An eight-page pamphlet on trauma reactions made for some interesting reading this week. It’s fascinating how different things sink in at different times. What stood out for me tonight as somewhat reassuring was the definition of post traumatic stress as the ‘normal reactions of normal people to events which for them are unusual or abnormal,’ noting that ‘people do not expect to face sudden shock or trauma such as a gunman shouting or screaming at them, or being threatened or beaten up by robbers.’
Of the many possible reactions listed in the pamphlet, a handful ring true for me in this third week.
‘We tend to think that life is fairly safe and secure. We live our lives as optimists in the false belief that we will live for many years and that harm or danger will not touch us. When we are suddenly confronted by a life threatening event our safe world collapses and is turned upside down, resulting in confusion and fear. We discover that life is not secure or safe, but rather, uncertain and out of our control. These experiences can cause intense fear and anxiety as well as the loss of security and confidence in ourselves, others or life in general.
Exposure to a traumatic event can change an individual’s views, beliefs and perspective of the world dramatically. When one has faced death suddenly people and things that were important become trivial, insignificant and unnecessary. Life takes on another meaning.
Trauma victims often experience difficult in controlling their emotions and feel as if their lives are out of control. Some will feel that life has lost its meaning and ask, “Why bother? Why go on?”
Images of the event often flash into people’s minds. They may see faces, bodies and even experience smells and sounds which remind them of the event.
One of the most common reactions experienced after a traumatic event is nightmares and sleeplessness. This occurs because one’s natural defences are relaxed when one is asleep. Dreams can be anything from mildly disturbing to extremely frightening and can cause people to waken in a cold or hot sweat, sometimes shouting and wondering where they are.
Anger is very common and a natural reaction to trauma and loss. It can be directed at anyone, oneself included. Bitterness is also common and there can be a deep cynicism and resentment about work, family, friends, self or life in general.’