An epidemic of trauma
The COVID-19 Pandemic and Trauma
Trauma has never before been so widespread, and so openly discussed. However, there is a lot more knowledge to be shared and learned. Organizations like the Veterans Administration and Beauty After Bruises are fantastic resources actively promoting awareness and working to increase access to services.
Incredibly, nearly everyone alive at this time is experiencing trauma on some level due to the extensive nature of the pandemic. A key definition of trauma is when a person sees the world as a dangerous place.
You don’t have to be a direct victim of violence to experience trauma.
This is a common misconception. If the world feels dangerous to you, there’s a good chance you are living through trauma right now.
Racial Injustice and Trauma
On top of the daily uncertainty of a virulent illness and an unclear future, there is acute distress surrounding anti-racism activism finding its long-overdue voice here in America and around the globe.
The problem of racism is not just a Black problem or a Person of Color problem. It is all of our problem. And, what is happening in America with Black Lives Matter and antiracism efforts to defund the police is attracting the attention– and pain– of caring people around the world. There is a violence and danger that is within our systems meant to protect us, and this, of course, is traumatizing. Particularly for People of Color, but also for anyone who recognizes the dangerous display of power and lack of accountability taking place across the US.
To be Black in America right now is to be in constant threat of danger from not just a virus but active racism and rising police brutality.
To be poor in America right now is to be unable to get access to resources typically available, such as healthcare, jobs, and stable housing.
To be a vulnerable student in a America right now is to not know whether or not your school year will continue, or if your teacher will show up tomorrow if an outbreak occurs.
It’s a lot.
healing trauma from our past
Symptoms of Trauma
Unfortunately, for those of us who have a history of past trauma, the current traumatic experience of living through all of this is magnified. In “normal” life you may have been generally happy and well-adjusted, despite a difficult past. But in the “pandemic world,” you may now be experiencing symptoms of trauma such as:
- Panic attacks
- Increased fears or OCD behaviors
- Social anxiety
On top of increased symptoms of PTSD and trauma, we have less ways to deal with these struggles in a healthy way. Limited opportunities exist outside of our homes, and for many of us, the outside world feels still like a dangerous place. Unhealthy coping skills including numbing with junk food, alcohol, and social media, and others, are dangerously on the rise.
Childhood trauma and abuse, unresolved loss, past painful experiences– we can’t hold onto these pains any longer. Pushing them down beneath the surface (or under the rug) just won’t cut it. Certainly, they will bounce back up to the surface, stirred by all that’s on the news and in our lives every day. So, we’ve got to work through some of these deeper issues, in order to free up mental and emotional space. Then we can better handle all that is going on right now.
Therefore, it is essential to work on healing trauma right now. The current global situation will not change any time soon. Despite your best efforts to cope, your trauma triggers will not suddenly subside, either. Truthfully, I wish this weren’t the case, but it is.
The positive side to this is that change is good. Healing is important. You were meant for more than what you got, and now is the perfect time to address those old wounds and find healing, once and for all.
Post-traumatic growth happens when we allow these uncertain times to shape us into a better version of ourselves. The definition of post traumatic growth is the “experience of individuals whose development, at least in some areas, has surpassed what was present before the struggle with crises occurred. The individual has not only survived, but has experienced changes that are viewed as important, and that go beyond the status quo” (Tedeschi and Calhoun, 2004).
Research suggests that between 30-70% of individuals who experienced trauma also report positive change– and growth–after successfully processing the traumatic experience (Joseph and Butler, 2010). Through healing, we can discover and unlock our fullest potential which might otherwise never be discovered. The pandemic brings us some good things, after all.
Healing Trauma requires the right Environment
One of the first steps in healing trauma is to restore a sense of safety. How can you find that safe environment if you live alone, or still with an abusive family of origin? Or when the news every day triggers intense anxiety and existential dread?
Get Support for Yourself
First, seek professional help from a trauma-informed therapist.
Therapy has never been easier to find, with new online platforms emerging every day. Even insurance is now paying for remote, online teletherapy. Early data shows it is just as effective as in person, and I would argue even more so. With some platforms, messaging is supported between sessions. This allows more work to be done throughout the week, thus speeding up the therapeutic process.
Since many of us have additional time on our hands, we don’t have the old excuses. Walking into a stranger’s office is intimidating; opening up Zoom and putting in ear buds is not. You can read more about what it’s like to work with an online therapist here.
