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Glossary of terms: A shared understanding of the common terms used to describe psychological trauma

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“Family First” Philosophy

an understanding among family members that the family unit is a top priority. It implies that the family will work together to manage conflicts and be flexible to accommodate work demands in service of the family (Carrington, 2006).

Acute Stress

A mental health condition that can occur within the first month after exposure to stressors or traumatic events. Symptoms may include flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, avoiding certain situations that may be a reminder of the trauma, sleep disturbances, or hypervigilance.

(see also Toxic Stress)


“any experience of feeling or emotion” (APA, 2022).

Positive Affect: the positive feelings that occur when someone has a positive outlook on themselves and their life (e.g., from reaching a personal goal; feeling successful, etc.)

Negative Affect: the negative feelings that occur when someone has a negative outlook on themselves and their life (e.g., from failing to reach a goal; experiencing a threatening or traumatic event)

Ambiguous Loss

PSP families may experience this when the PSP is either “physically present but psychologically absent or physically absent but psychologically present” (Boss, 2017, p. 113). In other words, a PSP family member might experience a sense of loss, despite the PSP being physically present.


contradicting feelings occurring at the same time. Mixed emotions, confusion, uncertainty, and tension between the expected emotions (pride, loyalty) and the experienced emotions (fear, resentment) are other ways to describe the feeling of ambivalence.

Anticipatory Vigilance

“walking on eggshells”; This could include actions taken by the PSP families in anticipation of a negative reaction or response from the PSP when the PSP returns home.  This could include predicting moods, eliminating previous triggers, and shaping spaces to be calm and welcoming to a PSP as they return home.


a physical and/or mental reaction (e.g., excessive worrying or apprehension) that occurs when anticipating something (real or perceived; negative or positive). Can include feelings of tension, distress, and increased heart rate.


a way to describe an individual, a behaviour, parenting style that is seen as controlling and favours strict rules and obedience (Johnson et al., 2005).

Authoritarian Parenting:  a form of parenting or caregiving that places importance on obedience, rules, and may enforce punishment if these rules are not met.

Authoritative Parenting:  a form of parenting or caregiving that places importance on individuality and autonomy but still provides guidance on behaviour.


a type of coping that results in the PSP avoiding to address the effects of trauma exposure or a stressful experience. This might result in  engaging in behaviours to avoid the emotions and/or people that may arise due to trauma, which can be as harmless as watching a movie when anxious, or as dangerous as substance use to avoid engagement with the trauma at hand (Arble et al., 2018)


the feeling of acceptance, approval, and integration with an individual, group, or society.


The dividing line(s) one sets between different contexts of one’s life – whether it be family, work, or social life that are created to simplify, and/or navigate, one’s life (Ashforth et al., 2000).

Boundary Confusion

The inability to recognize the psychological distinctiveness of individuals, or oneself, and/or a confusion of what interpersonal roles are appropriate in one’s current environment (ex: home or work).


occurs when a person feels excessively exhausted, whether it be physically, emotionally, or mentally. Can be caused by a stressful work environment, a stressful home environment, continuous conflict, role overload, and/or the prolonged overburdening on a person.


an important aspect in the positive connection of a group; mutual trust and goodwill among friends or social groups.


“a person who attends to the needs of and provides assistance to someone else who is not fully independent, such as an infant or an ill adult” (APA, 2022)

Catastrophize/ Catastrophizing

thinking about the worst possible outcome and worrying that it will happen. For example, a family member might engage catastrophizing thoughts when a PSP does not come home when expected.

Child Care Scramble

Occurs when childcare schedules are difficult to establish, maintain, or arrange. May be due to inconsistent work schedules, unanticipated overtime, or from dual-PSP career requirements.


individuals  who feel they have a certain responsibility or duty to their communities.  For PSP families, this feeling can result from their connections to their PSP family member (Porter & Henriksen, 2016).


all forms of knowing and awareness, such as perceiving, conceiving, remembering, reasoning, judging, imagining, and problem solving (APA, 2022)

Cognitive Fatigue

also known as mental fatigue; a decrease in cognitive resources developing over time, resulting from sustained cognitive demands; can contribute to loss of productivity, poor academic performance, increased risk of accidents and reduced quality of life (Frontiers in Psychology, 2022)


closeness and familiarity; friendship; support


mentally separating or isolating conflicting thoughts and behaviours (e.g., separating family life and work life).

Compassion Fatigue

the exhaustion or stress associated with caring for others who may or may not have experienced trauma. Can result in “a sense of helplessness, confusion, or a loss of compassion and empathy for others, and feelings of being isolated…” (CIPSRT, 2019).


a contest where individuals or groups are vying for finite rewards. For example, in PSP families:  a competition between PSP work responsibilities and family life, or a competition between profession duties in dual-career PSP families.


when there are competing opinions/action in which two or more parties are in disagreement.

Behaviour-Based: when the behaviours of a person are inconsistent with the expected behaviours for a specific environment. An example of this could include when work behaviour patterns are brought into the home environment. (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).

Strain-Based: arises due to tensions and stress from the work environment (such as overtime hours and microtransitions) are negatively affecting one’s social and family life. (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Brodie & Eppler, 2012)

Time-Based: occurs when the time spent at work begins to negatively impact time spent doing other social activities or spending time with one’s family. (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985)


coparenting involves putting the child first. Whether it be through organizing childcare arrangements, handling disagreements not in the presence of the child, or creating consistency in the household. This is all done through communication and compromise all while keeping the well-being of the child in mind.

Critical Incident

occurs when a potentially traumatizing event experienced by PSPs that can result in a strong emotional reaction (CIPSRT, 2020).


occurs when the PSP trauma is transferred to another individual leading to positive or negative affect (Bakker et al., 2008; Cox et al., 2022).

Direct Crossover: when PSP trauma directly results in increased stress for the PSP family (Brough et al., 2018).

Indirect Crossover: when PSP trauma results in increased stress for the PSP family due to a lack of emotional support from the PSP (Brough et al., 2018).

Cultural Competence

having the capacity to recognize and navigate cultural diversity; acknowledging cultural differences and a willingness to learn, adapt, and function within diverse groups. In the context of PSPs, this could mean having adequate knowledge to help with decision making while keeping in mind cultural diversity concerning individuals or groups.

Cumulative Demands

pile-up and co-occurrence of demands experienced by both families and/or individual family members that may deplete family resources (e.g., a combination of shift work, overtime hours, canceled leave, and  additional family responsibilities) (Cramm et al., 2018).


a discussion after an incident or traumatic experience to help mediate potential psychological harm. (Malcolm et al., 2005)


a disconnect that occurs between family members, friends, or the general community after continuous absences shape by nonstandard work schedules and/or overtime hours (Täht & Mills, 2012).


removing oneself, physically or emotionally, from a situation, activities, relationships. PSPs, for example, may disengage from their family after experiencing a traumatizing event while on shift, and PSP families might disengage from social activities due to scheduling issues.

Domestic Violence (DV)

actions that cause harm to another person in the family unit. Could encompass physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, or even financial harm.

Dual-Career Household

household in which each adult has their individual career.


caring for older adults who may need help from others, such as a family member.

Emotional Fatigue

feeling emotionally exhausted or drained as a result of occupational or personal related stress (Cafasso, 2021).


the ability to understand, be aware of, and vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others (Hernandez-Wolfe et al., 2015). This could mean compassion or consideration for others and a level of sensitivity to individual situations.


having confidence in oneself and being/feeling active in controlling the trajectory of one’s life.

Exit/Recovery Time

the time following PSP’ shifts that allows them to return to normal/regulated behaviour patterns after a (stressful) workday (i.e., normal

Family Beliefs

shared cultural, religious, experiential, and personal values that can guide family decision-making and judgments about what is right and what is wrong.

Family Caregiving

support given by a family member to a parent, spouse, or a child who requires extra assistance with everyday tasks. Family caregiving is done as an act of love to improve the quality of life to another member of the family. Family caregivers are unpaid and have not been trained yet they provide support to their loved ones.

Family Resilience

dynamic process that supports family functioning and enables families to cope with adversity (Cramm et al., 2018)

Family-on-Work Conflict

when the pressures of family life begin to permeate into the work environment, affecting one’s ability to do one’s job (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985)

(see also Work-on-Family Conflict)

First Responder

person with specialized training who is among the first to arrive and provide assistance at the scene of an emergency, such as an accident, natural disaster, or terrorist attack; historically includes paramedics, police officers, special constables, firefighters, and rescuers; other trained members of organizations connected with providing professional assistance at the scene of an emergency (ie. 911 personnel) may also be considered first responders (CIPSRT, 2019)

(see also Public Safety Personnel)

Flexibility Fatigue

fatigue that occurs due to a need to continuously adapt to chronic change (e.g., the demands and unpredictability of PSP work schedules can lead to flexibility fatigue).

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

excessive anxiety and worry about a range of concerns; difficult to control (APA, 2022)


appreciation (e.g., in the context of PSP families, it is appreciation that the public expresses to the PSP and/or family (Porter & Henriksen, 2016).

Greedy Institutions

reference to organizations, workplaces, and families that have significant expectations in terms of commitment, time, and energy from the person (Segal, 1986).


“state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (The World Health Organization, 2011).


a state of feeling like one cannot help themselves in a negative situation.


state of abnormally heightened alertness, particularly to threatening or potentially dangerous stimuli” (APA, 2022).

Informal work-related communication network

informal work-related communication network is defined as sharing work-related information through unofficial channels.


difficulty falling or staying asleep; resulting in fatigue and impairment of function (APA, 2022)


close, affectionate, and/or loving relationship between two parties who have a deeper understanding of one another.


discomfort in perceiving oneself to be alone (APA, 2022).

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

mood disorder where one feels enduring sadness while feeling a lack of interest in the outside world.

Mental Disorder

a mental health condition that has met the criteria for diagnosis; preferred term to mental illness (CIPSRT, 2019)

Mental Health

a person’s psychological and emotional state. Good mental health is essential for living an enjoyable life and allows one to overcome adverse experiences. Poor mental health leaves one susceptible to mental illness. Mental health can be influenced by a variety of factors, such as family, friends, work or school, physical illness, or substance use.

Mental Health Injury

another term for a psychological condition that is a result of a traumatic experience or stress (CIPSRT, 2019)


continuous everyday negotiations between family members influenced by relationships, behaviours, and external factors such as nonstandard work and job stress (Everri et al., 2013)


being conscious of and attending one’s own experiences, wellbeing, in the present moment (Shapiro et al., 2006).

Nonstandard Employment

work that is atypical from other (Agocs et al., 2015) such as heightened risk, irregular schedules/shiftwork, and expectation in relation to identity.

Nonstandard Work Schedules

those who work atypical hours in comparison to a fixed schedule.  Nonstandard work occurs day or night, is rotating,and includes working on weekends and holidays (Täht & Mills, 2012)


process by which society, or individuals, comes to experience something so frequently it becomes experienced as normal

Occupational Pressure

work-related stress; pressures that arise due to an employee’s responsibilities, conditions, environment, expectations, etc.

Operational Stress Injury (OSI)

is any persistent psychological difficulty resulting from operational duties such as law enforcement, combat or any other service related duties. Individuals experiencing high levels of operational stress injury are at greater risk of suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. (Canadian Mental Health Association)

Organizational Pressure

includes staffing or resource shortages, constant scrutiny of decision-making skills from superiors, or poor communication, expectations, etc. (Brodie & Eppler, 2012)


Many PSP structures are based on traditional military structures, enforcing rank and using an organizational hierarchical reporting structure, military tactics and training methods (Cox et al., 2022; Ricciardelli et al., 2018; Sommerfeld et al., 2017).

