Some Thoughts on Trauma and the Pandemic
The global pandemic continues to play out....
At this point, I think a lot of us are having alternating periods of better days and worse days, shifting moods and concerns, and - hopefully - blocks of time or whole days where we feel ok or even content. Some folks are, of course, struggling more than others, and if this applies to you, my heart goes out to you!
Our feelings are all real and natural, given what we're going through!
For folks with trauma histories, though, there can be more to this picture. There may be a sense of re-traumatization as they are faced with emotions that harken back to previous traumas they have survived. The current global stressors of uncertainty, fear, loneliness, isolation, conflict at home, lack of financial or food security, and/or upset at our "fathers" and "mothers" in government for failing to protect us - all of these can consciously or unconsciously trigger old feelings from prior traumas, and infuse this experience with extra intensity.
"Big T" and "Little T" Trauma
We ALL have "little T" traumas, and many (if not most) of us have "Big T" traumas too. Big T's are things we all recognize as trauma, like abuse, rape, having someone close to you die, witnessing a traumatic incident, growing up in extreme poverty, and so forth.
I think of Little T's as events that are more subjective and specific to yourself and your particular life experiences and temperament. These events might seem more subtle, random, or benign to someone else, but you recognize them as having had significant symbolic power or psychological impact upon you.
For example, something that caused you to feel deep shame as a child may leave an indelible mark, whereas another child with a different personality and history may laugh off the same event and never think of it again.
Or maybe your father once slapped you, and despite his apology and a lack of any lasting physical mark, you recognize that psychologically, this was a turning point in your life.
Trauma and the pandemic - taking inventory
Our reactions to this pandemic can sometimes be taken at face value, and other times, we may sense that there is something else "adding to" what is happening in the present. During this period of ongoing sheltering at home and experiencing the pandemic unfolding, if you find yourself struggling or feeling intense emotions, you might find it helpful to ask yourself, "Could any of my past traumas be playing a part in how I'm feeling and behaving right now?"
For example, if you're really preoccupied with FEAR, what is another situation(s) in which you felt significant fear in your life?
If tension or CONFLICT in your home right now is deeply troubling you, consider other relationships or living situations in your past when you were exposed to significant anger or conflict.
Making the connection and getting support
Connecting your feelings in the present to significant experiences in the past, when relevant, can be helpful for self-understanding, processing your feelings, and possibly reducing the intensity of your emotions as you consciously de-fuse the present from the past. Please ask for emotional support from loved ones, or a therapist or other trusted supportive person, and try to cultivate that healing attitude of self-compassion.
HBO free in April
HBO is providing free entertainment for April!
TV and movies have an important value for us during the pandemic. We can use it as a "healthy dissociation" that allows us to take a break from news, anxious thoughts, and overwhelming emotions. It's not healthy for us to spend too much time in a heightened state of anxiety without a break. We need a variety of tools to helps us find relief, or self-regulation. So go ahead and watch more than usual if you like!
Maysie Tift is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Certified Master Hypnotist with offices in San Rafael, CA and San Francisco, CA.