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How Trauma can Turn Your Life Upside Down

Woman Crying

In Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s classic book “The Body Keeps the Score,” he issues a memorable line on what trauma can do to human beings’ lives.

           The statement was, “trauma can turn the whole world into a gathering of aliens.” This phrase was related to his extensive job experience as a psychiatrist who worked with patients who had PTSD.

           Initially, this diagnosis was specific to soldiers who dealt with significant stress on the battlefield and had difficulty adjusting to regular life back at home.

           Over time, it became clear that other individuals who lived through horrible situations faced similar challenges in maintaining a normal life after dealing with traumatic events. The triggering acts ranged from horrific car accidents to long-term sexual abuse and other distressing incidents.

           It was apparent that for many individuals, once something disturbing happens, especially early in life, it can alter the trajectory of one’s existence.

           Each decision after coping with trauma can take you further away from the previous mean.   Whatever the average response was before now changes to something completely different and usually does not go in a positive direction.

           Dr. Kolk made an intriguing point regarding his experience working with soldiers with PTSD.

           He mentioned that many soldiers don’t suffer PTSD from witnessing events but due to what they did in the war. It becomes challenging for individuals to forgive themselves for committing certain acts, survive the war, and then return home to work a 9-to-5 job.

           In the book, Dr. Kolk mentions a traumatic story from a Vietnam veteran he worked with for years.

           This particular soldier had been in Vietnam with his unit. During a patrol, his crew got ambushed, and enemy combatants killed many of his peers. Enraged the following day, getting revenge was his top priority. I won’t state specifically what happened next, but he did things that he could not easily forgive himself for later in life.

           Excessive alcohol use became his way to numb his sensibilities to try to function back in the civilian sector.

           The veteran could not maintain a functioning life for long before having an explosive episode of alcohol use. The experiences this man had in Vietnam made everyday life feel foreign. His mind stayed on things he did in that conflict and could not make sense of living in the present.

           Trauma’s effect on the human brain can lead to pronounced behavioral concerns in the long term.

           Some telling signs of those who endured disturbing occurrences are substance use issues, frayed relationships, and difficulty maintaining employment. The ability to engage with people in healthy, functioning relationships becomes tough.

           I once dealt with a family who seemed to come from difficult circumstances.

           I never communicated substantially with these people, but I could tell from their reactions that they had an “alien” approach to strangers. Waving at the children as they returned from school was met with a blank stare.

           A respectful gesture from me was an act of aggression to them.

           The behaviors demonstrated by the men, women, and children within this family made staying around them impossible. Another aspect of trauma is that it can make you dangerous to yourself and others.

           The red flags mentioned in this article should remind us all.

           Life will happen to each one of us. Something horrible might have happened to us in childhood long before we had control over our environment. Or, things hit us later on down the road.

           Either way, seeking help for what ails us becomes our responsibility.

           I am in no way suggesting that this reality is easy to confront. However, not doing anything becomes more painful than change. The outcomes of unaddressed trauma are generally some of the terrible things we read about in the paper or online news.

           It is imperative our lives do not also become one of those tragic stories.

           Dr. Kolk mentioned many techniques for those who experienced trauma besides talk therapy and medications. Mindfulness, biofeedback, martial arts, and many other methods can assist people with painful histories.

           For those who deal with difficulties early in life, Dr. Kolk mentions that it usually takes therapy and other alternative methods to address the issue adequately.

           The vital fact remains that help exists for those who have faced challenging situations. One does not need to try to do this alone; there are professionals who can assist with your recovery. The hope becomes that those in need seek assistance before crossing the point of no return.

Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team-development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!

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