There is a growing awareness among health care practitioners that traumatic experiences are widespread. It is not uncommon that people who have been traumatized will develop physical, emotional and psychological symptoms as a result of the traumatic experience.
PTSD is what your body does to survive the events of insanity. When an ‘event outside the range of normal human experience’ is happening, it must be subdued, chained and locked away deep inside so you can survive and continue to function. It has to be dealt with somehow, and in some cases, every day for the rest of your life.
The definition of trauma is fairly broad. It includes responses to powerful one-time incidents like accidents, natural disasters, surgeries, deaths, divorces. etc. This definition intentionally does not allow us to determine whether a particular event is traumatic. That is up to each survivor.
Jon Allen, a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas and author of Coping with Trauma: A Guide to Self-Understanding, reminds us that there are two components to a traumatic experience: the objective and the subjective. He says: “It is the subjective experience of the objective events that constitutes the trauma… The more you believe you are endangered, the more traumatized you will be…Psychologically, the bottom line of trauma is overwhelming emotion with a feeling of utter helplessness. There may or may not be bodily injury, but psychological trauma is coupled with physiological upheaval that plays a leading role in the long-range effects.”
In other words, trauma is defined by the subjective experience of the survivor. Two people could undergo the same event and one person might be traumatized while the other person remained relatively unscathed. It is not possible to make blanket generalizations such as; ‘event X is traumatic for all who go through it” or “event Y was not traumatic because no one was physically injured.” In addition, the specific aspects of an event that are traumatic will be different from one individual to the next. You cannot assume that the details or meaning of an event, such as a violent assault, that is most distressing for one person will have the same traumatic effect on another person.
Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which the individual’s ability to integrate his or her emotional experience is overwhelming..
Now, granted 9-11 was a very major event in all our lives. And it was traumatic to both individuals and nations. However, trauma does not require a disaster, a war or a 9-11 event! Many people go through their own trauma; a death, divorce, abortion, accident, childhood event, etc. And the effects of these incidents stay with us our whole lives. We build walls, blocks, barriers, put ourselves in invisible prisons – all for survival because we cannot deal with that experience. We may think of it as being in the past and we have already ‘dealt with it’; but, in fact, it is still present in the memory of the body, causing many of our illnesses, diseases, depression, pain, allergies, etc.
And our reactions are all different; different, but similar. WHY? Because the physical, emotional, and energetic aspects of the body are connected. Images come to mind and the body feels the reactions. In many cases, the same reactions as experienced during the original occurrence of the event.
It is useful to think of all trauma ‘symptoms’ as adaptations. Symptoms represent the person’s attempt to cope the best way they can with overwhelming feelings. When we see ‘symptoms’ in a trauma survivor, it is always significant to ask ourselves: ‘What purpose does this behavior serve?’ Every symptom helped a survivor cope at some point. We humans are incredibly adaptive creatures.
For purposes of identifying trauma and its adaptive symptoms, it is much more useful to ask, ‘what happened to this person’, rather than ‘what is wrong with this person.’
Victims of trauma may feel emotions for no apparent reason: withdraw from family and friends; stop interesting everyday activities; have difficulty sleeping or concentrating; feeling depressed; sometimes with suicidal impulses and a history of alcohol or drug abuse.
As mentioned, not all abuse or trauma survivors can clearly remember their traumatic experience. Some individuals may only have a vague recollection of ‘something’ that happened; others cannot recall anything traumatic occurring in their lives.
Sometimes a current event or experience may trigger long-forgotten memories of an earlier trauma. Often when this happens, the person may be ‘flooded’ with feelings, intense emotional distress aroused by the deep memory of the event without the facts that would explain the meaning of how they feel. It could be triggered by a similar situation or relationship currently being experienced in their lives.
Nevertheless, trauma specialists such as Harvard’s Dr. Bessel van der Kolk believe that ‘the body cannot lie’. If the person has symptoms with no apparent memory of an experience, the exact authenticity may not be important. It is the reality of what the emotional body is feeling that makes the reactions of the physical body real. (This can be verified with Kinesiology or Muscle Response Testing.)
People sometimes describe abusive, traumatic events that occurred 30 to 40 years ago, some related to sexual abuse and some to other problems. As they begin to recall the events in detail, their stability is shaken, and the anger and shame starts to bubble up even after many years of apparent calm. This past occurrence triggers their current condition. It is a body, mind, memory reaction to it.
We also know from war veterans that an experience may be so intense, that a person seemingly cannot recover – at least with the traditional therapies practiced today. The war veteran and the abused person may seem very different, but we now know that the intensity of the emotion involved, creates Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the resultant symptoms of one or more intense emotional experiences (traumas), felt to be beyond the normal range a human being is expected to reasonably tolerate.
Now we understand why Dr. Selye was right when stating: “stress-related disease is the result of inappropriate response to an alarm. While the physical changes produced by stress hormones are necessary in the short term, they can be detrimental when prolonged. These hormones were not intended to constantly remain in the blood. Your body was not meant to remain in a crisis mode.”
The magnificent design of the human body’s reaction to stress is there to help us survive!
In today’s frantic world, stress seems to be a daily ‘marathon’! We usually start the day by bringing yesterday’s problems to the thoughts of today. Then, we try to cope with all kinds of problems that arise during the course of the day…only to start all over again the following day!! This is a marathon of stress!!!!! And the marathon can become traumatic!
The question is: “Are you running a stress marathon?”