Traumatic survival response symptoms are so subtle,
even the individual fails to recognize that a horrifying crisis
or life threatening experience was the precipitating factor
in their alcoholism or addiction patterns.
Daily cultural horrors, the realities of terrorism, storms,
war and automobile accidents, vividly portrayed on television
have numbed us intellectually to trauma. However, first year medical
students well know, our real life reactions are usually not intellectual.
Students faint, become sleepless for months, cry unexpectedly
and even drop out of school after witnessing their first autopsy.
We can’t help how we feel; we will be changed by our experiences.
Trauma effects can be very subtle, while also progressively pervasive
Trauma has been described as a profound deviation from normal
life experience. Trauma may occur in childhood; when it can
actually reprogram the neurological pathways. This impacts
normal emotional functioning later in life. Many adults
traumatized as children develop multiple addictions, PTSD,
identity disorders, Borderline Personality
Disorder, or other dissociative disorders.
In our popular media: movies, books and television, we regularly
see heroic alcohol and drug use to self medicate trauma, grief
and loss. However seemingly effective, chemicals of abuse are
very destructive; brain functioning is modified by trauma; neurological
pathways can be further irreversibly mapped; hard set in time at limited
firing capacity by continued drug and alcohol abuse.
PTSD brain imaging clearly shows neuropathology as the result of trauma.
Adults experience trauma in the form of catastrophic natural or
life events, assault and rape, loss of a significant person,
abusive relationships, POW experiences, occupational trauma
from military/police work, violent crime, exposure to violence,
and other severe stresses.
Trauma can produce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the
survivor. Ongoing stress will produce PTSD in children later in life;
adults generally only develop PTSD in response to specific traumatic
events or a series of traumatic events. Symptoms of PTSD include
hyper vigilance, free floating anxiety (dysphoria), hyper startle, hyper
arousal (being “on guard” all the time), etc.
People naturally develop coping mechanisms when they have been
traumatized called trauma based attachments. These are learned
survival skills, which work to protect the psyche during and
immediately following the trauma. Eventually these coping
mechanisms work against healthy emotional functioning. An
example being an inability to trust based on childhood
abuse that protects the child during the abusive episodes,
but later severely compromises intimacy and unfettered
The traumatic experience itself can be excaberated by family
reaction, insensitive social experiences, secretive restrictions,
collusion and enmeshment.
Often the individual’s coping mechanisms are met with judgment
and continued horror occurs through community, legal or family arenas.
If the personal voice of the victim is invalidated, the trauma
can be punctuated. Where direct continued consequences occur
for an individual for whom situational control was absent,
trauma can especially be paralyzing. Damage to sense of
family permanence will extend trauma reaction forming.
Situations wherein parental or authority responsibility
is deferred or transferred to the survivor, for instance,
in the case of a minor child enduring parental blame after
a rape, car accident or criminal experience, toxic shame
results. Repressed sexual incest often includes “setups”
that effectively fail to protect or directly place
underage girls in risky situations wherein abuse
occurs. The resulting relationship trauma and failure of
parental trust can cause debilitating lifelong symptoms.
Trauma survivors can have difficulty concentrating so problems with
simple tasks like watching television are common. Reaction and trauma
attachment formation cause irritability, explosiveness, and rage. A
constant feeling of malaise or lack of well-being, somatic pain, and
feelings of numbness and disconnectedness are commonly reported.
Repressed fear and anger are often projected onto others, who may
even act out those emotions repeatedly with the survivor, going the
effect of unspoken unconscious expectations.
Later in stressful situations, trauma survivors will be seen to space out,
or disassociate from the present moment especially at times where
vigilance would be socially appropriate. Children and imaginative
people often develop creative disassociative fictions where painful
realizations and memories would normally reside. Trauma survivors
resemble an opossum, since they are almost completely debilitated
in their continued ability to assess danger, use protective fear and
anger, advocate for themselves, and function consistently socially and,
where high stress is involved, professionally.
Trauma recovery deals with reworking the trauma based attachments
to form healthier adult coping skills.
Strangely, many trauma survivors unconsciously seek out people,
activities, or engage in behaviors that “mirror” their original
trauma. This is the mind’s way of attempting to rework the
trauma based attachment. Trauma recovery attempts to bring these
trauma based attachments into consciousness and learn new coping
skills. “That was then, this is now – today I can take care of
myself and make healthier choices.”
It should be noted that people use valences which are in no way a
separate personality, or a personality disorder, but rather are
identifications with strong role models as part of normal personality
development and used for self expression. Expressive people who act
various ways and appear to be different people do not necessarily have
“multiple personality disorder”. Multiple personalities disorders refer to
extreme compartmentalization, memory encapsulation and disassociation;
all ego defense coping mechanisms that protect the individual psyche.
Therapeutic counseling specializes in treatment for adults who have
experienced severe emotional trauma. Antidepressant therapy is generally recommended by a clinician in tandem with counseling.
SSRI Selective Seratonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors are the first line of defense medication recommended for treatment of trauma and prescribed for PTSD. A mixture of medical SSRI treatment and counseling still remains the most statistically effective treatment regiment for trauma.
Recovery Systems substance abuse treatment sensitively
assesses an individual for trauma as a part of case management.
Recent studies show that regular exercise provides exceptional symptom reduction, increased self esteem, and remapping sequential neurological pathways, especially in conjunction with music. While short term SSRI therapy is immediately effective, exercise benefits double comparatively after 12 months. Exercise is statistically the best treatment for depression.
Native Americans effectively employ social drum circles and community sweat lodges to manage intrusive symptoms and reconnect socially. Anything that assists sequential time processing and attention for any relaxed period of time can provide relief.
It should be noted that reliving of the traumatic event, while a natural part of processing all strong emotional experiences, doesn’t necessarily provide relief in severe trauma or PTSD. Survivors often unwillingly ride a time machine back and forth through the event(s), either in recurrent persistent thoughts, or via fear or anger and unconscious expectations that the event will reoccur.
Anger Management classes that teach simple exercises to detach rather than feed rage are profoundly effective. A balance between emoting anger and descending to rage is carefully developed, since feeling nothing is a moniker of one stage of the disease (numbing), wherein all pleasure and joy are likewise stifled. However, any counseling and all open honest communications with a trusted other is considered cornerstone PTSD treatment.
Recurrent suicidal ideation or violent fantasies are a serious danger signal which must be treated by a mental health professional. Rage, inability to concentrate, and problems with organization are also serious symptoms that can be helped with professional assistance. There is no overriding reason to ignore and fail to pursue treatment for any serious symptoms; treatment options are certainly indicated, readily available and relatively risk free.
Writing, journaling, art or creative endeavors borne of traumatic experiences, (that often don’t translate to simple language), assist individual clarity, family recovery, and social change.You must install Adobe Flash to view this content.