until society heals the healthcare system, the healthcare system cannot heal society

Chapter 7: a conversation with Daryn Reicherter, MD

  • Trauma changes a persons worldview which affect so many aspects of how they live their lives

Chapter 8: social ills, social trauma

  • Those of us insulated by privilege have trouble relating to the traumas inflicted upon our kindred citizens
    • It’s our responsibility to do what we can to help, to speak out, and to refuse to turn away from racism and prejudice whenever and wherever we encounter it
  • Trauma divides us but ironically also is something that brings us together

Chapter 9: social ills, social solutions

  • Humility allows us to learn from our interactions and enables us to compromise
    • Humility empowers us to recognize humanity in people who don’t look like us
    • Humility reminds us that burning bridges hurts all of us
  • Trauma comes from trauma. Trauma begets trauma
  • Understand that the lived experience of others differs from your own, especially when it comes to prejudice and racism
    • Open yourself up to their pervasive sense of vulnerability and feel it as if it were your own

Part Three: An Owners Manual for Your Brain

Chapter 10: what trauma does to thought

  • Trauma changes our emotions
    • Changed emotions determine our decisions
  • How might trauma be affecting the way yourself talks to yourself?
  • Selective abstraction pounces on the misfortune and begins to weave a new story about you and the day just experienced
  • Trauma tricks us into accepting a false story about the world and who we are in it
  • Dunking your head in cold water will help calm your mind and reset your thoughts
    • It’s called the McMillian dive reflex

Chapter 11: The Limbic System

  • Our Limbic system is trying to protects us by helping us focus on the bad things to avoid
    • But it can be colored with fear and shame
    • Our brain is oriented towards safety and survival
  • The neural pathways we frequently engage because of trauma are hard to counter, but not impossible
    • We are what we think

Chapter 12: the physical and mental ravages of trauma

  • Stress and anxiety can cause unhealthy tension in the body
    • It’s important to find ways to relieve this tension
  • Trauma can also cause faster aging, and more aging related health conditions
  • Think of your own resilence in the face of obstacles or threats
    • What kept you going?
    • What helped you readjust or recover after setbacks?
    • What qualities saw you through to the other side?

Part Four: How We Can Bear Trauma Together

Chapter 13: the way home

  • 5 positive links in the chain for changing your life for the better:
    1. Knowledge
    2. Power
    3. Healing
    4. Hope
    5. Urgency
  • Activating our knowledge: take stock of your own experiences with trauma and how it’s affected you
    • Pause and take time to differentiate the different messages going on inside us and figure out what’s true and what’s not
  • Self-inquiry allows us to be more aware of the thoughts and reasons that live within us, and getting more curious about them
    • This allows us to be more compassionate for ourselves
  • What doesn’t kill us makes us wiser, more grateful, and more compassionate

Chapter 14: leading with wisdom, patience, and a true life narrative

  • Wisdom and patience grow stronger with practice
    • They happen when we experience ourselves and others through the lens of compassion 
  • Consider what words mean to us as well as what they mean to others, and pay attention to how our communication is being received by them is crucial 

Chapter 15: a humanist-social commitment

  • 5 action oriented goals:
    1. Consider ourselves and others with compassion
    2. Act without harming ourselves or others
    3. Treat ourselves and others with compassion
    4. Learn and educate
    5. Demand accountability
  • Reflect on what your own success story might look like and contemplate how you might get there

Closing thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. As I reflect on my own life, the experiences/challenges I’ve been through, and my interactions with others, it has made me more aware of how big of an impact trauma plays on our lives.

Just like how the author says, it’s important to see how our trauma shapes our worldview and how we interact with others for the rest of our lives. From that knowledge, we can approach ourselves and others with compassion. Whether or not the stories being told in our minds are true, we still have to understand how they affect the way we think and act, as well as how others think and act.

We also have to understand that trauma comes from trauma. And likewise, trauma causes fear, and fear causes trauma. It’s like my pastor always says, “hurt people hurt people.” Hopefully, this will allow us to interact with others who have experienced trauma with more compassion.

I think this is one of those books that everyone can benefit from reading. The topic of trauma is applicable to nearly everyone. The more we go through life, the more likely we will come across trauma. Either in our own lives or the lives of those around us, or both.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are a lot of great takeaways from this book that we can learn and put into practice immediately in our lives. However, my one takeaway for this book that I want to implement in my own life is:

  • Allow our experience with trauma to make us wiser, more grateful, and more compassionate

As my pastor says, we shouldn’t be grateful for our pain, but rather be grateful in our pain. This means that we can always use our pain for good in the world. We do this by allowing it to make us wiser, focus on gratitude, and act with more compassion towards others. Once we do this, we can be more generative in the world by adding positive value.


Once we understand how trauma affects the way we all experience life, then we can identify our own trauma, as well as approach ourselves and others with more compassion.

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Rating: 4 out of 5.


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