Trauma, is due to an event/s that is experienced or perceived as so threatening that a person’s existing coping skills or resources are not really equal to the threat. His/her coping skills may furthermore be inadequate to dealing with the negative meaning attached to the stressor/event, which may lead to detrimental consequences in their lives.
There are various types of traumas –
- Primary: On the scene (real time) it happened to you
- Secondary: When the event happened to significant others (e.g. family, friends)
- Vicarious: Watching [real] time happenings on e.g. TV, newspapers (also experienced by health workers such as trauma specialists, psychologists, social workers, other medical professionals)
When you have experienced a traumatic event, you might experience the following symptoms for a period of time (please keep in mind that these reactions are ‘normal reactions to an abnormal events’, such as a robbery, kidnapping, rape, assault, and others; even though each trauma is unique in what is experienced):
- Emotional reactions (Feelings) : shock; fear; grief; anger; guilt; shame; feeling helpless or hopeless; feeling numb; feeling empty; diminished ability to feel interest, pleasure, or love
- Cognitive reactions (the way people think): confusion, disorientation, indecisiveness, worry, shortened attention span, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, unwanted memories, self-blame
- Physical reactions: tension, fatigue, edginess, insomnia, bodily aches or pain, startling easily, racing heartbeat, nausea, change in appetite, change in sex drive Interpersonal reactions: distrust, conflict, withdrawal, work problems, school problems, irritability, loss of intimacy, being over-controlling, feeling rejected or abandoned.
If you experience these reactions, or more severe reactions such as the following, for more than 6 weeks, it might be an indication of the development of Post Traumatic Stress:
- Dissociation (depersonalisation, derealisation, fugues, amnesia)
- Intrusive re-experiencing (terrifying memories, nightmares, or flashbacks)
- Extreme emotional numbing (completely unable to feel emotion, as if empty)
- Extreme attempts to avoid disturbing memories (such as through alcohol or other substance use)
- Hyper-arousal (panic attacks, rage, extreme irritability, intense agitation)
- Severe anxiety (debilitating worry, extreme helplessness, compulsions, obsessions)
- Severe depression (loss of the ability to feel hope, pleasure, or interest; feeling worthless)
It is also possible that this traumatic event might have awakened unpleasant memories from previous traumatic experiences. If this happens, I really urge you to find professional help.
During this time, it might be difficult for you as well as your love ones. They might not know how to assist you.
Family can support you as well as themselves by being patient and supportive when you might become emotional. In general: Stick to normal routines as far as possible, and do things the family normally enjoys doing together. Family members should be willing to listen, without interrupting the story, even if you retell the story over and over again; they should not act over-protective, and respond non-judgmental. Their nurturing support is an important part of the healing process.
Some people withdraw and isolate themselves at this stage. But, if you do that, you postpone the healing process and also dis-empower your family/or friend to help you.
Your whole world now has been thrown into chaos and uncertainty. You feel vulnerable. Yet, over time and with the help of other supportive people, you will get through this terrible time.
To summarise, you may be experiencing some (or all) of the following:
Anxiety- This includes panic attacks Sleep Disturbances
Intense Fear Helplessness
Recurrent and intrusive recollections Difficulty falling or staying asleep
Diminished interest in activities Feeling of detachment
Restricted range of emotions Irritability or outbursts of anger
Difficulty concentrating Hypervigilance (constantly on the lookout for possible danger) Avoidance/Denial
Exaggerated startle response (jumping at the slightest sound or movement)
Significant distress or impairment in social & occupational spheres (it is as example normal for productivity to drop 25%-45% for a duration of approximately 3 months afterwards)
Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children or a normal life span) Persistent symptoms of increased arousal (not present before the trauma).
- Physical symptoms as shakiness
- Heart Palpitation
- Breathing difficulty
- Stomach and bowel disturbances
Symptoms of Grief and Bereavement might also appear:
- Anger Depression Disorganization
- Emotionally Sensitive Lack of Appetite Lack of Motivation
- Sleeping Problems Lack of Concentration Despair
- Distractibility Fatigue Isolation and Withdrawal
- Mental Exhaustion
Some of the following suggestions may be helpful!
- Know you can live through this. You may not think so but you can.
- Know that you have acted correctly during the [event]. You are alive and unhurt, so that means you have done the rights things. Well done!
- Struggle with why it happened until you no longer need to know why or until you are satisfied with partial answers. If necessary, let go.
- Know you may be overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but all your feelings are a natural reaction to what has happened, even though it is not pleasant.
- Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy; you are in mourning (loss of safety, loss of beliefs, loss of time, and so forth)
- Be aware you may feel anger at the perpetrator, the people you believe should have protected you, the world, at God, at yourself. It's okay to express it.
- You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do to maybe prevent it. But: If you acted differently, would you still be alive?
- Guilt can also turn into regret through forgiving yourself.
- Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
- Don't be afraid to cry. Tears are healing. Give yourself time to heal.
- If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece. Grieving is like a roller coaster ride.
- Try to put off major decisions. It’s not a good idea to make big decision for up to 3 months afterwards.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help if needed.
- Be aware of the pain of others and be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.
- Set your own limits and learn to say 'No' when someone asks something of you that you are not up to doing at this stage.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- What have you learnt from the experience…?
- Call on your personal faith to help you through.
- Exercise, eat healthy and be good to yourself. Your body needs energy to support the healing process. If necessary, take a vitamin supplement. “Rescue” as example is a herbal remedy which also assists to combat stress and sleeping problems.
- Have the willingness to laugh with others or at yourself.
- Wear out your questions, anger, guilt or other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go, however, doesn't mean forgetting. We are not computers we do not have a “delete’ button. We are not designed “to forget”.
- Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.
Good luck and well done for staying alive!