When we lose someone close to us or are involved in a significant stressing event, we experience unusual reactions.It is natural that a stressing event, unusual for everyday life provoke these reactions, mainly if it is an event that would cause significant disturbing symptomatology in most people if exposed to it. So, it is not a sign of weakness or mental illness, even if relatives, friends and colleagues would notice some behavioural changes in the person that suffered trauma. It is important to be aware of this changes for oneself and for the people around us.
Right after trauma, people feel that thoughts regarding the event are less unbearable if they talk about what happened. Talking with other people is perceived as a relief. People can overcome this difficult time by themselves, with the help of their family and friends and return gradually to their normal everyday life. At this point we create the right distance between us and the traumatic event .But some events influence our lives to the extent that to talk with a professional can be a necessary and effective action.
What do we need when we live a traumatic experience?
· Someone to talk to about our thoughts and feelings. To overcome the tough time it is critical to have the support of someone we can count on.
· To keep our everyday routine, i.e. go back to work as soon as possible, even if working capacity will be limited due to tiredness or weakness.
· To be aware that it is normal that reactions and feelings are strong.
· To give oneself time to regain usual strength.
Reactions during and after the event. (These reactions protect from a psychological breakdown):
· A sense of unreality – It changes the sense of time. We can have the perception of being in a film, or in slow motion, the senses are sharpened to make a quick evaluation of danger, looking for escape routes or other solutions. Sorroundings look unreal and irrelevant, like being in a glass case or in the middle of a nightmare.
· Physical reactions – It is normal to have a fast heart beat and a sense of nausea. One can feel hot or cold, or afraid of being alone and to have a need for closeness, support and practical help.
Some reactions in the following days and weeks
· Intrusive thoughts – Thoughts, memories and images regarding the event arrive automatically. They arrive mainly in relaxed states, i.e. before sleep and are followed by a feeling of discomfort.
· Sleeping problems – Sleep is often light and the person keeps waking up. It is also frequent to have nightmares and dreams about the event.
Association with other stimuli – It is common that some environmental stimuli, people or situations automatically recall the event. This is due to the fact that the event is associated to other factors and these ones provoke by themselves discomfort and anxiety. Obviouly, the stimuli by itself, if it would not be associated to the traumatic event, would not create any disturbance.
Concentration difficulties – Poor concentration in activities like reading, watching a movie, and so on.
Psychical reactions – Trouble with stomach and a sense of nausea. It is common to feel very tired even if there is low activity.
Despair – It is difficult to accept the event and the present situation and to think of the future in an adaptive way.
Guilt – The guilt feeling is frequently associated to the fact of being a survivor when someone else has died or has been seriously and/or permanently injured. There is a tendency to feel faulty for not having done enough. It is common to repeat: "If I had only….".
Vulnerability – Fear of the future, impatience and irritability within the family. Some people become indifferent towards things/activities that before used to be important for them. This factor sometimes provokes misunderstandings with other people and in this way new difficulties arise.
The meaning of life – People continually think of the event to try to udnerstand it. Sometimes some beliefs about the reason of the event and of the closeness of life and death are very common. The belief of our own invulnerability desappears. Everything becomes uncertain, mainly if and when an accident occurs again.
Duration ot these reactions is different in different individuals. For some the situation is normalized again after a few weeks. For others it may last longer.
Children and trauma
EMDR conceives pathology as information stored in non functional way, mainly if regards experiences in the first years of life. Negative and traumatic experiences in childhood are generally present in a diffuse, underevaluated way and become a primary source of discomfort. Any experience where the child feels oppression, fear, grief, together to a feeling of impotence can be considered a childhood trauma. This is due to the fact that children are impressionable and their level of experience is not such to have a balanced view of life and of themselves. They have the tendency to trust adults, mainly the parents that have a significant credibility to their eyes. So, if the adult does or says something negative or serious the child gives the responsability to himself, not to the adult’s problems.
Children experience grief in the same way as adults when they are exposed to serious events as the death of a relative or illness or violence. Obviously children feel shock, anxiety and emotions such as anger, guilt, sadness and a sense of impotence.
Their capacity to feel grief is often underestimated. Probably this is due to the fact that they express themselves in different ways than adults. Also, in our culture we have the tendency to protect children from suffering and grief.
Independently if children were directly involved in the event, they will realize that something serious has happened. If we do not give them information or we tell them only one part of the event, this means to leave the child to his own fantasies, thoughts, imagination and questions without answers, with all the uncertainty that this provokes.Often their fantasies are worse than reality, fantasies can provoke a feeling of anxiety and terror, that can leave permanent marks in the form of physical and psychological vulnerability.
How children express their emotions
Reactions are different, according to their age and emotional importance of the event, loss or violence. Chldren have difficulties in verbalizing their emotions. Emotions often are expressed by restlessness, sleeping problems, fear of darkness, nightmares and fear of being abandoned. They can also complain of physical symptoms as headaches and stomach pains. When the child bursts into tears or becomes very sad apparently without a motive, it could mean that they are struggling with grief and that they need help.
How to help children
The easiest way is to give them clear messages, open and honest information regarding what happened, what is happening or what will happen. Explanations must consider the age of the child.Parents are the best persons to inform and prepare the child, if this is not possible then someone that the child trusts and knows well must communicate with him. Time and a peaceful place must be found to be able to talk to the child. The adult must listen to the child’s questions and answer honestly, accepting and respecting the child’s reactions.Sometimes to consult a clinician can be critical, specially if the people with which the child lives is not able to help him. The therapeutical intervention is often brief and it is important not only to solve the emotional problem but also as prevention of future difficulties.