Originating in Greek, the word trauma literally meant ‘wound’. I would have thought this meaning of trauma, discovered in the late 17th century, would have been used more in the past than today. I was wrong. The word trauma has been used more often in our era than any other. In the last century, trauma evolved into a “psychic wound, unpleasant experience which causes abnormal stress.” Since then words to describe trauma can include; Agony, Anguish, Suffering, Shock, Stress, Confusion…sounds traumatic to me.
So if we experience trauma more often than not in a psychological, mental or spiritual sense, what happens when we react to trauma? Is it seen as a normal reaction to a distressing experience? Are the behaviours we experience during and following trauma instead viewed as symptoms of mental illness, an underlying disorder or cause for concern?
Imagine you experienced a traumatic accident. Imagine after this accident you to no longer feel safe and secure. Since then you’ve found yourself isolated, acting out on occasion and feeling down more often than up…would you consider these normal or abnormal reactions to the initial emergency? What if they happened all at once?
I was once introduced to an older adult who experienced multiple traumas from one accident. Our visits often began with a lot of tears, some anger and a small smile…Then reflection, curiosity and joy. As time grew, we built a connection so strong that her barriers began to fall down. From frustration to wit, fear to vitality, she found her way through her trauma and into the life she had imagined for herself. Another trauma hits and this time it was no accident, now what? When we ignore possibilities for peace and movement, we hold people back. When we judge another’s experience with trauma, we discourage room for growth. When we perceive normal responses to traumatic situations as abnormal and to be solved, we confine others within our constructed boxes. Despite the roadblocks, she thrived against opposition.
What I am certain about trauma is that it takes time. It takes on different meanings, perceptions and behaviours. It manifests in a different way for each of us, each time. Our personal responses to traumatic events are normal reactions to abnormal events. When we feel hurt, sorrow, disappointment, pain, shock, stress…we are reacting to events than are more often than not, irregular in our lives. These events are traumatic because of they are emotionally disturbing or distressing FOR US. Our reactions depend on who we are, what we are accustomed to, how we cope with difficulty and the specifics of the event. Our reactions to challenges are our individual expression of how we feel.
What our reactions to trauma shouldn’t depend on is the perception from others that OUR responses to OUR experiences of OUR situations are simply symptoms of an undiagnosed mental illness, of a deeper issue.
In what world do we get to say, “Yes, I have been wounded. Yes, this is how I express myself during a challenging experience. Yes I intend on moving through this.” In what world do our responses to grief, loss and suffering act as further barriers, appearing to others as ‘symptoms’ of what lays under the water’s surface…As though we are all icebergs, waiting for our next ship. In what world do we live in, in what world brings us peace and movement?
This world accepts our reactions as our own, normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.
We can choose to live in this world when we Value Vitality in Canadian Care.