We are vulnerable. Yes, it is a fact of life. All people are vulnerable – even people you do not expect to be because of the shield they have been carrying around for so long that you have forgotten they are in fact vulnerable.
I am saying that as an introduction to the inevitability of trauma. We will all be traumatised by something over the course of our lives. We have all been children in a more or less cruel world after all. In addition to that, several events can cause trauma. For example, one might experience a miscarriage or a tragic loss. It can be a car accident where we only barely survived. It can be a fire or an earthquake that we somehow managed to escape. It can be news about an illness. It can be a war.
Whatever the circumstances were for each one of us, something in us gets wounded. Much like physical trauma, psychic trauma is painful. However, the non-physicality of psychic trauma makes us deal with in many ineffective ways – much like a wound that goes by unattended without giving it any proper first aid. It might become swollen, might start oozing and it might lead us to all kinds of trouble if we leave it without putting some antiseptic on and without caring for it properly.
What are the initial responses to a traumatic event?
Well, the first shock is well documented. We are shocked when we find out that our world has changed. Our expectations are thrown to the bin. Whatever we wished for might be gone.
A variety of responses are then possible. The shock had to do with us getting something very different from what we were expecting. We did everything right. We might have been eating properly, praying a lot, doing good deeds for others and yet, fate did not spare us the tragedy. If only life were that simple and each one of us got what they “deserved”… (according to whom by the way?)
Divert, evade or numbing tactics start to appear.
“It was God’s will.”
“Nobody could have done something”
“It is the politicians’ fault! They knew it and did nothing.”
“The bloody doctor who just cared for the money is to blame.”
“I had it coming!”
“Why oh why did it happen to me?”
“How can I go on living life now?”
All these thoughts and emotions that go with these are totally fine and expected. We are bound to feel angry, we are bound to feel sad and we are bound to numb our feelings and pain to be able to move on. We have been wounded and we need to find a way to leave it behind. The tragic part is that we have not learned to be compassionate to ourselves and our needs. At this dire moment, we still need to go through this alone. Well, what voice in us supports that? Is it really helpful?
Finding a way to stay with what is happening (not burying our feelings too soon, not discarding them, not blaming someone – either us or someone else and not avoiding the pain) can be really difficult. It is not improbable for anxiety attacks to be reminding us of the event or the loss. Panic attacks even. Insomnia might settle in or we might be waking up at 6am full of stress without being able to go back to sleep. Whatever the particulars, all these point to a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but even without labelling our “condition” – something is wrong.
So what is a good way to handle trauma?
First of all, we need to realise that what we are experiencing is natural. All of it! Trying to bury the bloody thing, not wanting to discuss it, blaming others, blaming ourselves, not wanting to go out of the door, all are natural responses to trauma.
Now that we established that, is it OK to ask for help? Is it OK to show to others that we are vulnerable and we are hurting? Can we do that selectively and not to people who might have their own issues or agendas and will not be able to support us?
Part of asking for help and admitting to our own vulnerability is about finding the right person for that. Family and friends might be helpful, but remember that they might be going through their own emotional responses and might need time and attention as well.
So what about professional help? Therapy or counselling is really helpful. A qualified practitioner or therapist will make sure that they create a safe space for you in order to be able to discuss all the emotions and thoughts that go hand in hand with your traumatic response to the event. Establishing meaningful contact with someone who is qualified to stay with what has happened and how you experienced it is the way to go for the wound to heal and in order to reach some kind of closure and move on. Otherwise, something in us might be buried and we will need to reclaim it at a later date (if we are lucky). So what will it be?
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Featured image by Brook Anderson on Unsplash