“Some days the memories still knock the wind out of me.”
Does this sentence occur to you as well?
Trauma is an emotionally painful response to a deeply distressing event that is quite overwhelming. It interferes with a person’s daily life and relationships which takes a high toll on someone’s mental health. Trauma is not some generalised experience, it’s different for every individual. Trauma was a serious issue in the early 1900s. During those days, war was a recurrent event, and many people just tried to settle in when another war began. They did not have time to process these things at the time but now things have changed, although certain regions of the world are experiencing similar times as before, for example. People in Syrian and Kashmir have a high degree of vulnerability to war zones.
The degree of traumatic experiences might be more for someone and less for the others but there's no standardized degree of PTSD. But here's the kicker: Not everyone who experiences trauma suffers from PTSD.
PTSD is the result of trauma the person experiences by having recurrent or involuntary memories such as flashbacks or nightmares for a long period of time. It is the negative experience or event that a person wasn't able to process at the time and are still dealing with. It may represent one of the most severe and incapacitating forms of human stress known. According to John H. Krystal, M.D., of Yale University School of Medicine: where if it is not treated, PTSD can last a very long time, perhaps the remainder of one’s life.
Here are some examples-- During an interview, pop-star Ariana Grande revealed she is suffering from PTSD. The condition was caused by the suicide bombing during her very own concert in Manchester, England. The incident took 22 lives and left many others injured.
Tony Stark suffers from PTSD due to losing his parents and witnessing U.S. soldiers being killed with IEDs and gunfire--ironically, these are the very weapons Stark Industries manufactures. In a subtle way, it is being shown that even superheroes do have vulnerabilities to trauma and can overcome them as well.
It includes three cardinal symptom categories, that are:
1) re-experiencing the event - eg. Nightmares ; Psychological reactions to triggers
2) avoidance and numbing - e.g Withdrawal, detachment, loss of interest or hopelessness
3) increased arousal - e.g Irritability ; Loss of ability to concentrate
Here are some case studies which gives insight into trauma and PTSD:
Case study 1: Aryan’s mother was present all the time, controlling, unpredictable, occasionally violent and vindictive. His sister liked to beat him up and run screaming to his parents when he defended himself. The mental and physical abuse in his childhood makes it difficult for him to make relationships.
Case Study 2: Sasha’s mother was shot when she was a kid and since she had no other parent or guardian, was raised in a juvenile court system. She then got into addiction.
Case Study 3: Fatima still cannot go near dogs as a result of being chased by dogs at the age of 10.
Case Study 4: Stefan still cannot forget the day when his maths teacher yelled at him in front of the whole class.
Effects of Trauma:
Trauma gives different reactions to everyone. People may have serious emotional reactions. These could include feeling guilty, extreme fear of harm, numbing of emotions, nightmares, changes in thought and mood patterns etc. You may feel numb or detached. You may not feel the event’s full intensity right away. According to the experts, shock and denial are often used to protect yourself from the emotional impact of the event.
In the movie - Highway , Alia Bhatt can be seen playing the role of Veera, a free-spirited woman who feels trapped in her own house. It showed how trauma operates in subtle, long-lasting ways since towards the end it is revealed that her character has been sexually abused by her uncle at a young age.
Biological Response: Traumatic or stressful events in childhood may lead to tiny changes in key brain structures that can now be identified decades later. Trauma during the early years of childhood can cause high risk factors of mental health conditions like depression which triggers changes in specific subregions of the amygdala and the hippocampus i.e the person’s emotional response can be so extreme that the memory becomes encoded in the ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain, the amygdala, instead of the hippocampus.
Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation is pretty common after a traumatic event where alertness and hyperarousal, which are the effects of body’s stress , contribute to it as well.
Self esteem and self belief :
Trauma affects an individual's self esteem through several means, for instance person x walked into a room of people who are whispering, this person x will immediately think they are gossiping about them.
A similar phenomenon is often seen in children who have been neglected by their parents or guardians, who are constantly critical of them at every opportunity. They often doubt their worth and strive to please others.
But how is Trauma saved?
Trauma like all our experiences are saved in our modalities that are in our VAKOG ( Visual ; Auditory ; Kinesthetic ; Olfactory ; Gustatory). For example- if someone asks you about brownie with ice-cream, did your mouth water? If yes, then it is because of your gustatory modality and if you just imagined it ---- it’s saved in your visual modality.
