My Q Health | Recovering from Trauma
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Recovering from Trauma

Recovering from Trauma

Not everyone who endures a traumatic experience is scarred. But recovering requires that painful emotions be thoroughly processed.

By Ellen McGrath

Not everyone who endures a traumatic experience is scarred by it; the human psyche has a tremendous capacity for recovery and even growth. Recovering from a traumatic experience requires that the painful emotions be thoroughly processed. Trauma feelings can not be repressed or forgotten. If they are not dealt with directly, the distressing feelings and troubling events replay over and over in the course of a lifetime, creating a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever inner resources people need to mobilize for recovery, they still can not accomplish the task alone. Depression and trauma are disconnective disorders. They do not improve in isolation. To fix them you have to be connected to others.

Direct experience with disasters ranging from war and terrorism to hurricanes and earthquakes has taught me that there are four basic stages in recovering from a profound stress. Progression through all four stages is essential to recovery.

Stage One: Circuit-breaking

If you overload an electrical system with too much energy and too much stimulation, the circuit breaker activates and shuts everything down. The human nervous system is also an electrical system, and when it is overloaded with too much stimulation and too much danger, as in trauma, it also shuts down to just basics. People describe it as feeling numb, in shock or dead inside.

The juice turns off. Intellectually, you lose from 50 to 90 percent of brain capacity, which is why you should never make a decision when you’re “in the trauma zone.” Emotionally you don’t feel anything. Spiritually you’re disconnected, you have a spiritual crisis or it doesn’t mean anything to you at all.

Physically all your systems shut down and you run on basics. What is so intriguing is that physical symptoms that were previously prominent often disappear during this time. Back pain, migraines, arthritis, even acne often clear up. Then, when recovery from trauma is complete, the physical symptoms return.

When the system starts to recover and can handle a bit more stimulation and energy—and the human system is destined to try to recover, to seek equilibrium—feelings begin to return.

Stage Two: Return of Feelings

To read full article, visit Psychology Today.


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