by Catherine DeAngelis
Health professionals may be baffled when survivors of trauma come to them after recovery, on reassessment, find out symptoms have recurred.
Trauma is a serious assault on a human’s life functioning.
What happens to get in the way of a regular day-to-day activity like paying the bills or problem-solving to suddenly make it all seem like a monumental feat?
Could it be a day or two before, or after a holiday gathering that negative emotions or physical symptoms got triggered, and a survivor remembers a traumatic moment that surfaces without a warning?
Trauma happens to people who experienced a psychologically distressing and life-risking event. A person having survived an accident, injuries, illness, physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse, or other crime; a person who is a war veteran, army officer, or settlement refugee who comes from war-torn or a violent country; it can happen to a search and rescue worker; natural disaster survivor, or a bystander of a traumatic episode.
A survivor can relive moments of terror, feelings of culpability, remorse, rage, or disillusionment about life.
Reliving a traumatic event can arouse emotions that cause fatigue, low energy, weepiness or lack of concentration or impatience with others. Outbursts of anger happen for no reason. The memory of trauma comes by flashbacks and nightmares, and it can become so severe it’s difficult to lead a normal life.
Unbeknownst to a survivor of trauma, belief that healing has taken place and recovery is over and done with plays havoc on the mind. Thoughts, feelings and emotions are stirred-up. Without warning, symptoms return to cause grief. The ability to manage simple home or work tasks becomes daunting.
Joint pain or inability to sleep throughout the night can occur during a traumatic flashback. Agitation and self-inquiry like “who am I” and “will I ever feel normal? Or “am I going crazy?”
Disharmony grows in relationships and clouds of doom become a veil over the survivor.
The Canadian Mental Health Association reports this kind of impact can develop into acute anxiety or more commonly “post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
PTSD is one of several conditions known as an anxiety disorder. It affects about 1 in 10 people, characterized by reliving a psychologically traumatic situation, long after any physical danger involved has passed.
Taking care to know and understand disruptive emotions that could arise after flashbacks are vital life skills tools.
Self-awareness and self-care is arsenal for a trauma-episodic memory.
Life can suddenly become crushing because an onset of images, conversations, smells, or sounds, serve to remind something happening now related to a traumatic event back then.
Psychology Today reports PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults. It is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, gambling, eating and anxiety disorders.
When other conditions are appropriately diagnosed and treated, the likelihood of successful treatment increases.
Mayo Clinic oncologist Edward T. Cregan M.D. explains coping with traumatic stress is an ongoing process. He explains we’ll be of more help to our loved one (to ourselves) if we learn about the effects of trauma.
Life skills can help people draw from a broad range of problem-solving behaviours to meet the challenges at work, home or socially. The extent to which an individual with trauma integrates survival behaviours in their lives after their trauma is in itself a measure of success and deserves much support.
In trauma recovery people learn during their healing it is important to accept feelings of denial, to keep active, seek support, face reality of the triggers, and to ground themselves after a flashback.
Trauma survivors need to take time to process feelings associated with the experience and know how to find quiet time to be alone or find someone in the family or among friends to share the experience. They need to know sharing the experience is accepted without judgment.
The key is to recognize trauma might surface at different times of the year.
Dr. Cregan describes the best way to approach trauma is by finding some ways of normalising it – thinking about not being overwhelmed or frightened by symptoms and difficulties (as opposed to catastophising thoughts like, ‘It’s happening again, I am back to square one’ and emphasising coping strategies like staying active, taking care of yourself, seeking social support).
Family members and friends care deeply, yet hold beliefs healing should be done with quickly. This can hinder a trauma survivor’s healing. Advocating “life is too short” and “stop focusing on the past – get over it” prolongs the curing period.
Family physicians notably agree it is part of essential life skills for a survivor to understand and express feelings, deal with anger associated with trauma, and safeguard thought processes so as not to undermine the ability to cope day-to-day.
Awareness is essential.
Emotional wounds take time to heal, or some cases may never heal.
Emotions from a traumatic event can take years to show up and when they do, it’s a rude awakening. A realization surfaces to reexamine the memory and the pain associated with it. What can happen is a recall of more memory, adding to the original trauma. Once this happens, it deserves the processing time for the survivor to work through it, and get ready to come out at the other end stronger for it.
Trauma can cause ongoing problems with self-esteem. It affects management of simple life skills. Overcoming trauma is easier for some than others. Some go on to inspire others who is just entering the dark stage of a life-changing journey.
The impact of trauma on the entire person and the range of therapeutic issues are what need to be addressed. Recovery happens when the person is ready to move past the pain of it.
Symptoms come back in bits and pieces, like a flashback in a movie trailer – it can subside.
Dr. Creagan believes we can help a loved one with post-traumatic stress by being willing to listen, but don’t push. Choose a time when you’re both ready to talk.
During the process of recovery from trauma, it can take months, years, even decades. For some, PTSD never leaves.
Trauma assaults a person’s ability to manage simple life skills. Generally this is needed to help understand the world around or know the tools to allow a fulfilling life. Daily tasks, going to school or work, building relationships, or one’s personal feelings of belongingness or connectedness become visibly exhausting.
Trauma symptoms get in the way of meeting ambitions to live to one’s full potential.
Many treatments are available for PTSD to meet the unique needs of the survivor.
Everyone is different, so a treatment by someone experienced with PTSD may work for one person and may not work for another.
Life coaching is available to give supportive listening — without attempts to repair but help resolve some of the strong feelings such as shame, anger, or guilt. A life coach can offer strategies to help map out a plan to get beyond PTSD and work at meeting life goals based on a new method of human functioning.
A life skills approach to trauma is about finding a new personal life balance. Breaking through another wall of understanding and self discovery during recovery of trauma, is about learning to live with a new agenda of coping skills. Taking time to find what works best during healing from the effects of trauma is worthy of investment.
Giving up is not an option, but seeking self-love and understanding, or getting the help needed all bring added successes to an especially brave life of a survivor living with the stresses of a past trauma.
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