But now, let’s look at this from a different perspective. What if someone asks you about an unfamiliar food like Kopi Luwak of Indonesia? Since you never had that, you wouldn’t be able to describe it because it was never saved in your data.
Likewise, trauma experiences are saved in the modalities to the fullest. Again, for example when Saumya passes by the park where she was sexually abused, it triggers her and brings back the trauma that she experienced.
When a traumatised person associates the experience either by olfactory or Kinesthetic it heightens their negative feeling and tends to feel overwhelmed by it. It becomes like phobic responses.
Here are some examples:
Auditory : a war veteran suddenly hearing loud noises might associate it with the sounds of bombs and gunshots which makes them start having nightmares and flashbacks. In his brain there is what we call a ‘global pattern’ for loud bangs, created by the focusing effect of the terror he experienced in battle.
Olfactory : Kamya smelling the rain which reminds her of the day when her grandfather passed away during the monsoon season.
But there’s a possible way to minimize the effects of trauma, let’s see how..
Through the process of *V-K Dissociation*
Visual-Kinesthetic Dissociation (V/KD), which is also known as the Rewind Technique was created by Dr. John Grinder and Dr. Richard Bandle. V-K Dissociation helps the people who suffer from phobias or traumatic memories to reprogram their brain’s response to the original (causal) experience. This therapy examines traumatic events from a different perspective. It does this through separating (dissociating) mental pictures (V) and their associated feelings (K) so that irrational fear and behaviour in specific contexts are no longer triggered. This technique involves playing the negative feelings related to the past over and over again from a dissociated state of mind. They are asked to imagine floating to one side, out of body, and to watch themselves watching a ‘film’ of the traumatic event they encountered. The film starts where the trauma occurred and finishes at the point at which it ended when they felt safe again.
Later, when their mind is now in a more relaxed state, they are then asked to imagine that they are in their safe space and also asked the client to think of a time before the trauma when they were doing some pleasant activities. When the client gets past what is the worst point of the experience, or where the memory starts to fade then they are asked to stop the film and allow it to become a still picture again. They are told to imagine rewinding backwards through the trauma as if they were a character in a video that is hurt and then watch the same images in fast forward (dissociation). They are then instructed to envision using the rewind button on their remote control, which will allow them to see themselves travelling back in time to their safe space during the distressing experience. This cycle is repeated several times with each traumatic memory.
Let’s look at this example:
Suppose you are in a flight and a baby is constantly crying which annoys you very much and you can’t do anything about it. But now, you start watching your favorite movie and even though the baby’s cry plays in the background it doesn’t bother you much because you are making the unpleasant sound go away by watching something pleasant.
Trauma as mentioned before is different for everyone and your trauma is valid. Even if someone experienced “worse” things than you or it happened a long time ago , you don’t need to downplay your feelings. You still need to love and have a space to heal.
In the Tv show named ‘I may destroy you’ the main character Arabella is sexually abused and in one of the episodes, she visits her therapist who asks her how she has been doing to which she replies immediately that she is tries not to think about it extensively and if it ever gets too much she tries to console herself by thinking about the bigger picture: the Syrian war, the hungry children. To this, her therapist says: “Sometimes when we try our best to see the big picture, we lose sight of the little one altogether. The little detail here is you.”
Life is beautiful but sometimes it doesn’t go the way we want it to be. It is possible to live 100 years in a beautiful world, though once in 100 years there can be a pandemic of deadly proportions, such as the one we are currently experiencing, whose impact can last for many years to come. The waves can be pretty lovely but at times it rises like a tsunami. The people who have to go through trauma and suffer because of that certainly feel life as an unfair means but it’s better than before. The advancement of psychology, it's tools and methodology, have given us tools and methods to modify our past experiences.
Storms make trees take deeper roots
- Dolly Parton
This article on ' Wisdom from Trauma ' has been contributed by Fiza Rehman who is a student pursuing B.A psychology from Sophia College for Women, Mumbai and the article is Peer reviewed by Aastha Panjvani who has completed her graduation in Psychology from Jai Hind College.
Both Fiza and Aastha are part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Fiza has a keen interest in researching the human mind and behavior. It is quite fascinating for her to learn and unlearn a lot of ideas in the field of Psychology.
Aastha is a research-oriented and empathetic person with a passion for Psychology, and loves working with others to achieve predetermined objectives.
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification