Trauma ? woundedness ? loss
Trauma can be described as any incident or experience that cause a threat to your perception of being safe and secure. After a trauma experience, nothing is the same as before. Trauma is woundedness, and vulnerability that can be physical and emotional. This woundedness always has a component of loss.
Some types of traumatic experiences:
- An accident
- Abuse – verbal, physical, emotional, and sexual
- Illness and disease
- Natural disasters
- Moving to a recent house / Relocation
- Death – natural or violent
- Retrenchment / Loss of work
- The threat to safety and security -physical and emotional
- The danger to your integrity and values
Woundedness can be invisible or visible and physical, e.g. a stab wound or operation wound (temporary) or the loss of an internal organ or limb (permanent). It can also be emotional and spiritual, e.g. the loss of hope and a loss of faith.
Other types of losses:
- Loss of health
- Loss of a loved one
- Loss of an income
- Loss of a home
- Loss of nutrition/food/sustenance
- Loss of possessions
- Loss of a known school/church/workplace/community
- Loss of self-worth and identity
- Loss of hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a future self
- Loss of values, beliefs, intentions, innocence, a preferred way of being, and commitments for a future self
- Loss of family and future family
- Loss of a legacy
Any loss (just like the death of a loved one) needs to be grieved.
The grief journey is significant for trauma healing and looks different for every individual. Woundedness and loss cause emotional pain that is a testimony to those things and intentions for your life that were held valuable and precious and violated by the traumatic experience. Emotional pain is also a tribute that a person wants to re-connect with the losses that were precious and valuable.
A person is in a relationship with trauma, not defined by it. You are only a victim of trauma for as long as the incident continues, but you become a survivor when it ends (and you are still alive!). Being a survivor means you used specific skills and knowledge to survive – in therapy, we would want to focus on finding out what those were to build resiliency. Debriefing of a traumatic incident should only start after about 3 days (72 hours)to reduce stress hormones.
With trauma, healing happens in the ”meaning making process”.
The Iceberg Model:
The brain’s mechanism to protect the body from danger and wounds is the fight, flight and freeze responses. The corresponding emotions of these responses are anger, fear and depression/oppression and sadness. Sometimes these emotions can be very overwhelming, leaving a person feeling or acting out of control. Our behaviour communicates these emotional states.
Think of this as an iceberg: on the surface and visible to everyone is the “bad behaviour” or emotions, but invisible and underneath the surface are all the influences that give meaning to these emotions and behaviours. They seem to be absent but merely a preferred way of being.
What are the influences beneath the surface?
- A belief system that plays into your habits and ultimately “shapes your destiny.”
- Thoughts and more emotions
- Skills and knowledge
- Your tradition and history when growing up.
- The social context of your community
- Discourses of powerful mindsets speaking into your social awareness
To make meaning of the behaviour and emotions, one needs to question and reflect on that below the surface. “Acting out” or rebellious behaviour can sometimes be a way of protest or complaint against the violation of that which was held valuable and precious and were lost/stolen. Emotions are important because they link to a value and belief system and are triggered by our senses.
Making meaning of the Absent but Implicit
Giving voice to these implied influences allows saying something about behaviour and emotions vital to you. It provides a way of re-connecting with the hopes, dreams, purposes, goals, aspirations and commitments that are valuable and precious to you.
It is essential to remember trauma does not steal everything! In the meaning-making process, we distinguish specific experiences from others that already have meaning to us and which have already been described in some way, i.e. we can only know things by their opposite or by contrasting them to what they are not: e.g.
- we can only understand despair if we once knew hope
- isolation if we once knew the connection
Re-connecting this way with once known values, goals and purposes can provide you with new knowledge and skills and help you identify what is still essential in your life. It can also aid in self-regulation and self-soothing when you experience overwhelming emotions. Build resiliency through mindfulness and grounding/anchoring techniques that apply breathing exercises and awareness practices. This can help a person to cope with triggered memories/flashbacks.
What are healthy coping mechanisms?
- Exercise your body to release endorphins and other feel-good hormones
- Use grounding techniques to bring you into awareness of the present by using your senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch)
- Breathe in some fresh air – go outside (if it is safe)
- Self-care: a warm bath/shower, comfortable clothing and soothing health tea or other hot drink
- Journaling and letter writing to story the experience that is difficult to verbalise
- Acknowledge the emotions, but only treat them as a guest and not as a permanent resident.
- Get support or become part of a support group or community to avoid further isolation.
- Practice gratitude and forgiveness.
- Get help from a trauma-informed therapist or counsellor
- Flourish by Martin Seligman
- Brainstorm by Daniel J Siegel