“God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly; first, the blow, hours afterwards, the bruise.”
– Walter de la Mare, The Return
Trauma (psychological) is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Your psyche gets hurt by a distressing event, that could be a single experience, or an enduring or repeating event, that completely overwhelms your ability and emotions to cope with that experience.
Symptoms of trauma
Immediately after the event, a wide array of symptoms can be experienced by a person: shock, denial, anger, rage, sadness, confusion, terror, shame, humiliation, grief, sorrow and even suicidal or homicidal idealisation.
Other responses include:
restlessness, fatigue, frustration, fear, guilt, blame, grief, moodiness, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, muscle tremors or “ticks”, reactive depression, nightmares, profuse sweating episodes, heart palpitations, vomiting, diarrhoea, hyper-vigilance, paranoia, phobic reaction and problems with concentration or anxiety. (APA, 1994; Horowitz, 1976; Young, 1994).
Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. These responses can be masked within other problems such as excessive alcohol, tobacco and drug use. Interpersonal relations can become strained, work-related absenteeism may increase, and, in extreme situations, divorce can be an unfortunate by-product. Survivor guilt is also quite common and can lead to severe depressive illness or neurotic anxiety (APA, 1994; Mitchell, 1983; Young, 1994).
While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. It is possible to heal from trauma and move on, even if it happened many years ago. With the proper treatment, self-help strategies and support from people & groups around you, recovery and healing are possible.
Children who experience trauma may suffer severe and long-lasting effects. Traumatised children see the world as a dangerous, frightening place. Trauma that is not resolved in childhood may leave a child feeling helpless and insecure for life. They experience a fundamental sense of fear which can be caused by:
- Abuse: sexual, physical, emotional & verbal
- Domestic violence
- Neglect by parents, the absence of parents, death of parents.
- Serious illness/surgery
- Being separated from parents/ family
- Unsafe environment: war, natural disaster, crime
Coping with trauma
The feelings caused by trauma are powerful and disturbing. In most cases, they settle in time without the intervention needed. The natural reaction to coping with these feelings is grief, and every person heals at their own pace. It is necessary to allow yourself these feelings – to accept what happened and make peace with it.
Symptoms of trauma usually last a few days or months. Trauma fades as you process the trauma. Memories of severe trauma never wholly disappear. A person may be troubled by flashbacks or painful memories from time to time. Sounds smells, and places can bring back memories of the trauma you suffered.
A flashback is when memories of a past event feel like taking place in the current moment.
For example, – it can feel as if the experience of sexual abuse is repeatedly happening like the perpetrator is physically present. During a flashback, it can be not easy to distinguish between reality and fantasy. A flashback can be triggered by reasonably ordinary experiences connected to one’s sense, for example, smell, sight, sound, taste or touch.