Dealing with Loss during the Holiday
Trauma. The word brings to mind the effects of such major events as war, rape, kidnapping, abuse, or surviving a natural disaster. The emotional aftermath of such events, recognized by the medical and psychological communities, and increasingly by the general public, is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now there is a new field of investigation that is less familiar, even to professionals: emotional or psychological trauma.
What is emotional or psychological trauma?
The ability to recognize emotional trauma has changed radically over the course of history. Until rather recently psychological trauma was noted only in men after catastrophic wars. The women’s movement in the sixties broadened the definition of emotional trauma to include physically and sexually abused women and children. Now because of the discoveries made in the nineties, known as the decade of the brain, psychological trauma has further broadened its definition.
Recent research has revealed that emotional trauma can result from such common occurrences as an auto accident, the breakup of a significant relationship, a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition, or other similar situations. Traumatizing events can take a serious emotional toll on those involved, even if the event did not cause physical damage.
Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:
it was unexpected
the person was unprepared
there was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening
It is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individuals experience of the event. And it is not predictable how a given person will react to a particular event. For someone who is used to being in control of emotions and events, it may be surprising – even embarrassing – to discover that something like an accident or job loss can be so debilitating.
What is the difference between stress and emotional or psychological trauma?
One way to tell the difference between stress and emotional trauma is by looking at the outcome—how much residual effect an upsetting event is having on our lives, relationships, and overall functioning. Traumatic distress can be distinguished from routine stress by assessing the following:
how quickly upset is triggered
how frequently upset is triggered
how intensely threatening the source of upset is
how long upset lasts
how long it takes to calm down
If we can communicate our distress to people who care about us and can respond adequately, and if we return to a state of equilibrium following a stressful event, we are in the realm of stress. If we become frozen in a state of active emotional intensity, we are experiencing an emotional trauma—even though sometimes we may not be consciously aware of the level of distress we are experiencing.
Why can an event cause an emotionally traumatic response in one person and not in another?
There is no clear answer to this question, but it is likely that one or more of these factors are involved:
the severity of the event
the individuals personal history (which may not even be recalled)
the larger meaning the event represents for the individual (which may not be immediately evident)
coping skills, values and beliefs held by the individual (some of which may have never been identified)
the reactions and support from family, friends, and/or professionals
Anyone can become traumatized. Even professionals who work with trauma, or other people close to a traumatized person, can develop symptoms of “vicarious” or “secondary” traumatization. Developing symptoms is never a sign of weakness. Symptoms should be taken seriously and steps should be taken to heal, just as one would take action to heal from a physical ailment. And just as with a physical condition, the amount of time or assistance needed to recover from emotional trauma will vary from one person to another.
Well this is the definition of emotional trauma, I am dealing with mine this year. Our oldest son who is 17, in February of 06, chose to leave home. He ran away to live with his girlfriend and her father. It’s a very long story and not pretty…but the long and the short of it is that my boy is gone. He will not talk to us, will not come home and will not forgive us for mistakes we made during the event or after. I never threw my kid out, I did everything I could to get him to come home, I failed at doing or finding the thing that would repair our family unit or him. This is our first year without him, and even though I know he is eating, sleeping in a warm home and all that, I am scared for him every single day. He wants to do drugs, have sex, come and go as he pleases and have no rules…he said if we let him do those things he would come home…I said no. Being the first holiday without him, I am trying to cope. I am trying not to hate myself, I am trying not to hate him, I am trying to hold it together and remain sane for my other two children and my Mate. I do OK some days, others are not so good. I am crazy with grief. Today I will be working on my mental health, trying to keep it together and be a good parent for my kids. I don’t have any close friends at this point in my life and Mate Man and I have no family other than who lives under this roof…so I feel isolated and alone. This is my way of getting it out of my brain a little so that it may be easier to get through the day today.
I miss my son, I love my son, I want him back.
I will never give up hope that someday we will be together again, and be whole in mind, body and spirit.
Shit, I am going to go paint…it’s what I have and can do, so I continue…
and so it goes.