As many as 75% of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, and for some it feels impossible to overcome. Yet there is hope beyond trauma, writes Lyn Beasy*.
There may be a time in our life when we encounter a traumatic experience that threatens the life or safety of ourselves or others. When these extreme and distressing events occur, strong psychological reactions are common, such as feeling fear, sadness, anger and grief—part of our natural human response to danger.
Witnessing a distressing event can lead to severe feelings of fear and anguish that stay with us for a long time. These feelings start to interfere with our lives, stop us doing things and severely affect our relationships with those around us. In time those intense feelings and distress fade as we make sense of what has happened. For some people, though, the distress continues and there seems to be no end to their suffering.
This is a psychological disorder that can result from experiencing trauma. It is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it occurs when the symptoms that usually subside after a few weeks continue to be distressing.
A person’s life is severely affected by a range of symptoms such as recurrent nightmares and memories of the event, negative changes in thinking and mood, feeling distressed and on edge, and avoiding certain people, places, sights or sounds that are reminders of the event.
Fortunately, there are many effective therapies to enable people to recover from trauma, and having a supportive family can also assist in the recovery process. If you feel that you or someone you know may be experiencing PTSD you should seek the help of a health professional.
In time, many people who survive trauma develop the resilience to bounce back and return to life as they knew it. Some go further, moving on to what is termed ‘post traumatic growth’, meaning they not only recover but the recovery results in positive change in a person.
These people tend to develop a greater appreciation for life, discover new personal strengths and a renewed focus on helping others. They develop a new understanding of themselves and the world. Having experienced a trauma can send a person down a pathway they would never have otherwise considered or believed possible.
People are able to discover inner strengths they didn’t know were there, believing if they were able to live through their traumatic experience they can face anything. Often this new awareness coincides with developing closer and more meaningful relationships and a deeper connection to others who have also experienced suffering.
Some people can also experience an awakening or deepening of their spiritual life and existing limiting beliefs can be challenged to grow as they integrate their experiences into new and positive beliefs. All these things are transformative and have a positive impact on someone’s life and their relationships with others.
While experiencing a traumatic event comes with a great deal of suffering, there is hope that with support and effective solutions people can discover more effective ways to manage their distressing emotions and to integrate their experience into their life in a more transformative way.
By considering the potential for post traumatic growth we change our view of trauma from only being damaging to becoming an opportunity to become wiser, more compassionate and stronger people.
*Lyn Beasy is a psychologist at the Wellbeing Clinic in Caringbah, Sydney.