Physical Fatigue

state of tiredness and diminished functioning.

Posttraumatic Growth (PTG)

positive changes for oneself after experiencing something traumatic (CIPSRT, 2019)

Posttraumatic Stress (PTS)

refers “to stress and/or mental health conditions from exposure to a potentially psychologically traumatic event” and interferes “with daily functioning in social, work, or family activities” (CIPSRT, 2019)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

“A mental disorder that can happen after exposure to psychological stressors during specific types of severe, potentially psychologically traumatic events” (CIPSRT, 2020). “…may involve different combinations of sleep disturbances, flashbacks, triggers, regular vivid recall, intrusive memories, avoiding reminders of the psychologically traumatic event and avoiding thinking about the psychologically traumatic event, trouble remembering parts of the psychologically traumatic event, persistently negative thoughts, low mood, anger, feeling emotionally numb and, having difficulties feeling emotionally connected to family or close friends” (CIPSRT, 2020).

Posttraumatic Stress Injury (PTSI)

a non-clinical term that encompasses a range of mental health injuries, including some operational stress injuries (OSI), non- clinically diagnosed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety, and depression. It is used to more accurately reflect the impact of the injury (CIPSRT, 2019)

Proactive Behaviours

behaviours that are self-initiated and future-oriented; the act of taking control and making things happen (Bateman & Crant, 1999)

(See also Reactive Behaviour)


psychological interaction with emotions

Public Disdain

feeling of dislike, targeting of a person or organization as inferior, unworthy; or worthy of contempt (Duarte et al., 2006)

Public Perception

a belief or opinion, often held by many people and based on how things seem (e.g., public perceptions of PSP are often influenced by recent events, geopolitical climate, etc.), that is often shaped by and in the media, movies, and folkloric stories

Public Safety Personnel (PSP)

a term meant to encompass those working in any public safety profession which could “include, but are not limited to, border services officers, public safety communications officials, correctional workers, firefighters (career and volunteer), Indigenous emergency managers, operational intelligence personnel, paramedics, police (municipal, provincial, federal), and search and rescue personnel” (CIPSRT, 2020).

Reactive Behaviour

immediate response to feelings about an uncontrollable situation, problem, or other issue; typically reactive behaviours are negative stemming from the lack of a sense of control.

(see also Proactive Behaviours)


to act emotionally and impulsively due to feeling stressed, angry or hurt.


feeling of displeasure towards something or someone that is perceived as wrong


someone’s life outcome or ability to overcome adverse experiences that may have been potentially traumatic or stressful.   Someone who is more resilient may overcome those experiences. In contrast, someone who is less resilient may be at risk for mental illness.

Role Blurring

occurs when an individual engages in familial behaviours outside of home, or continues engaging in work-related activities while not working (ie. Answering work emails, taking work calls etc) (Badawy & Schieman, 2021)

Role Overload

time-based conflict which is experienced when an individual perceives that they do not have enough time or energy to fulfill the demands of their entire role set” (Kahn et al., 1964, as cited in Duxbury et al., 2021, p. 999)

Sandwich Generation

adults who support and care for both children and aging parents (or other relatives) and are sandwiched between the needs of younger and older generations (Lingren & Decker, 1996)

Secondary Trauma

trauma that is a result of a relationship between someone who has not experienced trauma with someone who has (Porter & Henriksen, 2016; Cox et al., 2022)


skill that focuses on acknowledging and accepting the emotions that you are experiencing (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)


when family members fill in missing information which may result in unnecessary worry or anxiety (Black, 2004; Bochantin, 2017)

Sleep Deprivation

a condition that is the result of not getting enough sleep, having interrupted/disrupted sleep, inconsistent sleep patterns, etc. This could include inconsistent sleeping patterns or always sleeping during odd times in the day.

