American writer Isaac Asimov once wrote: “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate”. This is how life after trauma often feels. After our king gets captured and we feel like the game is lost, we still have to keep playing. And just like a chess board, the game of life holds different pieces, and we may experience trauma in different ways. In this article, we’d like to validate some of the experiences you may have encountered. What are those traumatic events that felt like a game lost? And most importantly, keep reading until the end to learn how to heal and be the one to give the final checkmate!
1. The mean voices
Let’s start with childhood, a time when trauma is supposed to be just a weird, unknown word. For many, childhood becomes a bitter memory of bullying. Have you ever been bullied? Do you still feel that sting when you remember? Some people might wave their hand and say “oh, kids will be kids!”, but researchers wouldn’t agree. According to a 2015 research paper published in Archives of Disease in Childhood, the bullying you went through may have been so traumatic that you still feel its effects today. Maybe you have trouble trusting people and making friends or have very low self-esteem. And sometimes, all those mocking, mean looks and toxic words your bullies sent your way leave a permanent scar – a posttraumatic stress disorder. A 2012 study published in Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology found that between 30 and 40% of bullied teens show symptoms of clinical PTSD. So if someone tries to downplay what you went through – don’t let them! Being overwhelmed by trauma from this experience is completely valid.
2. A broken home
Trauma might have found you inside your home. The same home that was supposed to be filled with family warmth and love. But sometimes love fades, and families break with one word: divorce. According to Census data, 15 of every 1000 marriages ended in divorce in 2019. And even though divorce is a difficult experience for the couple, children get especially hurt by it. Were you a child of divorce? If your parents separated when you were young, it’s possible it felt like the end of the world.
Maybe you were afraid that your parents would stop loving you, just as they stopped loving each other. Or maybe you felt guilty, like it was somehow your fault. Child psychologist Dr. Scott Carroll, said for Fatherly.com that children often deeply internalize their parents’ divorce. And although they might learn how to deal, all those intense feelings can be so traumatic for a young child’s heart, that they struggle with consequences in adulthood.
3. A stab in the back
Love is not only destroyed by divorce. Sometimes it breaks due to the ultimate betrayal – infidelity. Have you ever been cheated on? Being betrayed this way by someone you thought loved you can feel like the end of the world. It may seem like your trust towards anyone just got shattered into a million pieces, just like your heart. And for some, these fears persist, even after the ones who betray us are long gone. That’s when you might experience a type of anxiety which is unofficially called “Post Infidelity Stress Disorder”. A 2013 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatric Nursing suggests that people who experience this disorder have symptoms similar to PTSD: they keep re-experiencing that trauma, avoid anything that reminds them of it, feel emotionally numb, detached, or angry.
4. The hatred of people
Another type of trauma is born out of something that should be celebrated, but is instead often looked down upon – diversity. Many individuals are subjected to abuse just because they’re not the same as their abusers. We’re talking about discrimination – based on race, sexuality, religion, nationality, gender… and any other characteristic. It’s not just a terrible act of injustice towards a human being and their rights. According to a 2016 research study published in the journal Psychological Trauma, experiencing discrimination often leaves a deep psychological scar that also mimics PTSD. A recent 2022 research study published in American Journal of Psychiatry even suggests that racial trauma, hopelessness and depression can be passed down from one generation to another.
5. Through the red light
Finally, trauma is not always caused by emotional factors. Physical events can leave an impact on our souls and bodies too. One common example of this are traffic accidents. We hope you’ve never had to go through a car accident, but if you have, you may have felt frightened for a very long time after it happened. A 2018 research paper published in BMC Psychiatry shows that after the accident, you may suffer from an acute stress disorder – a stress response that occurs within a month of a traumatic event. If left untreated, this condition can lead to an actual PTSD diagnosis. You may start having flashbacks, disturbing nightmares about the event and try to avoid traffic at any cost!
Let yourself heal
Have you experienced some of these events, or some other type of trauma? If so, we want you to know that it’s 100% possible to set yourself free from those experiences. Because, as Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” And choosing a path to recovery is the best gift you can give yourself.
This path is often described through 3 stages. In her 2002 research paper, Judith Herman, MD, talks about these stages. The first stage is establishing safety. That’s when you’ll realize that the past is past – and it cannot hurt you anymore. After you know you’re safe, you’ll begin to start the second phase: reconstruction. This phase might be painful, since you’ll begin to share your traumatic story. But this is very important in your healing, because it will allow you to process, reclaim and transform your painful memories. And finally, the final stage of recovery is integration and post-trauma growth. That’s when you’ll be building your new sense of self – the one that’s filled with self-love, self-compassion and strength.
Therapy is especially important if your trauma caused you to suffer from a stress disorder, so please seek professional help if you need it! Could you be struggling with complex PTSD? Watch this video to find out.
Coleman, P. A. (2022). The Worst Age for Divorce For Children Is Older Than You Might Think. Fatherly. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://www.fatherly.com/parenting/age-children-traumatized-divorce
Dai, W., Liu, A., Kaminga, A.C. et al. Prevalence of acute stress disorder among road traffic accident survivors: a meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry 18, 188 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1769-9
Gursten, S. M. (2020. Trauma After Car Accident: 5 Types That You Need To Know. Michigan Auto Law. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://www.michiganautolaw.com/blog/2020/12/08/trauma-after-car-accident/
Herman, J. L. (2002). Recovery from psychological trauma. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 52(S1), S105–S110. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1819.1998.0520s5s145.x
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Moise, N., Wilson, D., Waller, B. Y., Arnold, K. T., Duarte, C., Lugo-Candelas, C., Weissman, M. M., Wainberg, M., Yehuda, R., & Shim, R. (2022). The Intergenerational Impact of Structural Racism and Cumulative Trauma on Depression. American Journal of Psychiatry, 179(6), 434–440. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.21101000
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Polanco-Roman, L., Danies, A., & Anglin, D. M. (2016). Racial discrimination as race-based trauma, coping strategies, and dissociative symptoms among emerging adults. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 8(5), 609–617. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000125
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Wolke, D., & Lereya, S.T. (2015). Long-term effects of bullying. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 100, 879-885.