Origins of Trauma
Many people are familiar with the idea of battlefield veterans having flashbacks that cause them to wake up screaming as they imagine being back in the war zone. Some people also experience post-traumatic symptoms having suffered sexual abuse as children and carrying those memories into their adult lives.
While these may seem extreme examples, any of us can have experiences that have the potential to traumatise us. The trauma could be a single event or an accumulation of repeated episodes. Witnessing the death of a loved one in dramatic circumstances can create a traumatic memory, while someone bullied over a long period may experience a series of incidents that combine in their minds to form the trauma.
Trauma may result whenever we have an intense and overwhelming emotional experience, particularly when it is coupled with acute negative feelings such as fear, guilt or shame.
For most of us what we experience remains in our thoughts for a short while before being stored as a memory. Over time it becomes absorbed into our other memories and is largely forgotten. We can choose to recall the moment, rather like looking through a photo album, and then put it away again.
It is a natural process for experiences to gradually move further from awareness making way for newer memories. Certain peak experiences may remain longer in our thoughts. This sometimes happens with bereavement as we continue to think about our loved ones long after they have left us, though this too begins to fade with time.
Effects of Trauma
People who are traumatised may struggle to forget. They experience vivid re-enactments of their trauma as deeply disturbing dreams and frequently as daytime thoughts and images intruding unwanted into their daily lives. These random intrusive thoughts are difficult to manage, being experienced as visions or sounds that disturb and distract them from their everyday tasks as they relive the trauma once again. While they seem to come at random, something will trigger these memories. It may be a sound or a smell or they may be brought on by particular feelings such as anxiety or fear.
By remaining in our consciousness these thoughts can prevent us from fully engaging with any new experiences so we start to feel dislocated from what is going on around us. In addition compared with the intensity of the traumatic experience everyday life can begin to seem dull and meaningless making it harder to connect with others including our family and friends.
Resolving Symptoms of Trauma
The first step is to re-connect with what is happening in our lives in the present. Learning to focus on the moment helps to overcome feelings of dislocation and reduces the impact of intrusive thoughts and images.
It may then be possible to explore the traumatic experience so it can be incorporated into our memories. This involves talking it through in a safe environment with someone who is not going to judge us. The event is revisited in detail and the associated emotions are identified and acknowledged.
In this way the traumatic event is placed within the wider context of our lives. While it may remain a peak experience, it no longer feels as extreme and loses the power to cast such a huge shadow over us.
Helping people to manage and overcome the feelings resulting from trauma is a delicate process that needs to be managed sensitively to avoid re-traumatising them further.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you may be dealing with the impact of some trauma and could benefit from specialist help and support. Many Counsellors are able to work with trauma and can help both with processing the traumatic experience and keeping you grounded in the present.
© 2017 Michael Golding
About this blog ...
This is a collection of personal thoughts and observations on issues that many people are facing every day.