WHAT IS TRAUMA?

BY MARIA MACAYA

Often people ask – what do you mean by trauma?
The word trauma comes from the Greek word meaning wound. This can be physical trauma: a broken leg, a shot, a blow to the head, a car accident – a serious injury to the physical body, one that often does not allow you to continue living life as you did before – sometimes temporarily, others permanently. Trauma can also be emotional and psychological – and that is the trauma we work with here in Radika.

Like physical trauma, emotional or psychological trauma does not allow you to continue living life as you did before. In fact, the same part of the brain that gets activated during physical trauma, gets activated in psychological trauma. We are talking about war, abuse, accidents, loss, neglect or even a move to another country.

Differences? In emotional trauma the wound cannot be seen or measured even though it is felt just as deeply. In emotional trauma, the event need not be experienced, trauma can arise from witnessing, or hearing about an event. Trauma and its effects can even be inherited from our parents, ancestors and communities: Traumas they suffered and their effects get passed down from generation to generation through behavior and upbringing. Trauma shows itself in mood swings and other changes in behaviors, it shows itself in fears that force you to evade people, situations and circumstances, it shows itself as intrusions in dreams or visions, it attacks you through harmless triggers that come in the form of a sound, smell or sight that reminds you of that moment when everything changed. When a traumatic event results in trauma it changes our ability to move through the world fearlessly, trustingly, it alters and asks for new strategies for coping, it transforms our capacity to communicate with others and with ourselves, to feel understood.

Most of us are likely to suffer one or more traumatic experiences during our lives – disease, natural disasters, witnessing a crime or a death, loss, accident, violation – the list of trials that life may put in front of us is unfortunately endless. However not all traumatic experiences turn into trauma, and not everybody gets affected in the same way.

We are all like rubber bands – and life will pull us in all directions, stretching us, twisting us, bundling us up and making us into knots – the question is bouncing back into the original shape as soon as possible. That is what we call resilience. Sometimes this mechanism works on its own and sometimes it needs a little support and a little help.