I was recently in a shop with a friend when a young man in his late twenties came in to get his hair cut. Friendly and likeable he was amusing the hairdresser with some stories of his birthday. It was not until he struggled to get the money out of his wallet, that I realized his hand was quite deformed. I was so struck by this positive young man that I said to my friend, “ I love his resilience.” I was very surprised when my friend replied, “ I envy it.”
Given that she had managed a considerable amount of anxiety over the course of the year while working and dealing with family loss, I was struck that she seemed unaware of her own resiliency.
Do you recognize your own resiliency?
There is a good chance that you either are a gardener, you live with one or you know one. As such, you know that whether you are tending to potted geraniums on the deck, prizing the tomatoes in your yard or creating a lush horticultural expanse…there is something about gardening.
In the past two weeks it has been difficult to be anywhere without reading or hearing about the Ohio Kidnapping, 10 year captivity, sexual abuse, torture and beatings causing miscarriages to three young woman and one daughter, locked in a neighborhood house by one man.
Both in and outside of my office people have commented and questioned:
Judith Herman tells us that a traumatic event is one that has the capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death, or witnessing that in another.
When the trauma is that of nature, we speak of disaster.
When the trauma is man-made, we speak of atrocities.
It is worth considering that in face of this Ohio atrocity, whether we live in that neighborhood or witness the horror in the virtual community of viewers, we cannot easily shake this inhumanity because it is not only traumatizing— it evokes moral injury.
According to psychologist Brett Litz, moral injury is the (social, psychological, spiritual, behavioral) impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent or bearing witness to acts that transgress our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.
How Do We Deal …
Whether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.
How Does a Family Cope?
One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”
All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.
Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?
Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance
Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”
Historically we know that the opposite is true. As trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.
“Is Anyone Else Angry?”
Trauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.
Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.
Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.
Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response
It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.
The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.
Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.
One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …
Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.
Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.
Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.
While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.
Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?
A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.
Healing From the Body Out
The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …
Today a small community in Connecticut saw those beliefs shattered as eight adults and 20 children were violently killed.
What do you say when children are killed?
The most realistic answer, I have found is given by author, Charlie Walton, a father who himself lost his two sons in one night. What Charlie Walton urges friends, family and loved ones to understand is that when children die – there are no words. Words are insufficient to explain what has happened.
In his powerful little book When There are No Words: Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief, he clarifies that in the first hours and days of such loss, there is nothing he could say to himself and nothing that anyone else could say to him to make it right. There is nothing right about the death of children.
While the violent loss in Connecticut has broken hearts and stolen words – it does not take away the connections and power of loved ones to ease and help contain pain. We have learned through trauma outreach that the most viable sources of response are the familiar networks of support.
In this early stage of excruciating and bewildering loss – we know that a crucial step to easing pain and to feeling some emotional safety is to know you are not alone.
This is an unfathomable tragedy of loss by so many. A nation watches in tears. A nation hopes that the families …
The war in Iraq has officially ended and the president promises to bring the troops home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. For all of our military and all of their families, finding the way home from war is a treasured event and a complex process.
For families, homecoming involves readjustment in terms of time, space, roles, and expectations. For couples, homecoming means finding a way to integrate all that has happened to each partner and the relationship they share. Whether one or both have been to war, on many levels both partners have to “come home” together. For couples that means coming to know themselves and their partners in old and new ways.
How Does that Happen?
Couples do this in their own way, in their own time, knowing that they are not alone. They often find that even more complicated than the hours waiting to be rescued, the hours of driving in the dessert, the flight from Bagdad, and the applause and embrace of those waiting, is the journey home they will take in the many months that follow.
Listed below are some considerations gleaned from others who have traveled this path as well as from those who have worked with and guided them home.
The Excitement and Fear of Homecoming
Emotional Time Warp
In some ways homecomings throw you into an emotional time warp. One day you are military serving with dust, death, comrades and combat and then -You are …
Disaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.
Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.
While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.
Depression Occurs after Trauma:
Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.
Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.
Be it the toy truck, the pasta bowl, the piano, the silver earrings or the old books, we all have stuff because psychologically we need stuff.
Sartre holds that “to have” (along with “to do” and “to be”) is one of the three categories of human existence…
Wired for Stuff
Famous psychologist, Donald Winnicott, tells us that long before we could verbalize the need, we transitioned from merged oneness with mother to “transitional objects,” the favorite blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, or a piece of cloth that was attributed a special value as a means of making the shift from mother to genuine object relationships.
That said, our relationship with objects, “our stuff” never stops. It unfolds throughout our life; reflecting who we are, where we are, whom we are connected with and what we need to be ourselves.
One of the reasons we find it easier to ask others rather than ourselves, “Do you really need this stuff?” is that the actual value of anything is primarily a function of our investment in it and/or our interaction with it. We give “stuff” value and meaning.