Sleep Disruption

all-encompassing term to describe disturbed sleep; may involve waking when the PSP arrives home/leaves for call-outs during sleep hours; can also include children having different wake/bedtimes based on whether or not the PSP is on shift (Ananat & Gassman-Pines, 2021; Bochantin, 2010)

Social Support

support that comes from peers, family and other social networks that is meant to provide comfort and a sense of belonging (APA, 2022).


a catch-all termed used to describe the general impacts on partners or other family members as part of being a PSP family (Sharp et al., 2022; Tuttle et al., 2018).

Authoritarian Spillover: spillover that occurs when the PSP brings home behaviours that are more suited to work life than family life; basically, the PSP comes home acting as through they are still on shift (Johnson et al., 2005; Miller, 2007)


Spouse/Significant Others


negative social attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency…implies social disapproval and can lead unfairly to discrimination against and exclusion of the individual” (APA, 2022)


hiding feelings of physical and emotional pain and not complaining which may be expected in some military or paramilitary workplaces


when excessive demands create psychological overload (APA, 2022)


a way to describe how people feel when experiencing something stressful (CIPSRT, 2019)

Substance Abuse

pattern of compulsive substance use marked by recurrent significant social, occupational, legal or interpersonal adverse consequences, such as repeated absences from work or school, arrests, and marital difficulties” (APA, 2022)

Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

a diagnosis that encompasses excessive substance use of any kind despite having experienced negative problems related to that behaviour pattern.

Tag-Team Parenting

Households where both parents work outside the home and share parenting responsibilities and one or both parents work nonstandard hours (Boyd-Swan, 2019).


one’s experience to any event that may cause distress leading to negative feelings of fear and psychological harm (APA, 2022; CIPSRT, 2022)

Acute Trauma: trauma that occurs following a single, isolated, traumatic events; including events such as physical assault, sexual assault, natural disasters, mass shootings, terrorist attacks or car crashes (Bence, 2021)

Complex Trauma: “Severe psychological trauma resulting from severe types of potentially psychologically traumatic events” (CIPSRT, 2020).

Chronic Trauma: trauma that occurs due to repeated or prolonged traumatic events; can occur due to events such as domestic abuse, war or combat, community violence, chronic illness, neglect or homelessness (Bence, 2021)

Trauma Exposure

involves direct or indirect experiences of actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence (APA, 2011).


when something is unknown; may affect one’s confidence in their decisions.


never knowing what to expect; constant uncertainties. In the context of PSP families, this could mean unknown work times, call-ins, or overtime hours, safety, etc.


recognition or affirmation that a person or their feelings or opinions are valid or worthwhile” (Oxford Dictionary, n.d.).

Vicarious Resilience

vicarious experience of someone’s recovery from their trauma; positive influence from the influence of the other individual’s resilience demonstrated through their journey/recovery (Hernandez-Wolfe et al., 2015)

Vicarious Trauma

cumulative transformative effect on a helper or family member working with the PSP as a survivor of traumatic events; shaped by an individual internalizing emotional experiences of others due to an empathetic relationship with them (Cohen & Collens, 2013; Cummings et al., 2018; Devilly et al., 2009; Hernandez-Wolfe et al., 2015)


“a state of happiness and contentment, with low levels of distress, overall good physical and mental health and outlook, or good quality of life” (APA, 2022).


psychological behaviour that can occur in response to stress or trauma; in the context of PSPs, it may cause a PSP who has had a traumatic exposure or stressful shift to “withdraw” from their families; they may be noncommunicative, irritable, and be unable or unwilling to participate in their normal family duties, while they sort through their traumatic experience.

Work-on-Family Conflict

when the pressures of work life begin to permeate into the family environment, affecting one’s ability to properly care for children and/or themselves (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).

(see also Family-on-Work Conflict)


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