“So Nigerians too are traumatized?”
That was my elder brother’s surprise at some point in our discussion on clinical psychology during his last visit to Nigeria. It was like the forbidden train has moved the course to Nigeria. Hmmm, like seriously…
If you were like us while growing up in Nigeria, the word traumatized felt like an Oyibo thing; so was depression, suicide, or anxiety. All we had to do as Nigerians were thank God for safety, make a joke out of it, and move on. Well, that was what we thought, or maybe it was just sheer ignorance.
Few years down the line, I discovered that trauma was a big deal and could affect both our physical health and mental health. This is not intended as a scare, but rather a precaution to seek help when necessary. I say this not because I am a Clinical Psychologist but also out of the experience.
What are Traumatic Experiences?
To fully understand psychological traumas and how it affects mental health let’s consider what traumatic events are. Traumatic events are those experiences that put a person or someone close to them at risk of serious harm or death. They could happen just once such as when you survived a ghastly motor accident, or repeatedly such as staying in an emotionally abusive relationship or childhood bullying.
Now the experience is over, and you might have forgotten the details of the experience, but there are still some psychological effects you presume were caused by that traumatic experience.
These psychological effects could lead to psychological traumas.
What is Psychological Traumas
More or less, psychological traumas, or being traumatized, are damages to the mind as a result of a severely distressing event. This level of stress can be said to have overwhelmed the person’s coping strategy, love, safety, or control. Come to think of it, we weren’t prepared for the emotional feelings that come with trauma, even when we think we are.
Fact – we all have the ability to accommodate and bounce back after a stressful event, however, there is a threshold and that threshold varies from person to person. Not all traumatic events will have a lingering psychological effect.
Fallacy – we all respond to traumatic experiences in the same way. So you might not be bothered about the stepmother’s constant emotional abuse or the rape incident, so you expect everyone to act the same. Stop it…
It’s not the experience that determines if a person would have psychological trauma and to what extent, but rather the person’s interpretation of the event based on past history, personality, social support, coping strategies, and a lot of other factors.
What Happens During a Traumatic Event?
Without going into the medical jargon, let’s just say that when a traumatic experience happens, the brain receives and sends signals that prompt the body to go into the fight or flight mode. Let’s classify fight mode as the response when you see the mosquito that terrorized you all-night standing on the wall fat-fed, while the flight mode is the response when you turn around and see the crazy dog of your street staring and salivating beside you.
During this period, the body releases special chemicals called stress hormones (e.g. epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) that prepare your body to cope with that situation. Likely physical responses are increased heart rate and blood pressure, the flow of blood to the limbs, urgent need to urinate, loss of hearing, shaking, loss of side-line vision, slowed down digestion, tightness in the stomach, crying, and you can add yours here.
These symptoms are normal and are the same symptoms we feel when we are angry or afraid, but it differs in intensity. That’s nature’s way of making sure we are alright, our survival strategy. For instance, those hormones are the brain behind your ability to jump that two-story building to the ground floor during a fire outbreak.
After a traumatic event, the body goes back into balance, and these physical and emotional symptoms gradually reduce. Nonetheless, people may still have lingering feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, shock, denial, helplessness, isolation, self-blame, loss of power and control. These could range from a few hours to a couple of days, which can be said to be normal.
How Traumatic Experiences Influence Mental Health
It’s okay to be sad or perhaps cry after the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or property. However, when the symptoms (the lingering feelings after a traumatic experience) persist longer than a couple of days and begin to interfere with your daily functioning of the person. This can be evident in excessive or unexplained crying, desire to punch or rip or kill, unexplainable continuous troubled stomach, feeling cold, feeling stuck in some part of the body, excessive exercise, anxiety, restless legs, a strong desire for revenge, nightmares, loss of interest, concentration problems, and homicidal/ suicidal feelings.
Traumas and Our Relationships.
So recently I was opportune to listen to Usher Raymond’sYou remind me’ after a long while (gosh, I love that song) and I was like, ‘wow that guy was traumatized’, well according to the lyrics though. Traumas have a way of affecting our relationships with people. We tend to overanalyze, over scrutinize, overemphasize, and there could be trust issues. Therefore, even if we do not know why, we just can’t get into a relationship, and stay there. More so, there is always a fight with your family, because they do not just get you. The truth is they actually do not. Finally, you label yourself as the least loved and decide to live that lonely, undeserved life… Stop it, help is available.
Traumas and Our Self Esteem.
There are a few things common to every trauma. During the traumatic event, the person was unprepared for what happened and the person lost control of the situation. That loss of control could develop a level of helplessness and worthlessness, among others. When these feelings are nurtured for a long time, the person begins to believe that he/she is less than others. In the person’s opinion, other people could have handled things better. ‘C’mon, you couldn’t even hold a simple job’ or ‘you are just a vulnerable pile of nonsense’ you say to yourself. Really? At the back of your mind you know this may not be the truth, but to fit into the picture there is a reduction of self-concept and pride.
Traumas and Our Mood.
One feeling familiar with traumatic events is that we are not happy when it happens. When anything reminds you of the traumatic experiences, you can’t help but remember the experience, and you have the same feeling you had when it just happened, which might have worsened over time. Consequently, you walk around in a sad mood.
Traumas and Increased Sensitivity.
Brain areas are affected after a traumatic experience and may cause changes to the brain. People learn to fear thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind them of a past traumatic event. Traumatic experiences are associated with increased hormonal responses to subsequent events. This means that certain things that didn’t cause stress initially now begin to initiate a flight or fight response. This could reduce the person’s threshold to anger, fear, or developing another psychological trauma. For instance, research has shown that unresolved childhood trauma has a way of resulting in adult trauma.
Trauma and PTSD.
PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which deals with a long time anxious experience after a trauma. This is reflected in re-experiencing the traumatic events in nightmares or flashbacks, avoiding places and people that remind you of the traumatic event, hyperarousal reflective in sleep disorders and anger outbursts, and emotional freezing.
Trauma and Depression.
While PTSD is a likely psychological challenge associated with Traumas, depression can also develop. Depression is an affective difficulty which means it affects our mood. It is characterized by loss of interest, loss of energy, and a sad mood. Depression can develop after traumatic events because of enduring feelings of self-blame, worthlessness, and helplessness. It is important to learn more about the myths and facts around depression.
Trauma and Substance Abuse.
Substance abuse has been reported by various researchers to be significantly correlated with traumas. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana are used as a means of escape and a coping strategy. The long duration of substance use leads to other physical and mental challenges. The use of marijuana has been correlated with the development of Schizophrenia.
A lot of people believe that psychological responses to traumas are experiences that go away with time, and would rather not talk about it. This can be attributed basically to the misconception of traumas, and likely due to stigmas associated with certain types of traumas such as rape. What we fail to understand is that traumas influence our physiology, thought processes, emotional experience, and behavior.
Before you ask, yes, you can soar above the physical and psychological effects of traumatic events. The effects of trauma do not have to last for a lifetime. Seeking therapy, a good social support network, joining a support group, building self-copying strategies, or opening your mind to medication if needed are good steps towards recovery, healing, and growth.
Are you a survivor? Keep an eye on this platform on what to do after a traumatic experience. You can also schedule an appointment and we walk you through your experiences together.
Until I come your way next time, remember better day tomorrow.