Trauma and its Inevitable Effect on our Lives
Today, we have a guest post from our PMVC member Natasha Huff. In this post, Natasha discusses trauma and its impact on our lives.
We would like to thank Natasha for her thoughtful discussion of trauma and PTSD and for contributing to the Psychotherapy Matters community.
In some ways, trauma is a metaphorical slap in the face – it is extremely painful and sudden, and completely tears our attention away. When we finally overcome the shock and are able to realize something has happened to us, we are left in a state of feeling that we cannot accept or believe that whatever happened is true or real.
“How could this happen? Who would do this?”
Then we likely progress into some form of upset (either rage or sadness). It is at this point that the metaphor loses its utility when it comes to trauma; often, there is no one that we can be angry at. Often, we can only ruminate on the fact that the world can be such a phenomenally and horribly cruel place.
This thing we have scientifically labelled ‘trauma’ (as though such a word could possibly capture the totality of such an experience) often involves a devastatingly quick destruction of all the ideas most people have about the world.
Most of us remain confident that our children will outlive us; that sexual assault and murder are things you read about in newspapers; that we can be confident that we will always have a place to call home. And when we are faced with a traumatic experience that completely alters the way we picture our world, our panic, rage, grief and misery are the only way by which we can convey just how broken the experience has made us.
The burden of being human is that we remember things, and we attach meaning to the resultant memories. Our hippocampus and amygdala – those insidious epicentres responsible for giving life to our memories and emotions – work in tandem to goad us into re-experiencing our darkest moments.
Those of us who have survived trauma are forced to relive the experience, sometimes multiple times a day, in the form of flashbacks and nightmares. And because of the vicious intensity of this re-experiencing, our future experiences are inevitably altered.
A soldier will likely attest to being in an armed conflict almost always heightens one’s awareness to loud noises – a sensible reaction to the sounds of exploding mortar shells and gunfire, which are tangible threats to a person’s life. A person who has been violently sexually assaulted may never be able to fully enjoy the act of sexual intimacy again, due to the horrors that they now likely associate such an act with. Or a soldier may constantly seek out danger, and a sexual assault survivor may, in turn, become promiscuous and almost purposely place themselves in dangerous situations.
People who have been brutally beaten would likely react very differently than most would to someone simply raising their hand. In all these examples, fear and vigilance dominate – the threat is always looming, never once releasing us from its constant grasp over our minds. To all others, those who have been traumatized may seem paranoid, consistently anxious and desperate to avoid history repeating itself; yet, to anyone privy to such experiences, such actions are completely sensible.
It is likely that every human craves safety, especially when it is not something we take for granted. Once the illusion of perpetual safety has been thwarted, many of us seek out methods by which we can maintain some semblance of consistency and certainty. Whether that means spending more time in the safety of one’s home, fill ourselves with whatever might provide even a moment’s relief, or find any possible means of drowning out the noise of our trauma with anything else, we long for relief from what we have faced in the past.
With such a dramatic shattering of the world, we have come to know, what could possibly provide us with relief beyond various forms of avoidance? Why would we willingly face such pain and suffering, especially when we know that people might not react well to our own fear, panic and anger over the event(s) that redefined our lives forever?
Part of coming to terms with our trauma involves deeply and viscerally understanding that the world we once knew has changed forever and accepting that despite our greatest hopes and desires, we cannot reverse the damage done. However, that does not make any of our present reactions to those past events invalid. Our terror, our anger, our suffering… All the ways in which we attempt to metabolize what has happened are contextually valid, even if they are not deemed socially appropriate. However, sometimes it takes an outside source to remind us of the validity of our emotions.
While at least some part of processing our trauma involves doing so in solitude, there is little opportunity for others to provide us with the validation we seek in such an approach. Of course, we do not need others to tell us that “it’s okay” or that “you’ll be fine” – in these moments, it needs to be demonstrated that our experiences are considered valid, whether through verbal or nonverbal communication. And though it is not the only means of doing so, therapeutic intervention can often be the difference between suffering in silence and suffering to heal.
When we are able to truly reveal exactly how our trauma has affected our lives, it can be a powerful experience. Finding someone who is able to grasp how deeply shaken we are by what we’ve faced is often an extraordinary experience, as some part of our fear might involve how afraid we are of the negative reactions others might have towards how we respond to being triggered.
In therapy, it can be safely assumed that the person sitting in front of us is not only willing to hear the story of how our lives came to be so permanently and devastatingly changed, but also to witness the demonstrable effects of our pain. And with the right therapist, this pain can not only be heard but simultaneously deemed valid through the consistent attentiveness and understanding of the person who is choosing to listen to our story.
Our reactions to trauma are so powerful because the event itself was, too. And we may need to be with the pain forever just to demonstrate how much we have lost and to honour the hurt we continue to experience. But simultaneously, when we are ready to integrate our trauma into our daily life, all we might need is for someone to remind us that while we have much to grieve the loss of, we also have come to recognize the value of all that we have left.
Here’s how you can find Natasha Huff:
Through Psychotherapy Matters: Natasha Huff’s profile
About Helping to Reconnect Counselling Services:
Natasha is the co-founder of Helping to Reconnect Counselling Services.
Helping to Reconnect Counselling Services offers individual, couple and family therapy for a wide range of issues, including divorce/separation, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief, co-parenting, substance abuse, school refusal, family conflict and eating disorders.
The counsellors at our clinic are registered social workers and psychotherapists and are trained in Cognitive Behavior therapy, Psychotherapy, Dialectic Behaviour Therapy, Emotion-focused therapy, Solution-focused therapy, Mindfulness, and Narrative therapy and are certified in Trauma Counselling.
We have assisted many couples and families in improving their relationships with one another, providing them with the ability to communicate, respect and understand each other better.
Helping to Reconnect has offices located in Mississauga, Oakville, Etobicoke and Caledon.
The views expressed in these blogs are the author’s own and not necessarily reflective of those of Psychotherapy Matters. Information provided here and anywhere else on PsychotherapyMatters.com is for learning purposes only and should not be used to guide the treatment of clients/patients. Copyright © 2020 PsychotherapyMatters.com