Self

More than Crying: Your Response to Trauma

Woman watching a scary movie on TV

You feel like you have more time than you did before or at least you don’t have the same commute. Because you are at home, you feel like you should be getting so much more done. But the problem is you aren’t.

You can’t seem to get it together. Your morning routine was strong until it wasn’t. Now, you are left on the couch in an eternal Netflix binge. You feel ashamed and guilty that you can’t get it together. You feel like you have no excuse, but in all honestly, you just don’t have the energy anymore.

While it may not be effecting you personally at the moment, all you see is crisis and turmoil wherever you go (through the internet or on TV). It’s difficult to watch a literal death spiral day in and day out.

With all this going on, you can’t help to think, “why am I being so lazy?” I have it good right now compared to others. My family is still depending on me to send money home. I have to be strong for the family and friends that I have here.

But when you think to try, it just doesn’t happen.

We all respond to trauma in different ways. This crisis right now is a communal trauma. It is a jolt to our system and our way of being. It is not business as you usual.

We would all like to think ourselves when we are in “hero mode” as that we have all of our facilities and fight no matter what physical condition we are in. However, what you see in the movies is usually fiction or the exception, not the rule.

Let’s talk about a few responses to trauma that are not usually talked depicted in the movies.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is our emotional response to an event or a series of events. Trauma can be displayed in numerous ways psychologically and physically.

Usually, how we see responses to trauma on TV is by seeing a lot of crying, anger, or plots of revenge. The fact is that the majority of us don’t actually know when we are having a traumatic response to something.

We usually define it as we were just having a “rough spell” and that we are fine now. We are usually not willing to admit that that “rough spell” has influenced our decision making for the last ten 10 years in order to protect ourselves from experiencing that “rough spell” again.

Denial/Avoidance

Usually, why traumatic situations are so emotionally impactful is that we couldn’t believe that that had just happened. Now, if we are talking about repeated traumatic situations such as domestic violence, it is fact that the person being abused really does not know when the abuse is about to occur next or how strong it will be from the abuser.

When experiencing events that have an emotional impact on us we go to our defenses to emotionally and mentally protect us. There are an array of defenses that protects and defenses are not “bad” or “wrong.” It is, simply, important to know when we are using them and why.

Denial or avoidance can be a defense to a situation that is unbelievable. For example, which powerful politician said that this would be over by Easter? And what day is it today? Denial.

Avoidance is where we do something else to try not think or have to respond to the situation. You want your world to be normal again so right after a traumatic event instead of taking a few days off work, you work double than you did before that situation happened.

Suddenly, you have stopped being a hermit and are on all sorts of Zoom or Google Hangouts call whereas before the event, the words “hang out” and “zoom” had totally different meanings to you.

Numbness

You can also have no emotional response to a traumatic event. This does not mean that it hasn’t affected you at all. Remember, this a defense, it is supposed to protect you from things that can be extremely overwhelming for you. It DOES NOT mean you are a sociopath. This response is usually called feeling numb or numbness.

Think about when your foot falls asleep. You can still move your foot, but you don’t have the full feeling of it. In a way, this is what the emotional defense of numbness may feel like. You will intellectually understand what is going on around you, it just may not feel real or as vibrant as other feelings had before. This may also impact your empathy for others going through a similar situation because your numbness is supposed to protect you from fully feeling yours.

Fatigue

Feeling tired can be a common symptom in mental health diagnoses. Fatigue in terms of defense is not a physical fatigue but an emotional one that influences our physical being. Animals hibernate to protect themselves each year from winter. We are becoming fatigued in the face of a global crisis to protect our emotional well being.

When you feel this type of fatigue don’t force yourself to do everything at once. Don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you can’t check everything off the list. This is your mind’s natural response to this event. Simply, recognize that your mind is trying to protect you from being overstimulated and overwhelmed.

Strange Dreams

You may dream more than usual after a traumatic event. Honestly, you may dream more than usual if you are feeling anxious as well. If you are reading this and are a healthcare worker in a hospital setting, you may be having a lot of dreams lately. Dreaming can mean a lot of things, but in the case that I am writing about, it is your mind’s way of trying to make sense of it all.

If you are having trouble sleeping from all the dreaming. Try to avoid working, watching TV or reading in your room. If you in a studio apartment just don’t do those activities in bed. Try to keep that space sacred. If your dreams are sticking with you too long after you wake up, start a journal and every time you have a dream write it out so you physically get it out of your mind.

As always, be forgiving of yourself if your dreams are too much to handle. Don’t punish yourself because you are not a machine and do not have an on/off switch.

What You Can Do?

Stop with all the lists! If they have not been working, they are probably not going to work tomorrow. This is not a normal time and we have to learn to admit that to ourselves.

You have to process what is going on all around you like everyone else. We are not in the movies, you are not superhuman. You are not a machine. Take care of yourself and put yourself first right now. Give yourself that permission.

You only get one of you in this body. Love yourself. You are worthy of that. You are not a commodity to just continue to crank out work day in and day out. Furthermore, you allowed to have a time for you.

Take care of yourself!

And By the Way!

My name is Tara. I am a therapist who provides online counseling services in the state of Illinois. This blog post is not therapy and it should not be used as a substitute for therapy. If you would like to talk more, you can schedule a free 15-minute consultation, click here!

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