Today, I am going to speak about trauma.
It’s tricky; you know?
Trauma is one of those things that people, generally, want to forget (individually and as a society).
However, although it is not an easy or popular topic, it is significant.
According to sidran.org (online resource(s) for survivors and loved ones of PTSD), “an estimated 70% of adults in the US have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20% of these people go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. An estimated 5% of Americans- more than 13 million people- have PTSD at any given time.”Trauma is very present in our society. It is not an old story.
Trauma is not something that people just need to get over so we can just move on with (our) lives. Trauma changes people. Trauma, literally, changes the brain of the traumatized person. According to Bessel Van der Kolk (a psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of PTSD since the 1970s; his work focuses on the interaction of attachment, neurobiology and developmental aspects of trauma’s effects on people), trauma changes the brain in three ways:1. Trauma changes the core perceptual areas of the brain (the real primitive parts) where people perceive danger.2. Trauma changes the filtering system of the brain. This is the tool in the brain that helps filter what is relevant to/for us and what can be dismissed. (When we can’t tell the difference, it becomes very difficult to focus on what is happening in life now. It can become very difficult to engage in ordinary situations.)3. Trauma changes the self-sensing structures in the brain. Generally speaking, one’s ability to sense (aka “feel”) one’s own self becomes blunted.(Keep in mind, this makes a lot of sense from a self-preservation standpoint in the face of trauma. When people are in a state of terror, they (aka: their body) feels bad.So what to do?Many people start using and/or abusing drugs and alcohol. Why is the comorbidity between these two things (trauma and drugs) so high? Well, most people don’t like to feel bad, and many people start using and abusing drugs to manage feeling bad. Other people, who are sick of feeling bad, simply blunt their own feeling. This means they dampen their own ability to sense their self as a way to not feel so bad. Unfortunately, negative consequences come with both of these coping mechanisms. (Drugs and alcohol wreak havoc on the body, brain and relationships; and dampening the sense of self cuts one off from feeling joy, pleasure, sensuality and connection (in addition to blunting the “negative” feelings)).Because experiencing trauma affects both the brain and the body so profoundly, I’m in the opinion that it makes sense to work with both.
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws it’s way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.” -Khaled Hosseini, “The Kite Runner”