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 …
Leaving death and destruction in their path, such events undermine our necessary denial that life is predictable, that children can be safe and that we can be in control.
For a time, we are left wounded, shaken, vulnerable and afraid. Caught in the traumatic moment, we fill in the future unknowns with expectations of more of the same trauma so that next time we will be ready.
Eventually, despite the memory, the extreme loss, the bodily injuries and even the fear, we want our lives back, we want our children to play, and we want to smile…
We need to find a way to survive and at times even succeed with life’s uncertainties.
Here are six strategies that may begin to answer that need. Some you may already use. Some you may want to consider.
Validation of True Self
“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 …
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 …
This weekend the Wounded Warrior Project came to our town. Many had the opportunity to run the 4-mile race next to veterans and their families. The t-shirt of the young man in front of me read “ New Year’s Eve 5K, Afghanistan. ” Many were wearing shirts that read, “ If you Like Freedom- Thank a Vet.” The father of a vet wore a shirt that read, “ We’ve got them back-Now Welcome Them Home.”
As of August 12, 2012 there are 49,251 wounded service members, 320,000 suffering with Traumatic Brain Injury and 400,000 with PTSD. We have lost 6,549 of our men and women to war.
On the 11th Anniversary of 9/11, thousands remembered an unprecedented terrorist attack on this country that took the lives of close to 3,000 worldwide and plunged us into war. It was an event shared publically by the world and suffered privately by too many.
How Do We Go On In The Aftermath Of Pain And Traumatic Loss?
Here are three possible guidelines for finding your way to new meaning in life after trauma:
Meaning by the Hour
In his wisdom, Frankl clarified that finding a new meaning in life does not mean arriving at a single goal that will direct the rest of your life, or make sense of evil. Rather finding new meaning in life should be translated to finding a reason to go on, to having a purpose, to feeling valuable in the hour, the day, the week.
A 14-year-old adolescent girl, who lost her Dad on 9/11, has struggled for these 11 years with shyness, loss of two grandfathers, few friends and the …
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.
It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.
Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.
Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible
“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle
“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus
“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson
Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?
There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.
The definition of catastrophe is an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering. The early morning shooting and killing of 12 people and wounding of others as they eagerly began viewing the latest Batman movie; “The Dark Knight Rises,” tragically qualifies.
As we shockingly take stock of this horrific event, we once again dare to imagine the pain of the families or resonate with memories of having faced similar pain. In the face of traumatic loss we are left without words, helpless to understand ‘Why’ and needing to believe there is a way to prevent such events.
We have come to know that even as we can still barely catch a breath and struggle for answers, there are some initial steps of Psychological First Aid (PFA) that offer some relief.
Here are some suggestions worth knowing and owning when life has suddenly become so darkened.