What is trauma?
The term trauma is used to describe a range of events and responses, but for the sake of this post, I am referring to physical or sexual violence, accidents or natural disasters. Now, someone who experiences violence at the hands of another person is going to experience a sense of betrayal that may not be present in an earthquake, but there are more similarities than differences. Traumatic events are outside of the usual range of human experience and threaten your sense of wellbeing.
Is everyone who experiences trauma traumatized?
No. Don’t let anyone talk you into being traumatized. Don’t let anyone talk you out of your experience either. With a positive receiving environment and personal resilience, the effects of trauma can be minimized. However, silence, shame, threats, prolonged abuse and uncertainty about future survival can heighten the sense of being traumatized.
What are the possible effects of trauma?
I would never want to prescribe your response to trauma, I am just offering what might others have experienced:
- You may feel numb
- Or you may feel everything intensely.
- You may over- or under- eat or sleep.
- You may be in a constant state of alert or fear
- Or you may become careless and take unwise risks
- You may feel disconnected from the people and activities that you used to love
- You may drink or drug too much
- You may have trouble concentrating
- You may have thoughts of wanting to die
When the body is in a constant state of alert, you don’t get “good” sleep. What I mean by that is the type of sleep that lets you process your day and restore your body. When you live in this kind of stress, you are vulnerable to creating habits out of negative thought patterns such as:
- It’s all my fault
- I’ll never be safe again
- There must be something wrong with me
- No one cares about me
- What’s the point of….
How do I recover?
- Get present
- Look around the room you are in and name five colors that you see
- Remember that the trauma is in the past
- If you are still in danger, create a safety plan
- Repeat to yourself, “I’m safe right now” a thousand times a day, or until you believe it
- Recover yourself
Trauma has a way of disconnecting you from your best self. People often think of themselves as weak after a trauma. Remind yourself that weak people don’t survive what you have been through. I know a man who had been repeatedly abused by a teacher when he was a child. The teacher told him that he would kill his family if he told anyone about the abuse. He was determined to save his family and kept the secret for 20 years. Carrying a burden like that indicates courage and a deep abiding love for his family. There is nothing weak about that.
Recover your sense of joy, competence and purpose. Make these non-negotiable demands. You have already survived, now thrive.
Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate. Connect with the people and activities that you love. It might feel forced awkward at first, but do it anyway.
- Tell your story
You don’t have to relive, out loud, everything that happened to you. In fact, doing so may actually re-traumatize you. But you may want to break the silence and share what happened to you. When you do this, make sure that you are the hero of your story. Being a hero isn’t about fighting back or defeating the abuser or the hurricane, it’s about what you did so that you lived to tell the tale – even if what you did was to succumb to what was happening. I know a rape survivor who wrote down everything that happened to her and put the notebook in a locked box in her closet. She wanted a record of what she had survived, but she didn’t want to have to consciously remind herself of it.
I have to put in a plug for therapy here. A skilled therapist can help you navigate the process of recovery in a safe and positive way. There may be things that you just don’t want to share with loved ones because you don’t know how that will be affected, or how they will view you down the road.
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
EMDR is an elegant and effective way to move out of negative habits of thought or emotion and strengthen self-affirming habits. Remember the part about not sleeping well? Well, EMDR corrects for that and allows you to process and heal. More about that on another post…