A good therapist will make you feel safe, supported, and cared for immediately. They should offer you freedom to choose how the process will go, and keep you informed from beginning to end about what therapy involves. Good communication, a sense of respect, and an open forum for asking questions are essential for healing trauma wounds.
Take a Break
Secondly, consider turning off the news, decreasing your time on social media, and generally just “taking a break” from the outside world. Yes, it’s important to know what’s going on. Ask a friend or family member to let you know if there’s anything that happens which you should be made aware. You can trust them to do that, and give yourself permission to go dark, for a time.
It’s nearly impossible to establish personal safety if your phone is lighting up all hours of the day and night with upsetting headlines, triggering your darkest fears. There are a lot of bad things going on, but they don’t all require your attention. For now, the focus needs to be on you.
Finally, to further establish a sense of safety, seek out a support system of people who make you feel good. Cut out toxic relationships. Let people know this is you taking care of you; it doesn’t have to be about them. Yes, feelings can get hurt, but it’s time for a mental health break if you are triggered by that certain friend of family member, every time they text. You can agree to talk on a certain day of the week, or a set frequency of contact, if you don’t want to completely go dark. But, please do establish healthy boundaries. You deserve it.
Finding The Real “YOU”
Once you have a better handle on your environment, to where outside forces are less able to get in and add to your difficulties, it’s time to begin the work of healing trauma from your past. It’s a unique and beneficial time to seek therapy. With technology, a therapist is literally just a Zoom call away.
We owe it to ourselves and to our generation and future generations to find out who we would have become if:
- We had not been born into a time when feelings were ignored and problems were shoved “under the rug.”
- We were told it was OK to cry, OK to be confused, OK to be different?
- We had known that all of our feelings are OK and that there is a proper way to be treated with dignity and respect, even when it makes others, such as the adults in our life, uncomfortable? (ie. have boundaries)
- We were taught that safety IS a basic human right, and if we don’t feel safe, we must find a way to establish safety while calling out the persons or systems who failed to protect us? All of these things are our birthright!
Simply because we were denied an ideal upbringing does not mean that we must be forever stunted in our growth. On the contrary, we can use this stuntedness as momentum for change.
We can do this right now by working towards healing our trauma with courage and determination.
Forging Your Path Forward
If you have trauma, this is your path. There is no other. Any other path will only be a diversion and a distraction until one day your trauma will be the biggest roadblock of your life. Then, you will have no choice but to unpack it, brick by brick, to get to the bottom of what it is you are so deliberately and creatively avoiding.
To be a whole person, healing your trauma is required work.Tweet
Common outcomes of unresolved trauma include:
- complex PTSD
- identity & self esteem issues
- creative blocks
- problems in relationships
- unstable emotions
- substance abuse
Our will and the ego’s creative tactics to avoid the pain of our trauma is incredibly remarkable. The ego will stop at nothing to avoid suffering. Ego defense mechanisms serve their purpose well. In many ways, the more intelligent we are, the more effective the coping strategy. Some common defense mechanisms are: overachieving, people pleasing, zoning out/checking out, and perfectionism.
They work well…until they don’t.
Thus, a highly successful adult with a trauma history often employs the most delicate, intricately woven shield around their inner truth. The protective self has created a masterpiece of resilience. Unfortunately, it’s based in denial and untruth. This type of resilience will ultimately not last. To unlock full creative potential, the defenses must be deconstructed and rebuilt from truth (the bottom) up.
How Do I Know If It’s The Right Time For My Trauma Healing?
How do you know if it’s time to “deal with” your trauma? If any part of this article gave you that nervous feeling of… this sounds like me... there’s a good chance the time is now. Feel free to message me or schedule a brief consultation to find out more. Or, read other articles on this site about trauma and Complex PTSD to learn more about whether or not the idea of healing from trauma applies to you.
You can also check out this post about some signs and signals that therapy might be a good idea for you right now (psst: did you know? Therapy doesn’t have to take years, or even months? Sometimes just a few sessions can help a LOT!)
Healing Trauma: It’s For Our Future
This pandemic provides a rare opportunity for widespread psychological and emotional growth. We have the opportunity to take a moment of profound suffering and confusion, deep fear and anxiety, and cultivate it for growth. And even, the evolution of humanity.
If we do this important work of healing our personal and intergenerational trauma, our children (present or future) will have engaged, conscious parents. Healed adults equal whole children. A better future, a better world, is possible.
What a gift to society this can be.
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