Recognizing and Overcoming Trauma—Part 1

By Mike DuBose

Following our recent series of finding happiness, we now turn to the darker end of the spectrum. Many of us have personally experienced or witnessed major trauma during our lifetimes that has resulted in unhappiness, traveling down unresolved, very painful roads of suffering, some from childhood or adulthood trauma! I have counseled the elderly who were still very angry from abuse or neglect experienced in their childhood. Even violence on television can impact our lives such as the unimaginable mass school shootings of innocent children or other massacres which are becoming common occurrences. Many don’t feel safe anywhere these days; not even going to gas stations, grocery stores, houses of worship, or schools. While we are away from our relatively safe homes, our mental and physical systems of “fight or flight” are on high alert canvassing our surroundings to see if danger lurks. The number of South Carolina citizens who have concealed weapon permits has soared to 500,000 (about 10% of adults)! When you’re in grocery stores, you have unknowingly likely passed many gun-toting-shoppers.

America is becoming a country of hatred, division, and anger, some of which are inflamed by politics, Covid, the economy, the media that feeds us hostile ammunition, and the unpredictability of life. People are simply becoming angrier and unhappier with their circumstances. You see it in road rage and people blowing their car horns, the way we treat each other, toxic workplaces, and unfortunately, how children are being raised in abusive or neglectful homes. We have become “angry people in angry bodies!” Our reputation of having Southern hospitality has gone south!

The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “emotional responses to terrible events. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Long-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even many, different physical symptoms.” While these feelings are normal, some individuals have difficulty moving on with their lives after being traumatized. Trauma categories are endless. The main injurious areas are abuse, neglect, violence, assault, accidents, death of loved ones and beloved pets, failing marriages and divorce, war, natural disasters, illness, bullying, and toxic workplaces.

Based on my psychology training and earlier counseling career, I observed over time that people handle and experience trauma differently. Most of us cannot understand what it’s like to be in the victim’s shoes. For example, unless you had serious depression and/or anxiety, you won’t have a clue what it’s like to face that deep, dark depressing hole of despair or the anxiety of daily living. Just getting out of bed can be a major effort! Whereas, others, seem to be resilient to tragedies (or at least they think they are) such as standing up to bullies or weathering severe mental storms.

Many of us who have been traumatized park the terror or trauma in hidden brain compartments thinking we can get rid of, ignore, or flush it. That’s why many veterans who witnessed the horrors of war, which place their brains in ruins, don’t want to talk about their experiences. The rates of substance abuse, suicide, crime, and violence amongst them are dramatically increasing. Research has shown that 25% of veterans returning from war zones have serious Post Traumatic Syndrome. Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, MD reports in his excellent, recent bestseller, The Body Keeps the Score, “Trauma is not just an event that took place in the past; it’s also an imprint left by that experience on our mind, brain, and body. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way the mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.” He went on to say that about half of those who seek psychiatric treatment have been assaulted, abandoned, abused, or neglected as children, many who have witnessed family violence. Every child should have the right to be raised in safe, supportive, encouraging, protected, and loving environments! But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen a lot of the time.

Psychologist Erikson noted, if we don’t address and resolve hidden conflicts, we are hopelessly trapped in the past, to be haunted over and over by the traumatic events, even if they occurred decades ago. Many medical professionals, experienced counselors, and psychiatrists are not trained in identifying and treating the root cause of trauma. Victims are often misdiagnosed and prescribed medications that may or may not help with their symptoms and sometimes mask the true causes. But the trauma is always lurking behind the scenes and unbeknownst to victims, is silently controlling and sabotaging their lives! Sadly, many people, who have been traumatized don’t share their horrors with others (such as with their children, friends, spouses, co-workers, and relatives or therapists), because they believe that these people cannot be trusted or understand what they went through nor do they want to involve them with their horrific experience. They simply live with their trauma and often experience significant mental and physical health problems and discord in relationships.

The Bottom Line: No one wants to be subjected to, talk about, or remember tragedies and trauma. Everyone desires to live in safe, predictable, and manageable environments surrounded by loving, caring, and positive people we trust. But, for many, that isn’t true. Our next articles will describe how trauma affects the mind and body, and ways to understand the mental and/or physical problems in order to reduce the pain and suffering. There is hope, so hang in there!

The DuBose family’s purpose is to “Create Opportunities to Improve Lives.” Mike DuBose has been a staff member for USC’s graduate school since 1985, when he founded his family of companies, and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Visit his nonprofit website for free access to his books and 100+ articles, including business, travel, and personal articles and health research written with Surb Guram, MD. You may write to him at [email protected].

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