The lingering pain and discomfort of trauma is like an irritating fly that will not go away. It continues to fly around you ignorant of the fact that you do not want it and if given the chance you would zap it into its next life. Trauma is persistent like that, you wish you could have avoided it in the first place and definitely don’t want it buzzing around showing itself and playing hide and seek at the most inconvenient times and situations. How many times have you seen someone swatting, swinging in the air like a madwoman, striking seemingly at nothing, whirling around, flapping, and waving in the air at no one? You cannot see that worrisome fly that won’t go away and is vexing their spirit.
Vexing the spirit? An individual can experience a significant event in early childhood or at any time in their lives. Trauma on some level in some way will come to all of us as there is no escape from it. The experience and the perception of the event may be considered traumatic by one individual but not the another. How an individual catalogues or assigns meaning to or is disrupted physically and/or psychologically by an event, will contribute to whether or not the event is experienced as traumatic. The person’s response also helps to determine whether the event or circumstances is a traumatic event. Trauma is the lasting adverse effect on an individual in contrast to the event itself. The individual may not even be aware of their responses or the real impact of the traumatic event they have experienced as much of it is impressed upon the subconscious, the physical body and the brain.
“Our eyes and other senses are continually surveying the landscape for information regarding possible threats to our personal safety, security and anything related to similar adverse experiences”.
The part of the human brain that receives information through its senses like the eyes, analyzes patterns and threats in the environment. The brain sees these patterns often before we are consciously aware and draws rapid conclusions. Pattern recognition is a cognitive process that matches information from a stimulus, i.e., someone walking quickly toward you as a possible threat, with information retrieved from memory, i.e., having been previously mugged on the street by someone walking quickly. This memory retrieval is largely below the level of consciousness most of the time. It may cause us to act in ways that we have yet to understand related to fight, flight or freeze because we have not unpacked significant traumatic experiences lodged in our subconscious and in the body-mind.
It has often been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Traumatic experience is also like the eyes of the common fly. Flies have two large compound eyes which consist mostly of the head and three simple eyes. Each compound eye consists of hundreds to thousands of closely packed individual photo-receptive units that are similar to the retina cones in the human eye. Using our fly analogy, trauma represented by each eye’s photo-receptive units, is like a window into the soul for each actual or perceived incident or experience of which there may be hundreds of instances. These receptive windows are deeply rooted, looking for any similarities or reminders of incidents or experiences and looking for any traumas that happened over a lifetime. Our eyes and other senses are continually surveying the landscape for information regarding possible threats to our personal safety, security and anything related to similar adverse experiences. This sensory data is analyzed for risks by the brain. A situation can occur similarly in the smallest way to another and cause a knee-jerk reaction as if it was the original event or circumstance.
According to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual-5 of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), trauma is the lasting adverse effect on an individual. In the case of children, trauma and stressor-related disorders are those disorders precipitated by events or circumstances that overwhelm the child or adolescent. The person could have been exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, including direct exposure, witnessing, in person, or indirectly, repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s).
“Many of us self-medicate with our ‘drug of choice’ to sooth the inner pain whether we are consciously aware of it or not. This is the basis of addiction….”
Other instances of potential trauma include, child abuse, including abandonment and neglect; spousal abuse, domestic violence; loss and separation, natural disasters, rape and other violent crimes, health crisis—life threatening illness, health care itself, war and torture. Traumatic experiences cause injury to our mind, body, and spirit. This injury causes wounds or hurts of varying severity and persist especially without intervention. This woundedness causes an individual to feel hurt and uncomfortable inside and as a result they develop behaviors to sooth their uncomfortableness. Some of these behaviors are maladaptive to the individual’s well-being. Many of us self-medicate with our ‘drug of choice’ to sooth the inner pain whether we are consciously aware of it or not. This is the basis of addiction to drugs, alcohol, sugar, overeating, exercise, church, sex, gambling, shopping, over-zealous activity, addiction to a person and more. An addiction to a person is co-dependency. The intent is to avoid feeling the pain and discomfort on the inside.
“…addiction to a person is co-dependency. The intent is to avoid feeling the pain and discomfort on the inside.”
Exposure to trauma may lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, panic, fear, helplessness, dissociation (detachment of the mind from emotion), and behaviors, including poor self-control and challenges with anger management, hyper-vigilance (watchfulness or awareness of one’s surroundings over and above what is normal), and going to great lengths to avoid re-experiencing the traumatic event.
“…the behavior of parents traumatized as children and how they bring their psychological woundedness and unmet needs as children forward into the relationships they have with their children….”
In the context of mental health, we need to bring forth a distinctive context in examining developmental trauma in a way that leads us more specifically to resolution. We need to question how prenatal trauma impacts relationships, how adverse early childhood experiences impact relationships, and how brain development impels attachment and the capacity for maintaining relationships. We could delve into the behavior of parents traumatized as children and how they bring their psychological woundedness and unmet needs as children forward into the relationships they have with their children. In establishing the foundation for the parents’ maladaptive behaviors, how these behaviors manifest in the parent and how it affects the child provides renewed awareness.
“We could better utilize the science of brain neuroplasticity for overall health and well-being of clients.”
In applying an intersectional approach, family systems science will inform of family dynamics, psychology of personality traits, positive psychology-of life strategies, neurobiology of the pleasure principle, addiction science and the addictive behavioral loop involved in central nervous system engagement. We could better utilize the science of brain neuroplasticity for overall health and well-being of clients. Employing an African-centered approach African-descendant clients, we could step into transpersonal or soul psychology and examine Kemetic philosophy in deference to the impressions made on the subconscious and its relationship to healing, growth and spiritual development that is compounded by issues in the larger society. We can integrate the overlay of the Black experience, its idioms, and Afrocentric perspectives. The precepts of mind-body medicine could inform our therapeutic models as well. An integrated framework of several disciplines provides a broader base of knowledge in which to deal with trauma and well-being.
We can choose to continue in denial, engage in thinking that allows us to escape, behaving erratically or swinging haphazardly at a fly-pain that’s really bothering us. Or, we can attack the fly with surefire approaches and strategies to eradicate an environment conducive for flies. We can do our own inside work and encourage our clients to do the same. We can face the challenges, dig in deeper to resolve longstanding issues. We can create an environment, a lifestyle where flies are not welcome and are not comfortable. We can clean out the sludge and eliminate the muck and mire to reduce the inner psychological pain.
© Anelle Williams March 3, 2019
Anelle, principal at Anelle Williams & Associates, helps people live better lives by design. She is a transformational psychotherapist in private practice, a breakthrough Life and Executive Coach, workshop presenter and a sought-after media expert.
Anelle will extend this discussion at the March 16, 2019 HABPsi chapter meeting and CE presentation.