What is a traumatic event and how can it affect you?
If, like me, you live in South Africa, then you are probably surrounded by trauma all the time – a hijacking down the road, a cash-in-transit heist on your way to work, a robbery at your local supermarket. I think as South Africans we are overloaded with news about violent crime to the point where we are actually pretty numb to it. But just because its commonplace, does not mean that it’s ‘normal’. And because it falls outside of the scope of ‘normal’, it will have an impact on you in some way or another.
A traumatic event is one that happens outside of what is considered to be a ‘normal’ experience. What is a ‘normal’ experience you may ask? Well, it’s one that happens during the course of life. Examples would be losing a job, getting divorced, moving house and moving abroad, personal injury, ailing health of a family member and the like. Are these events stressful? Most certainly. Do people often seek out professional help to work through these situations? Yes, they do. But these events are not considered to be a trauma.
What is considered to be a traumatic event is an occurrence where someone’s life was in danger or threatened or they were at risk of serious injury. Examples of traumatic events are car accidents, rape, murder, hijacking, abuse, suicide and armed robberies etc.
No matter whether you were directly involved in the traumatic event, witnessed it or whether someone close to you like a spouse, child, sibling or parent was involved, the shock and feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming.
Typically, traumatic events often make us feel a range of emotions. While the emotions will depend on the nature of the event and the individual, those who have been through a traumatic experience commonly report feelings of being confused, sad, angry, scared, helpless and vulnerable, among others.
So how could a traumatic event have a lasting effect you or your life? There are a number of ways in which trauma impacts people and their day to day life. Some examples include:
Bad dreams which lead to poor sleep
Flashbacks to the event that leave a person emotionally shaken. These happen unexpectedly.
Loss of interest in their life, a general feeling of apathy
Feeling angry and experiencing explosive reactions (over reacting to events)
Living in a high state of anxiety, feeling nervous all the time, waiting for something bad to happen again (the attackers to come back etc)
Easily frightened – when you hit the decks every time a door slams or a balloon pops.
People may also have physical reactions to traumatic events like loss of appetite and nausea.
Experiencing these symptoms is a normal part of going through a traumatic experience. BUT, this really shouldn’t go on for longer than a month, give or take, after the event. Any longer than that, and you are heading into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) territory. If people don’t get the adequate help for their PTSD, it can evolve into much more serious emotional disorders. This includes depression, suicidal ideations, severe strain and breakdown in relationships, deep seated feelings of helplessness, shame, and guilt which often lead to social isolation, among other things.
People who suffer from PTSD often feel detached from themselves and their thoughts.
Seeking professional help after a trauma is essential to helping prevent the onset of PTSD. Working with a professional can help you to overcome these normal but unsettling reactions to the event, find workable strategies to minimise the anxiety, fear, poor sleep and other symptoms and enable you to take back control of your life.
If you know of someone who has experienced a trauma, please encourage them to seek help if they have not already done so.
© Michelle Funke Coaching 2016