Published on 10th November, 2022 by Paran T.
There are many facets to trauma. Many a times, it is limited to only Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Very little might be known about the range of traumatic events and experiences that lead to trauma. Naturally, this then begs the questions – so what is trauma?
Trauma is often a scary word. Usually, when someone says they have experienced trauma, we think of the person being beaten, hit, raped, surviving a deadly accident or even witnessing something very scary like a murder or terrorist act. But, we meet many clients who do not realise that they have experienced trauma or are responding to a traumatic reaction. Very often they would clarify and say but “I wasn’t physically hurt” or “I was so loved and taken care.” It is important to know that trauma is not just the physical stuff. The person who perpetrated might not be breaking the law, but they are breaking your trust.
There is a term known as Existential Shattering. This is noted to be a devastating unexpected and irreversible event; a trauma, in which one’s own meaning of life and systems are overwhelmed and irreparably shattered. Simply put, when we experience trauma, our relationship with existence itself is shattered.
Whilst this may sound like PTSD, there is an overt form of emphasis on trauma and stress in PTSD. In comparison, it is believed that existential shattering is concerned with an enduring irrevocable destruction of one’s former ground of being. Yet, it must be acknowledged that most often existential shattering is triggered by trauma. This means that one’s ability to self-construct as a being is shattered. This affects the absolutisms and constructs of the world that was developed over the lifetime preventing one from not being able to develop crucial attachment relationships. In the clinic setting, clients may speak of this as not feeling like themselves or believing that they will never go back to living life the way they used to. Their world view has changed. They have a lingering feeling that never goes away. It is often described as an overwhelming feeling – a dreadful mix of fear, grief, regret, shame, distrust and unexplainable sadness. Sadly, this feeling seems to remain even after years of therapy. Yes, we have seen clients coming through our doors after years of EMDR or therapies targeting trauma processes. Why? Because sometimes the focus of therapy is only on targeting traumatic responses rather than looking deeper into what the experience of trauma meant, how did it affect how the person views themselves and how do we grow from the invisible wound.
Exposure to a traumatic event makes the person carry painful messages that they are unwanted, unneeded, and never truly accepted. This causes one to regress down the neuro-axis towards the reptilian brain. The person who goes through existential shattering has no way of integrating their current experience into how they existed previously.
The traumatic exposure forces a confrontation with one or more of the four givens of existence put forth by Yalom: death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. This confrontation induces the person to feel a sense of disillusionment. This makes the person feel groundless, this could be related in the following way: a lack of being in control or being anchored to the ground may allow the person to feel lost and lastly the traumatic exposure provides a sense of disillusionment with a formerly held belief.
Henceforth, the goal of treatment is not just to relieve one of traumatic experiences but to look deeper into integrating oneself such that they are able to lead happy lives; where they have grown from the invisible wound and re-created a healthy self-concept.
9th January, 2023
Understanding menopause and how it affects your mental health.