By: Jacquelyn D. Heath
Special to The Milwaukee Times
Trauma has become a part of daily life in America. The average American, regardless of age or gender, learns about or experiences firsthand events that are physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually disturbing. A simple review of a week’s worth of news stories can include reports of mass shootings, fatal car accidents, natural disasters, war, domestic violence, child abuse, racial inequity and hatred. It’s difficult to hear about these types of occurrences; imagine what it might be like to live through and with them, day after day.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event that results in harm that is physically or emotionally detrimental and/ or life-threatening. It also has lasting adverse effects on an individual’s mental, physical and emotional health, as well as social and spiritual well-being.
The effects of trauma vary and are as unpredictable and individualized as the person experiencing the trauma. Some people can experience trauma and go on with their lives without lasting negative effects. However, if the trauma continues. is repetitive, or goes unaddressed, the results can endanger mental and physical health stability. Sometraumatice episodes that occur during childhood can negitively affect a person for the rest of their lives.
Trauma can overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope and act rationally; and cause diminished self-esteem, feelings of hopelessness, and numb one’s ability to process emotions and life experiences appropriately.
Trauma can manifest itself in many ways, including extended episodes of sadness, denial, fear, shame, or anger. A traumatized person can also experience physical symptoms, such as nausea, changes in appetite or eating habits (overeating or self-starving/ bulimia), dizziness, altered sleep patterns (insomnia or lethargy), and headaches. If left unaddressed, trauma can lead to difficulty in relationships, sudden emotional outbursts, and recurring nightmares.
Although there is no objective or definitive criteria to determine whether an event will cause trauma, situations are often those that involve betrayal, abuse of power or privilege, loss of control, pain, helplessness or confusion directed toward others.
One interesting area of study on the effects of trauma has examined racism and its ongoing negative effects on African Americans. Some psychologists and social scientists have alleged that more than 400 years of racism in America have “hard-wired” trauma into the genetic make-up of black Americans, thus making it more difficult for them to attain a normal, unfettered life.
Trauma cannot really be erased once it occurs. With treatment, however, a person can learn to cope with it, put it in perspective, and minimize negative outcomes.
At one time, the preferred treatment for trauma was seclusion – that is, removing the traumatized person from social contacts and activities. Instead of improving the situation, seclusion and isolation can cause further trauma, by not providing a way to release the anxiety and stress brought on by the traumatic circumstance, and allowing the person to reintegrate toward normalcy.
Nowadays, people who suffer from trauma are treated mostly by working with a therapist – such as a licensed social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist – either oneon- one or in a small group setting, either with or without medication. The goal of modern trauma therapy is to help replace feelings of fear and powerlessness generated by trauma with restored safety and inner peace. Breaking away from the grip of trauma can allow an individual to finally awaken from a recurring nightmare and move forward to reclaim and realize their positive potential.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the writer and not of the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper or HT Group, LLC, its staff or management. “Our Community Voices” is a bi-weekly column exclusive to the Milwaukee Times Weekly Newspaper.