By El-marie van Heerden - LifeWorks Consultant
Trapped in trauma? There is a way out!
The English word "trauma" is derived from the Greek word meaning "wound". This word provides a graphic image of the similarity between physical injury and what takes place in the human emotional experience of trauma: psychological wounding. Healing in the form of debriefing is needed to prevent the onset of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS).
It is not only war, murder, rape, assault, robbery and hijacking that causes trauma. There is also the after effects of abortion, the loss of a job or loved one, painful divorce and sickness that wound us. While these do not seem life threatening when considered on the surface, the victim may experience such overwhelming helplessness and despair that the value of Life may be in question.
A traumatic event is a sudden, extraordinary occurrence that is overwhelming and often (but not always) life threatening to the individual or to significant others in his / her life. This experience leaves the person with feelings of helplessness and horror. (The DSM IV classification has a more extended definition.)
Trauma is either "manmade" or natural - the so-called Acts of God. Because there is usually some warning, people are often to some extent prepared for natural traumas like floods, earthquakes and fires, but are not prepared for manmade traumas like motor car accidents which are usually unexpected.
Traumatic events are extraordinary not because they occur rarely, but because they overwhelm the normal human coping mechanisms and affect
people long after the event has come to an end.Most people regard some stressful life events as temporary upsets, taxing but not overwhelming their coping mechanisms from time to time. A holiday or re-arrangement of priorities will usually alleviate the stress experienced.
There are myths surrounding trauma:
Acting on these false beliefs can be detrimental to any trauma victim. A child is particularly affected because he is capable of the same range of intense emotions as an adult, but his fear and anxiety however, can be much worse than that of an adult because of a lack of understanding of what has happened. He is also very sensitive to the reactions of his parents or other adults and may become distressed by their emotional reactions if they deny him an opportunity to express his feelings or ask questions.
There is help for victims of trauma: debriefing is the process of support in the form of allowing emotional expression under controlled circumstances rendered to people suffering from acute stress after a traumatic incident.
The goals of debriefing are emotional support, containing of emotions, providing information, normalizing reactions, assistance with re-evaluation of view of self and the rest of the world; support in search for meaning in the experience and help with the integration process.
A child who suppresses feelings related to traumatic events runs the risk of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can manifest itself in the following ways-:
Toddlers (2 - 6 years)
Anxiety from separation from parents or caretakers; strong feelings of anxiety and fearfulness resulting in clinging behaviour; sleep disturbances; bedwetting in a child that was already dry during the night; aggressive behaviour; loss of appetite; vomiting; diarrhea and repetitive play about the traumatic event or themes from it.
Early childhood (6 - 10 years)
Changes in behaviour; regression; sleep disturbances; psycho-somatic complaints; constant need for attention; fantasies about the traumatic event; school phobia and an inability to concentrate; bed wetting.
Pre-adolescent (11 - 14 years)
Psycho-somatic complaints; sleep disturbances; sadness and feelings of depression; a drop in school performance and motivation; judgmental about own behaviour during the traumatic event; aggression, emotional outbursts and irritable behaviour; anger at the unfairness of the event and regression in behaviour.
Adolescence (15 - 18 years)
Accelerated entry into the adult world; feeling of anger, shame and betrayal; judgmental about own actions; feelings of depression and fearfulness; psycho-somatic behaviour; sleep- and eating disorders; withdrawal from peers and social activities; feelings of inadequacy; marked increase or decrease in interests and activities; foreboding of another tragedy; high risk behaviour like speeding; alcohol and drug abuse anti-social behaviour.
Traumatic events can trigger stress related pathologies such as depression, phobias, new-onset ADHD, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, eating disturbances and substance abuse. It is therefore vital that children be debriefed.
Basic guidelines to help a traumatized child:
Trauma can be dealt with in an efficient and healing way. Every victim of trauma has the right to reach out for assistance in order to fully recover. It is often easier to talk to a non-related person in a safe milieu where he / she feels that they are fully accepted and respected and where confidentiality exists, than to talk to family members or friends. Family and friends are however, vital sources of ongoing support.
Victims of trauma will initially feel trapped, but there sure is a way out, and a survivor of trauma is then more appreciative of Life and its blessings and view the traumatic event in a rational way, because "men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them." (Epictetus, 1st century AD)
By El-marie Van Heerden - Personal Development Consultant
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