The Trauma Response An incident occurs; it is sudden, random, arbitrary, senseless. It affects not only the victim, but everyone else as well. The incident can shatter your sense of safety and well being and temporarily destroy your ability to function normally. This reaction is called “trauma response”. Although individuals will react with different intensities and recover at varying rates, most people will go through some form of trauma response, which may be an alternation between two states:
Numbness Characterized by withdrawal from others, depression or emotional flatness (not feeling much of anything), the feeling of being “lost in a fog”. These signs may be accompanied by problems with concentration.
Hyperarousal Characterized by irritability, flashbacks to the incident, nervousness, extreme emotions, nightmares, and being easily startled.
It is not uncommon to go back and forth between the two states. You may feel numb for a while, then move into hyperarousal, and back again. Some people may ultimately stay in one of the two states. It is also quite common for the traumatic event to rekindle feelings and memories of past events when you felt helpless, shocked, or suffered the loss of someone close to you.
Building walls around the pain When crisis strikes, the normal human tendency is to try to stop the pain. It’s normal to build a “wall” around the incident in an attempt to keep it separate from the rest of your life. The problem with building walls around the pain is that it usually doesn’t work. A critical incident causes a traumatic reaction, and refusing to think about it or discuss it won’t undo the incident. Even if the pain can be denied for a while it will push through later - often in the form of increased illness, decreased productivity or morale and a breakdown in the normal communication between you and the people you care about.
Getting over the trauma response The trauma response is a temporary reaction to a serious incident. The most important thing to remember is to avoid walling off the pain. If you have time to attend one or more counselling group sessions, take advantage of this opportunity to talk about how the incident affected you. Understanding the trauma response, and then making a conscious effort to work through it, will ultimately help you overcome the pain.