Emotional trauma

February 02, 2014

Emotional trauma affects us all at some stage in our lives. It can happen after the loss of a treasured pet, or a loved one, or after experiencing something bad - even witnessing something bad happening to others, may lead to us being traumatised.

Trauma, if not taken care of sensitively, may deepen and develop into post-traumatic stress, which requires more intervention. Therefore, seeking the help of a caring and knowledgeable psychologist fairly soon after experiencing a traumatic event, may serve us well in the long run.

When bad things happen in a community, such as the recent tragic school bus accident, many people get affected emotionally, on many levels.

For children, trauma may be compounded by the fact that they have less coping skills than adults and experience the world on a different level. They often feel responsible for what happened and may experience guilt feelings, even if that was not the case, and so we need to take extra care when we support our children.

For parents, there may be added sorrow over not being able to be there for the children in their crisis, or not having had a chance to say goodbye, fear that the child might have suffered pain, or also guilt feelings just as children feel guilt, even if there is nothing to feel guilty about.

People may also experience survivor guilt, wondering why they are spared and others have to suffer so badly.

Some experience vicarious trauma, where they are traumatised though witnessing the horror of what happens to others, such as people surviving the accident, motorists passing by, and people involved in the care of the victims.

A few thoughts about trauma. The aftermath of trauma remains a complicated time for sufferers, especially the first eight weeks or so after the incident. Things that happen in everyday life, even their own thoughts, may re-enact the trauma for them.

Multiple sensory triggers, sounds, smells, movement, time of day, sunlight coming from particular angle, a taste in their mouth, may take them back to the horror of what happened.

After a while, the intensity of these experiences will fade, but if not dealt with sensitively and in a helpful way for the sufferer, may deepen into Post-Traumatic Stress which is harder to process.

However, consulting with a professional at any time either shortly after or some time after, will be helpful.

Trauma often touches our worldview and may leave us with feelings that we are not okay anymore, or our fellow human beings are not okay, or the world is not an okay place to be in anymore. However, discussing these feelings with our psychologist may go a long way in supporting us through this difficult period and helping us reframe these thoughts until things seem to make sense again.

It is only natural that after trauma, we will be more aware of our vulnerability and may fear dying, or a repeat of the incident, or another kind of catastrophe. It is almost like a loss of innocence, when will it happen again?

Questions such as, why me, was I at fault, did I think or say or do something to lead to this, may arise. If handled well, all of this helps us work our way through the aftermath of trauma, to eventually heal and make sense of our world once more.

Previous events causing upset or trauma could either have left us more vulnerable, or have strengthened us to be more resilient to trauma. When we feel too exposed, too vulnerable, we need to seek help and support, from a caring professional.

How to help?
Shortly afterwards, support on all levels will be needed - care for other children, bring food, answer phones, clean the home, transport to hospital so see the patient, listen to people wanting to tell what happened, just being there should you be needed, all of this will be helpful.

Allow sufferers to talk as much as they want, also to be quiet if they want - just be with them for what they need.

Allow visits to trauma debriefers, employers to give time off if people need to see a debriefer.
And mostly, let us treat one another as we would want for ourselves. Let us not avoid one another in our time of need, for fear of doing something wrong, rather be there for one another by asking, what will be helpful to you right now? Together we are stronger than when we stand alone.