Articles & Information
A great informative little video by Peter Levine on how trauma is held in the body. Dr. Levine is a leader in the field of Somatic healing for trauma. He is the author of "In An Unspoken Voice", among others.
A brief look at what can happen in the brain during a traumatic event. A victim could potentially also remain stuck in flight or fight response depending on the circumstance.
Distinction between grief and trauma. In the case of a traumatic death, it is not uncommon for a survivor to suffer from them both
An excellent and easy to understand video on trauma and the brain.
A few thoughts from Michele on the experience of the shattered worldview of the trauma survivor. This seems particularly prevalent with sufferers of blunt force psychological trauma.
Trauma and The Shattered World View
Throughout the course of our lives we shape a world view from our upbringing, our culture, our spiritual beliefs, education and social interaction. There are always two parts to the world view we create. We unwittingly develop a personal theory of reality that includes the self and the world. It is how we see the world and how we are able to make sense of it. I call this our windshield. Unfortunately, our windshield is seldom a true reflection of reality. In order to protect that which we have manufactured to keep ourselves safe, and to make sense of the world, we develop ideologies to support the sustaining of our windshield of reality. The most predominant of these is the theory that if you believe it, it is “your truth” and therefore valid.
In western culture, we develop some very basic and common world views, about ourselves and the world around us. Bear in mind that world views are a serious matter, they are our unconscious sense of what life actually means. We, in western culture, generally speaking, believe that the world is benevolent. That people are by and large good and so our overall world is good. We believe the world is benevolent because we see our own limited world and experience as benevolent. People remain optimistic even in the face of grave evil. Sincerely believing that even a serial murderer would have the heart to give you a drink of water before cutting your throat.
We believe the world is meaningful because we believe there is a relationship between a person and what happens to that person. Random acts do not compute to us. Therefore, bad things must happen to bad people for a reason and good things happen to good people. For example, if someone has a car accident, we may think, if he had been a better driver this wouldn't have happened. Or if a woman gets raped, in the back of our minds may be, well, she put herself in a precarious position or this wouldn't have happened. To believe otherwise, directly attacks our sense of safety, control and power. Therefore, random events cannot exist for us. We will inevitably wonder “what did you do to cause this”? Cause and effect worldview is a common thread in western culture. Explaining the “why” of events are social constructs that evoke our sense of justice and control. This enables us to believe that misfortune is not random or haphazard. Randomness denies our sense of meaningfulness.
In addition we perceive ourselves as good, capable and moral individuals. With very few exceptions, people evaluate themselves very positively. Studies show that people evaluate themselves overall on the positive end of the scale, reporting themselves as better than others and certainly better than average. This is evident even within the prison system. Self esteem is intrinsically tied to our emotions, it clearly feels good to believe we are decent, moral people who live in a meaningful, benevolent world.
And then comes a traumatic experience. A blow to the psyche so great it overwhelms the ability to cope. A blow so great it cannot be made sense of. It is as if an invisible hand threw a very big rock and shattered that world view into a million pieces. Everything the person is, all that they believed, that which they clung to, shattered. It is no more. They are experiencing the world with a rawness that goes beyond comprehension and have lost that which they built to protect themselves from it. The world is no longer a safe place for the trauma sufferer, people are no longer good, and their experience is no longer one of benevolence. Trauma is the lens by which we get a glimpse of the dark side of life. An experience the world rarely understands, leaving the trauma sufferer labeled and alone.
It is sort of like this: Imagine you and five other people are sent to the Arctic to guage the effects of the cold on humans. When you get there everyone else dons all their arctic clothing and gear and go outside. You walk out naked. A moment later, you are screaming that you have to go in you are freezing to death. Can't the others see how cold it is? The others are looking at you and saying “wow, it's cold but really it isn't all that cold”. Who, in the long run, has a more accurate view of the cold and it's effects? It is nearly impossible for those who are still seeing through their own windshield to step into the world of the trauma sufferer. It flies in the face of all they are and their sense of control and security and safety.
The trauma sufferer needs to form a new windshield. They need to find a new benevolence, meaning and self worth. The old world view causes self blame, destroyed sense of safety and loss of meaning. The journey through trauma is long and hard but as the inner atitude turns from fear to fight, when self blame turns to service, the survivor starts to find benevolence in the very events that caused the shattering to begin with. Our motivations change, old illusions are dead and gone and a new windshield begins to form. This can only happen when healing is based on truth.
The world would often rather victim blame, it exempts them from helping and allows them to maintain their illusions. Blaming the victim allows us to render a verdict on ourselves of “not guilty.” Cause and effect world views are designed to help us feel good about ourselves. The trauma sufferer has been left with no choices. How that windshield is restored is everything when it comes to the health of someone who has suffered a traumatic experience.
It is armed with the truth that will drive a survivor to walk back into that dark and burnt out world, again and again, to extend their hand to someone else held captive in a world of illusion. The trauma sufferer learns that bad things can happen to good people.
(Based in part on Shattered Assumptions by Ronnie Janoff-Bulman)