We instinctively know that we need to talk about trauma. So, we turn to our friends, family, and social circles for support when bad things happen.
We ask for their assistance in making sense of what has occurred and establishing a new normal. If this approach does not resolve the problem, we may seek additional help from a counselor, pastor, or doctor.
Talking about trauma has never been easy; the pandemic has made it considerably more complicated. Yet, we all feel the repercussions of collective trauma that we don’t comprehend or know how to handle.
We have discovered that not talking about our trauma has consequences, including the development of PTSD.
We know that we need to talk about trauma, and we desperately need a guide to help us with that conversation.
Where do we begin?
The Pandemic Has Made It Difficult to Talk About Trauma.
With the advent of the covid virus, many of us found ourselves cut off from our support systems. Due to health concerns, some people could not contact family and friends who had helped them through so many difficult times.
Due to her age and health, I could not physically meet with my mother for several months when Covid began. When I was finally able to visit in person, I wore a mask.
I went several months in her presence without a physical hug. This inability to receive the comfort of a hug affected me deeply. So now, I hug her every chance and hold their embrace for as long as possible.
I did not have access to my usual support and peer groups. And when I did have limited contact, we kept a healthy distance due to the pandemic. Practicing emotional vulnerability is challenging when you are afraid of compromising your physical health.
Some questioned the significance and severity of their trauma compared to the losses of others.
When I did find someone to talk to, I often felt guilty sharing my traumatic load because the individual listening had also suffered.
Over time, I began to share fewer details for fear of somehow minimizing what others were going through.
Sometimes, I thought that an individual’s suffering was more significant than mine and that I was unworthy of sympathy and compassion.
Even worse, they seemed to be handling their losses better than I had. It made me wonder what was wrong with me.
There were times when I overheard conversations where people appeared to be one-upping each other with their tales of woe. Who had suffered the most significant loss and had earned bragging rights?
Those with an available support system found it strained to the limit. There was no time to process our losses, and our grieving rituals were postponed or abandoned.
I attended a memorial service for a close friend who passed away from cancer postponed for several months. Our inability to mourn together promptly was frustrating and prolonged the grieving process for all involved.
Many individuals were too busy working, teaching, raising families, and caring for others to notice trauma’s effect on them.
I was so busy taking care of others and navigating crisis after crisis that I did not have the time or energy to invest in self-care.
Recently, I talked with my wife and a good friend about this and began to make space for rest and recovery.
Talking about trauma is the only way to push through to better days.
Far too many of my friends in care ministries neglected their physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Everywhere we turned, there was a significant loss. There was a sense that we were all experiencing a collective trauma as a nation.
“Collective trauma,” according to Danielle Render Turmaud, refers to the impact of a traumatic experience that affects and involves entire groups of people, communities, or societies.”
Johnny Moran, a psychotherapist and trauma consultant, describes the pandemic “as a mass trauma event.”
In the best of circumstances, talking about trauma has some built-in obstacles.
Talking about trauma can be painful. It may be a source of shame that causes us to withdraw from others. It may damage our ability to trust others and alter our perception of reality.
But with the pandemic, the ability to talk about trauma has resulted in additional unique obstacles.
Without the emotional and spiritual support of friends and family and the inherent health risks of the pandemic, many chose to isolate themselves, suffer in silence, and hope for the best.
Maybe you don’t see a problem with this response. You might even argue that in the current circumstances, it is a necessity.
But there are potential consequences when we don’t talk about trauma.
What Are The Consequences of Not Talking About Trauma?
There are potential consequences when we delay or do not talk about trauma as individuals and in society. These would include harm to ourselves and others.
How does not talking about trauma hurt us? If we ignore these traumatic events, we open ourselves up to a potential post-traumatic stress disorder.
There is a difference between Acute (Normal) Trauma and PTSD. For example, the death of a loved one, a divorce, loss of income, or any trauma that resolves within thirty days is considered Acute Trauma. Conversely, any trauma that does not resolve within thirty days and impacts an individual’s ability to function daily is considered PTSD.
“People with PTSD have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their experience that last long after the traumatic event has ended. For example, they may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares, feel sadness, fear, or anger, and feel detached or estranged from other people.
People with PTSD may avoid situations or people that remind them of the traumatic event, and they may have strong adverse reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.”
The good news is that individuals can often avoid PTSD by talking about traumatic events as soon as possible rather than facing years of treatment to resolve their trauma.
How does not talking about our trauma hurt others?
Hiding the pain keeps others at a distance; the wound never heals, we develop scar tissue, and when someone touches those scars, we lash out in anger. Often at the people trying to help us. But ignoring the problem will not make it go away.
Our example may cause others not to address their trauma. That delay may lead to PTSD for them and impact others.
Helpful Suggestions When You Need to Talk About Trauma.
I know it can be challenging to talk about trauma, so I have provided some helpful guidelines. These have proven to be effective and beneficial for me.
How do we talk about the trauma that we have personally experienced? Sooner or later, someone will ask a probing question that you want to answer. What do you do now?
There are three questions I ask myself when I consider talking about any traumatic experience.
(1) Why do I want to share this (now)? This is the most crucial question. Do I want to share because I need to vent? Or do I want to share because I feel the other person can help me heal? Do I think sharing my story will help the recipient heal? Is the other person just nosey?
I only vent to care professionals and those intimately familiar with my story. In all other circumstances, I take a deep breath and consider whether to proceed or withdraw.
(2) With whom do I want to share my story? Not everyone can handle my account. Nor should everyone be required to listen to my story.
(3) How much detail do I need to share? I have learned that a general description of fewer than thirty seconds is usually enough.
The temptation to overshare is real. However, others do not need every detail. If they want additional information, they will ask, and I am under no obligation to share more.
How do we talk about the trauma that others have experienced? You may wonder why they want to share their story with you.
You may fear that you are ill-equipped for the task. But you need to understand the courage and energy it took for this person to reach out to you.
Consider this a privilege, and do the best you can.
Here are some general guidelines for the conversation.
(1) Listen and be fully present without moving into solution mode. Create a place of safety where you grieve with them. Grieving is difficult and time-consuming but is a necessary first step to recovering from trauma.
(2) Be comfortable with silence. The trauma victim decides if and when they will speak.
(3) Understand that this is not an interrogation or fact-finding discussion. Ask open-ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no, and let them talk. (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)).
Johnny Moan notes that “the nature of trauma is that people go into survival mode in the trauma, but like an earthquake, the mental health damage comes in the aftershock. This will become more prevalent as the pandemic fades.”
It has never been easy to talk about trauma, and the pandemic has made it even more challenging.
We are experiencing the effects of collective trauma that we do not understand or feel qualified to address.
Not talking about the trauma can cause additional damage. Therefore, a guide is essential to help us with these difficult conversations.
Someone close to you is going through a difficult time. Perhaps it’s you. Please find or become someone who provides a safe space for people to talk about trauma.
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My mission is to help individuals and churches become safe havens for the broken.