“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.” (Judith Lewis Herman)
What is trauma?
A useful definition of a trauma: an occurrence that threatens the survival of our physical or psychological integrity. Many people will unfortunately experience this at some stage in their lives. We might be involved in an accident, suffer the loss of a loved one, witness or be victims of a criminal act, or be subject to serious emotional or physical abuse. We might be involved in events that in some way expose us to intense fear either in a few short moments or over a prolonged period of time. If these things do unfortunately happen to us, we may experience the events traumatically.
Why am I suffering and other people are not?
No two people will experience the same event alike, and this has a lot to do with both nature and nurture as well as our current life situation. Our physical and psychological make-up will determine how we experience events and play an important part in how we process them. Many wonder why an event has a powerful impact on them, but not on others, and this is why. I write about this type of thing in my blog from time to time, and it may be worth checking it out in the above links. There is no weakness here. Many otherwise very resilient and successful people can suffer in this way.
What help is out there?
Many people experience a trauma and are able over time to reduce the psychological and physical effects they suffer and bounce back resiliently. For others, whose trauma may run deeper, the effects can be profound and help will be needed to make a recovery. At this end of the spectrum we are dealing with post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). Our work together will probably cover a number of areas, including practical strategies for symptom management, and building trust between us and working closely together to make sense of the traumatic event, and, importantly, begin to integrate it into your life-story in a way that is acceptable and draws harmful energy from it.
What is the underlying process?
Trauma can be thought of as a ‘natural response to an unnatural event’. When facing extreme stress the parts of the brain that are responsible for normal auto-biographical memory shut down, and subsequent memories may be fragmented, partial, and incomplete. This can lead to unpleasant symptoms including: invasive thoughts, flashbacks, strong feelings of anxiety and fear. In such cases the memories can be retriggered by similar events, loud noises etc. It is important to get help and this is where therapy can help.
The physical effects of trauma and PTSD are important too. Traumatic experiences can quite literally effect the structure of the brain, including reducing the function and physical size of important regions of the brain that are responsible for controlling ‘fight/flight/freeze’ responses. Research shows therapy is a very effective tool to tackle this too. I have written about this in my blog (“It’s not brain surgery…. Is it?” June 17) if you'd like to read more.
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