Trauma

**Warning: This content may be emotionally triggering.

Before the seventies, “trauma” was something familiar to people working in emergency wards. Then came the fallout from the Vietnam war and all of a sudden we began to realise that minds and emotions could be as badly wounded as bodies. If you don’t know much about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it might be worth doing a bit of reading. You’ll be shocked at how widespread this disorder is. There are times and places where symptoms of trauma seem to be more the norm than the exception!

Put simply, trauma is what happens when you’re overwhelmed by a violent or threatening situation. There’s wiki links to PTSD and psychological trauma that may be of interest, but they seem to be cold, clinical and focussed on the diagnostic criteria. If you do have a read of the entry on psychological trauma, you’ll notice that they include childhood events. That’s important to keep in mind as we discuss Anglo culture and advertising. Really.

When a person is in a situation where their sense of self is violated, they may experience an overwhelming emotional reaction. Their perception of the world they live in is altered and damaged. Their feelings of safety and trust are wrecked. Trauma is something we tend to associate with War veterans, but it is felt potentially by every human being who been threatened or overwhelmed. This includes victims of crime, assault and domestic violence. It includes children who grow up with abuse or violence.

There’s a similar disorder in the case of abuse survivors or adopted children, known as Borderline Personality Disorder. The symptoms can be very similar to PTSD: intrusive memories, hyper-vigilance, sleep disturbance and also include difficulty establishing long term relationships. Back in the day there was only neurosis or psychosis (before we realised how many different ways people can be screwed up) and the Borderline comes from the border between the two. It would probably be better described as childhood trauma and relationship disorder. Basically it develops not from one experience of trauma as an adult, but repeated experiences as a child. It is so common among adopted children that since the 50’s borderline and bi-polar depression have been referred to as “the adoption syndrome”. Curiously, no one tells adoptive parents this.

There is a kind of “window of opportunity” after an experience of trauma, when counselling can help a person make sense of what’s happened to them so that they might avoid long term emotional effects. That’s why you sometimes encounter mention of “victims later underwent counselling”. If someone isn’t able to rationalise the trauma, or if the experiences are ongoing, they may develop the symptoms that we think of as PTSD.

Of course, if they are unaware that what they’re living with is traumatic, they may not ever seek counselling and they might even live with symptoms of sleep disturbance, aggression, hyper-vigilance (being jumpy) and intrusive memories, without realising that they’re harmed by what they’ve lived through. In the decades after the Vietnam war, psychologists began asking why some 20% of the population living in the suburbs are experiencing symptoms like those of soldiers returning from tours of duty in war zones. When you consider that some 25% of families in Australia live with domestic violence, that becomes a little clearer, if not a great deal sadder.

Another thing we’ve learned from those poor bastard guinea-pigs who fought in Vietnam (on both sides!) is that a person may be traumatised by exposure to somebody else’s experiences. This was first noticed with psychologists and counsellors who were trying to treat Vietnam veterans. Then it was realised that the partners and children of veterans were affected.

Consider this: If someone who has training and experience to counsel a person, who has the professional support of other doctors, can be traumatised by listening to the stories of a trauma victim, how much more could a person without such support, education and experience be affected? Such questions begin to reveal a really big picture.

As with the discussion of personal boundaries, this picture looks big and scary when you start to realise just how common it is and how entrenched it is in Western Anglo culture. But the reason for looking at the big scary stuff is so we can filter or buffer it a bit, so that we understand what we’re dealing with when we embark on a self development program or try to make constructive changes in our lives. This looking at the big scary stuff is not to put you off, rather it’s to let you know that its okay if you feel like you’re swimming upstream or have periods where you seem to be getting nowhere. Living in peaceful well-being can feel like abnormality in comparison to all this insanity, stress and trauma.

Looking at just how screwed up the culture might be is also justification for you feeling like something needs changing. How often have you heard people discussing things like spanking children, and some person will say something like “I got belted as a kid and it never did me any harm”? Occasionally that backfires when the person saying it has a broken marriage, works 80 hours a week and can’t sleep… What were we saying about dysfunction masquerading as success?

Another aspect to all this revelation is the media messages. As mentioned, you hear about trauma victims recieving counselling, but at the same time you hear people being told not to “play the victim”. That is a hideously destructive, damaging attitude. It is nasty, malicious and bullying. It is absolutely unnecessary and does a lot more harm than good!

Keep in mind that although the corporate media likes to act like its on a moral high horse and can shriek about teenage violence and hoons, they actually profit from such social disorder and in fact contribute to it. One of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re trying to make positive changes, is to limit your exposure to the media and advertising. Partly because its possible to be vicariously traumatised by the stories of violence and harm in the media, partly because of the emotional button pushing and partly because they make stress, dysfunction and abuse look like the norm in society.

One Response to Trauma

  1. Pingback: Laura Norder #2 | Sanity * Sustainability

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