This page is dedicated to assist you in gaining valuable information on how to work through different types of trauma. Topics relating to trauma such as the following will be covered:
Child trauma, family trauma, bereavement, anger, guilt, flashbacks, panic attacks, supporting the survivor, the process of healing, etc.
Understanding Trauma - a simple overview of a complex condition
To learn to deal with trauma it is firtsly important for you to understand what causes trauma. Even though during a traumatic incident you experience shock, high levels of stress and fear these are not the main cause of trauma. The main element involved in causing trauma, is the element of CONTROL, a person becomes traumatised when their control is taken away from them. In any life threatening incident a person's natural response is "fight or flight", however when facing a gun you are not able to fight or flee, so you are forced to submit and at that very moment you relinquish control and they take control. This is what causes trauma and unfortunately once they leave, you do not regain control, they keep control, and as long as the incident controls you, you will be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This is not only limited to life threatening incidents, any event which takes control of you will have the capacity to traumatise you.
Some common questions
Some people are more inclined to find the positive in challenging situations than others. Is this inherent or can it be learnt?
This is definitely a learnt coping mechanism, some people are fortunate and during their upbringing would have had guidance from parents or someone else, that when you get "knocked down" you need to stand back up, look at what you have learned from the incident and move forward. If you weren’t fortunate enough to learn this when growing up, it is something that can be learnt and often working through a traumatic incident is one of the best ways of learning this skill.
Scars of physical trauma such as rape or a car accident do heal. But why does the emotional impact linger longer?
A physical injury is visible and you can see what needs to be done to heal it or a medical practitioner can work on it and once it’s healed it is still visible. Whereas with an emotional injury as such, it is not visible and even when you do not feel emotionally well it is often a difficult task to pinpoint exactly what needs to be worked on. You may be portraying plenty of anger but it does not help to have counseling for the anger because it may be the underlying fear which is causing the anger and a very skilled counsellor will need to assist you in finding the cause of the fear and be able to guide you to work through it and eventually the anger will dissipate. So pinpointing the root of the emotional distress is the challenge.
How can survivors begin the emotional healing journey? Is there a guideline of do's and don’ts?
Well the essential part of any journey is, to START, and then keep going and the more you keep working the sooner you will get to where you want to be. So a good starting point is to find someone you feel comfortable to talk to and who has the ability to guide you to find the issues you need to work through to give you the healing you need. Unfortunately family members and friends are not ideal to talk to, even if they have some form of counseling experience, they inevitably will be emotionally involved in your struggle which makes it very difficult for them to be totally objective in guiding you to find the answers that only you will have. You can only be healed if you want to be and you must be willing to talk, so you must be willing to ask for help.
Are there always life lessons or "a ha" moments to be found in hardship?
Yes always, in my opinion the main reason we have hardship is to assist us in personal growth and therefore we waste an opportunity for growth if we do not allow ourselves a chance to look at the lesson learnt and to have those amazing "a ha" moments.
What’s the biggest inhibiting factor/s for people not learning or finding the proverbial silver lining in clouds? What blocks the awareness of lessons?
This may be tough but the biggest inhibiting factor is that people are not willing to turn the negative incident into a positive one. The only way to see a silver lining is to look at what you have learnt through the incident and in the long run you need to be able to say I have gained so much through this incident that it was actually a good thing that it happened. Unfortunately as long as the incident remains a negative occurrence it will control your life.
What have you found to be the most recurrent lesson or learning following trauma? Is there a common positive take-away you hear in your line of work?
As most the people I counsel are as a result of a crime related incidents, many of them undergo a life threatening experience and a common lesson is related to relationships. Where they suddenly realize that there are relationships which they have destroyed through arguments and had they lost their lives they would not have had the opportunity to say sorry and mend the bridges, this is often related to parents or children, so life is too short to hold grudges. Then, also, often people realize that they take their partner for granted and only when you face death and realize you may never see them again, do you realize how important they are to you.
One father told me that after his hijacking where he thought he was going to die, when he got home, he realized that he might never have seen his family again and for the first time he changed his baby's nappy and for the first time he bonded with his son. And when reflecting on that, he felt it was worth going through the negative experience of a hijacking for what it had done for his relationship with his son and in that instant he turned the negative experience into a positive one.