What do you do when something bad happens in your life?
Strive to brush it off? Get over it, and press on? This is the most common response because that’s just what strong, resilient, successful people do right?
This “get over it” mindset might be appropriate while playing a sport or when performing on stage. However, it’s far from healthy when quickly dispensed as the remedy for “getting over” traumatic times.
We’ve been taught to minimize and disconnect ourselves from our natural human experience…
Sadly, we expect each other and ourselves to “get over it” and back to work and productivity as quickly as possible…
… after major surgeries, illnesses, deaths, and births – even complicated and traumatic birthing experiences.
As a collective we just don’t do well with difficult feelings and discomfort. So “get over it” has become our go-to response…
Brushing it off, getting over it, pressing on is one choice, and for some, but it can cause more long-term harm than help.
We’re in such a hurry to rid ourselves of pain and struggle, yours and mine, that we end up holding on to it longer when we bypass it.
Quick side note… For the record, I don’t really want to be writing about trauma. But, today as I was looking for a statistic on trauma I landed on an article about PTSD that hit my core.
As I read, my heart ached in recognition of how I’ve lived most of my life with an unresolved trauma that influenced my sense of safety and self perception for. To make purpose of that painful awareness I decided to write this to give voice to what I’ve learned. And, I will continue to write and speak of these sensitive topics with the hope of helping others.
Read on for the following:
- How we generally communicate about trauma and how it can inhibit healing.
- What can happen when trauma is unresolved.
- Four things to consider based on my experience with delayed onset complicated PTSD from unresolved trauma.
- Four ways we can show up for each other to navigate these turbulent trauma-filled times.
So what’s happening when we talk about trauma?
Discussing trauma is raw and can be uncomfortable.
We’re not really taught to listen and hold space. We’re talkers and fixers.
In our attempt to manage the uneasy feelings that come with painful or overwhelming information, two reactions are the most common responses.
Let’s take a closer look.
1. We race to say something or do something that makes the discomfort go away, the sooner the better.
We have quick “make it better” responses inadvertently bypassing the impact of death, loss, and trauma…
“At least they are in a better place now.”
“At least you have another child.”
“At least you’re still alive.”
“Why didn’t you tell someone.”
“It could always be worse.”
“It’s time to move on.”
The list and variations goes on.
2. We say nothing because it’s so uncomfortable.
We freeze, and don’t know what to say. We feel awkward as we scan potential responses, none feel right so we avoid it. We are silent to the elephant in the room, acting as if it is not there.
Both tactics are not helpful, can be hurtful and even harmful.
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable and it’s okay to not know what to say.
So what’s an alternative?
Directly acknowledge the disclosure, empathize, and keep it simple, “that sounds so painful. I am so sorry.”
Be honest, “I’m not sure what to say. I am here and you are not alone.“
When trauma is not acknowledged, we dismiss the realities of the impact.
This inadvertently discourages many from recognizing that getting appropriate professional help to integrate what has happened is a healthy step.
An unresolved trauma is similar to an untreated wound…
It will fester expand and turn into an infection, more difficult to treat than the original injury were it attended to right away.
I know this is true.
At 15 I experienced an incredibly traumatic event. My young mind attempted to brush it off, get over it and press on. This did not work.
My mind worked like a warrior to keep that traumatic memory at bay, attempting to “be productive” and “press on.”. In the meantime, the trauma grew roots, distorting my sense of safety and my self-perception and inhibiting my ability to experience intimacy.
In my 50’s I experienced another trauma that blew the doors right off of that unresolved Pandora’s Box.
I found myself living in a tsunami so intense it would take me a year to idenitfy I needed help.
The tsunami had a medical name, delayed-onset complicated PTSD.
After living in the grip of unresolved trauma for 30 plus years, here’s what I have to say about surviving trauma…
- Take action.
- Get support, find help – for yourself or the person you know who has been traumatized.
- Don’t wait.
- Don’t brush it off, don’t expect to get over it, and don’t dig deep to press on without assessing the need for professional help.
There are consequence when we don’t identify if support is required to integrate the trauma…
“BRUSHING IT OFF” can turn into compartmentalization.
“GETTING OVER IT” and can translate to avoidance.
“PRESSING ON” can ignite disassociation.
For many, PTSD will be the outcome. And trust me, you DO NOT want this for yourself or anyone that you care about.
Living life with an ever-present undercurrent of threat, a heightened fight-flight-freeze response, and all of the thought and perception distortions that come with that unresolved trauma memory are exhausting, painful, potentially debilitating, and downright scary at times.
How can we deal with pain and trauma differently?
Pain, trauma, grief, and anguish are all part of being human.
In these times of turbulence and pandemic in our country and world, trauma is at an all-time high.
Instead of bypassing our feelings and responses, let’s face them and normalize the human experience.
It’s powerful and liberating to go “through it” to integrate the trauma and heal…
1. Please, educate yourself. Learn about the signs and symptoms of trauma and also about treatment and resource options. Trauma is everywhere, it’s a valuable education. Read this article by the National Institute on Mental Health, it’s simple clear, and informative. In fact, it motivated this writing. The descriptions reminded me of just how much I suffered without having access to mental health support. I have reclaimed my life after 30+ years of struggle. I write so others can avoid that by learning and getting help now.
2. Check-in on your friends and family.
Isolation, irritation, anxiety, and depression are a few symptoms of trauma, all so easy to take personally. Let’s educate ourselves and each other, so we know the signs and can navigate with clarity… together we are stronger. Gently express any concern and share what you’ve learned about trauma, it just may save years of suffering for someone you know.
3. Practice compassion.
Compassion for yourself and each other. Every single person is going through something right now. Be the person that you’d like to encounter during a difficult moment in your life. Take a deep breath and pause before acting and reacting. Make room in your heart to meet people where they are in the moment knowing you may not be aware of the struggles they face.
4. Make space and safety for talking about thoughts and feelings.
Be a brave listener, allow yourself to hold space to hear, especially when it’s uncomfortable. Be a courageous sharer, speak your truth it can soften your pain. And, get mental health support if you need it.
Now is the time to recognize that getting mental health support IS taking care of your body.
It’s the same as getting physical therapy for an injured muscle or treatment for a broken bone.
Life does indeed keep moving on BUT, we can make our way through it all in a healthy freeing way by facing trauma instead of “getting over it and pressing on.”
Let’s help each other be as healthy as possible during these difficult times.
Let’s be the kind of supportive friends, family, and neighbors who see each other and take care of each other.
Need help now? Call the Access & Crisis Line, San Diego (888) 724-7240, 24 hrs / 7 days a week for assistance and mental health referrals. Or, Dial 911 for immediate help.
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