“Now is the winter of our discontent,” a speech by Shakespeare in Richard III says it all as we muddle through the beginnings of a third year of this pandemic. This horrendous experience has taken a toll on all of us. David Brooks in his op-ed in the NY Times (America Is Falling Apart at the Seams, NYT, Jan 14, 2022) comments on the current misbehavior of Americans. He describes the angry outbursts noted on commercial airline flights, in retail establishments, as reflected in highway fatalities, suicides and homicide rates or even evident in members of Congress. He identifies the usual suspects including the pandemic, politics, media, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram et al.
I consider myself a well-trained mental health professional and as such an expert on human behavior. These days however, I find myself more and more at a loss pondering the amount of violence and hate visible in our world. This week I attended an interfaith vigil united to protest hate crimes and violence. It was uplifting to share in the community expression of mutual support, love and the need to heal. However, I left feeling that there still were no answers to the existence of such evil.
When a person goes through an overwhelmingly traumatic experience, it is common to dissociate from it if it is too distressing to remember. For example, physical or sexual abuse might trigger detachment, the same way that going through an event such as the recent mass shooting at the Las Vegas concert may cause a survivor to “blank out” the memory that is causing emotional pain. For some individuals, however, their distress is so severe they may not be able to connect with their memories, feelings or even to their own sense of identity. These people likely have Dissociative Identity Disorder.
How much of a part does resilience play when it comes to dealing with emotional or psychological trauma? As it turns out, quite a lot. Resilience is the inner strength that allows you to adapt when you’ve been exposed to trauma or adversity. This characteristic is strengthened by optimism, which is the extent to which people feel positive and encouraged about their future. Studies have shown that those who are resilient and optimistic feel a higher degree of psychological well-being and are able to recover more quickly from disturbing events. These individuals are able to process stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed and can move through them without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse.
Are you in a relationship with a person who thinks they are far superior to you and to everyone around them? Or maybe your parent ran your life, expecting nothing less than excellence from you and being envious of your achievements – so much so that they found a way to make your triumphs all about them. Perhaps you are married to someone who is “difficult” – they demand all your attention, have an inflated ego, and are frequently critical of you because things are always “your fault.” If you have a difficult, selfish, and unemotionally available loved one and feel like you have less self-confidence, have less independence, or have given up your family, friends, hobbies, or a career for this person, you may be dealing with narcissistic abuse.
Emotional trauma or psychological trauma is a reaction to an experience or event that is deeply distressing or disturbing to the individual. Trauma can be the result of things such as going through a natural disaster, being involved in a car accident, living through a major event, such as war or abuse, or having been the victim of a crime. A trauma response will be similar no matter what caused it.
In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely damaging, such as rape or torture.
Trauma can come in many forms. The soldier returning from active duty in a war zone, the child who lives with physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect, the first responder who must deal with human suffering on a daily basis, and the adult who endures domestic abuse all are experiencing trauma. Complex trauma occurs repeatedly and often involves direct harm to the victim. Its effects are cumulative and generally transpire in a specific setting and, frequently, within a particular time frame or within a specific relationship.
The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders is proud to announce the opening of our Trauma Center and Resiliency Program. We provide trauma-informed and specialized outpatient mental health and consultation services to survivors or victims of recent, current or past trauma.