Dealing with Trauma

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Disha Gupta


All of us have experienced trauma in some form or the other in different stages in life. It hits us all and how we cope with it can shape our emotional balance. Trauma is an emotional response to traumatic events in one’s life. Trauma can reshape your thought process and decision making and impact both your conscious and subconscious brain.




About 6% of women report being raped or sexually assaulted globally, 6% of 7 billion people! That is 42 crore, women! About 4 of every 1000 couples end up getting divorced, can you imagine how many kids this leaves traumatised. Other than that people can also be traumatised after serving in a war, losing a loved one, exposure to violence, abuse and abandonment. Such is the effect of trauma that the brain activity of a child who sees regular violence at home is similar to the brain activity of a child stuck in a war-stricken area. The memory of the trauma lingers on long after the event has passed and can shape our very psyche.




When we are hit by trauma, we usually go through three stages:-




The first stage is Denial. At first, we put a curtain on those memories in hope of forgetting them, but trauma only turns your memory into a tape recording, as clear as day. You cannot put a dead body in the fridge and deny the dead, its rotting smell will remind you every day of its presence, the only way to get rid of it in a real sense is to perform all the last rites and rituals. You will still know that there was a dead person who departed but without the rotting smell. Dead here is a metaphor for your trauma and the last rites are therapy. Therapy is the best way to look at your problem for what it is and treat it.




The next phase is Self-Blame. Blaming yourself for not having acted a certain way, or not having said what was necessary, or for not having stood up for yourself are common thoughts at this stage. This can even get you stuck in a loop, for example, there was a woman who has a history of childhood sexual abuse, later on in life she got into a toxic relationship with a man who was very abusive of her body during intercourse, and she chose to go back to him again and again. Her therapists realized she did it in order to gain more control over the outcome or to get a different outcome. You can fail to acknowledge your trauma because you sometimes think that you’re making it up for attention, but if it hurts you, you need to treat it.




Then comes the final stage of Acknowledgement:- Gautama the Buddha was once sitting under a tree, meditating, and he eavesdropped on a conversation between a teacher and his apprentice. The student was playing a stringed instrument with a really light touch, and no sound was being produced, to mend it he played it with such immense pressure the next time that the string broke, upon this, the teacher said, “you need to maintain a balance to ensure melodious sound is produced from your instrument, if you put too much pressure, it will break but if you completely lose stress, it won’t produce the aspired sound.”




That is how Gautama the Buddha came up with an ideal way of life, away from the two extremes. You need to do it too, neither give complete control to your emotions nor deny them. Mindfully acknowledge and treat it, monitor what reasons influence your decision making, which comes from knowing your ‘Trauma Responses’.




Trauma Responses are of different types. For instance, let’s take war veterans. There was an ice bucket experiment carried out on Vietnam war veterans, they were told to watch two movies while their hands were put in ice buckets, one movie was a soft, emotional movie and the other was violent, war-related. They were able to keep their hands in the ice bucket for longer while watching the violent movie as they were more comfortable while watching it, they released more serotonin while watching it which numbed the pain. It tells us that you can sometimes start finding pleasure in pain. Another example is of a woman who was in an abusive marriage, and she was told by her therapist that coloring her hair again and again was her trauma response because that was the only thing whose outcome she could control every time and the only thing that she had complete control over. Your trauma responses are shaped by your experiences, and you need a lot of introspection and self-monitoring to find and treat them.




Some common trauma responses are, over-independence, being stuck in a loop, OCD, overreading people’s expressions constantly, seeking validation, eating disorders,  insomnia, people-pleasing, hypersexual behaviour, etc. The best way out is to seek Therapy.




If you fail to acknowledge your problems, in the long run, you can get yourself caught in a loop of generational trauma by passing it on to the next generation. So, identify it within yourself, if it exists and then consciously try to remove its effects. Only then will you be free from its long-term impact. Keep that in mind and remember that you are always only one decision away from a completely different life.




(Disha Gupta is studying English Honours at Delhi University. A writer and social media activist, she has her podcast on mental health and self-help and works with helping teenagers and others.)