Any form of trauma has a significant impact on us. A traumatic episode can be something that happened suddenly – like an accident, a sudden job loss, the loss of a dear family member or friend – or it can be something that happens over a period of time, like significant discomfort, or changes, at home and/or at work. It can happen in particular occupations, over a period of time, where people such as the emergency services, health services and armed forces repeatedly see illness, injury, death and destruction on a daily basis; or it can be triggered by one particular, serious/ tragic event.
What’s traumatic for one person may not be another person’s trauma, but it’s important to recognise and acknowledge it for what it is, as burying it, or “putting a lid on it” can be mentally and potentially physically harmful in the long run.
It’s helpful to understand that there are stages of grief and trauma that everyone goes through and all the evidence suggests that we can’t skip any of the stages.
The first reaction to trauma is one of a temporary numbness, closely followed by disbelief – “How can this have happened?” which can quickly be accompanied by shock and denial.
It’s normal for some people to become quite stuck in this first, “holding on” stage. You keep going over and over everything, often in minute detail, searching for reasons, an explanation of why and how. You start to look for someone to blame – yourself, others who may have contributed to what happened, others who weren’t there, who weren’t part of it. You may feel panic, dread and helplessness.
This is followed by a “letting go” stage – examining possibilities, feeling more positive and hopeful – even if still looking back now and then – before emerging into a final stage of “moving on” – discovering, learning, putting things in place, taking positive steps for yourself and others.
Some people may move through the stages quicker than others, while others can get to a place of exploration and moving on with their lives, only to go back almost to the beginning, going over and over it all again.
Eventually, of course, you usually do come through it practically, but people are often left with the mental effects of trauma for quite some time. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is now a common diagnosis for those who have suffered trauma, but fortunately, it is now recognised that people need help to recover from it and help is available.