Understanding Trauma and It’s Effects

Every life is full of experiences–some bring happiness closer to us while other events send it away in wild flight. Experiencing a traumatic event can make happiness seem forever out of our reach.

70 percent of American adults have experienced a traumatic event, and   20% of these people will experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. An estimated 1 out of 10 women develops PTSD. (PTSD STATS – U.S. First Responders Association http://www.usfra.org/profiles/blogs/ptsd-stats#ixzz1rzNTmM3g)

The worst thing about trauma is not the experience or experiences that caused it, however terrible they were; the worst thing about trauma is what happens to the person after.

For those who have never experienced trauma, I’ve adapted an explanation of it from something Angela Hovey, a social worker who deals with trauma and PTSD,  told me. It will mean more to you if you do this exercise while you’re reading.

Take out a piece of paper. (Yes, you have to do it on paper, not on a computer.) On that paper, write down your important relationships, and briefly, your role in each one. Using my daughter Caroline, for example, my relationship to her is mother, my role is to protect and care for her. For Ian, my relationship is spouse, one aspect of my role is to love and support him.

On the same piece of paper, write down your profession or job, and one main skill you use in it. Below that, your financial status. No details, just very generally: I own a home, a car, I have some savings, I earn enough to take care of myself and my family.

Now list some of your hobbies and interests, and some plans you have for the future, things you’re looking forward to: a trip, a social event, a promotion, a planned vacation. Finally, write down what you see as the meaning of life. One sentence: I believe God loves and watches over me; I believe we’re here to help each other; I believe I can take care of myself and those I love. Whatever you see as giving life meaning.

When you have finished, pick up that piece of paper, and for the next 30 seconds, tear it to pieces. Don’t stint–keep ripping for the full 30 seconds.

Now, put those pieces back together again.

Stop here a moment. How do you feel about this? Looking down at those pieces of paper that represent your life, do you think you can put them back together again? Do you feel overwhelmed by the task? Do you think they will ever look like the original paper list?

Severe trauma shatters your whole life: your relationships, your ability to perform the roles you previously had, your job and financial status, your hobbies and future plans, your concept of life and what makes it meaningful. Often in as little as 30 seconds.

And then, when you’re feeling frightened and betrayed and ripped to pieces, the toughest part begins: you have to find a way to put the pieces back together.

In 2003, I was in a severe car accident. Every aspect of my life was affected. It took me years to put the pieces of my life together again, but I did it, and so can you.  Because of my experience, this blog is not only about the attainment of happiness, but also about the flight, or loss, of happiness, and how to recover it.


About Jane Ann McLachlan

spoken at several events, including Write!Canada, Canwrite, and Montreal Worldcon, short stories published in Storyteller Magazine, B.A. in English Literature from York University, Toronto, M.A. in Canadian Literature from Carletion University in Ottawa. Jane Ann McLachlan writes fiction and memoir and teaches business communications and professional ethics at Conestoga College in Kitchener. She has published two college textbooks on Ethics, The Right Choice and Ethics In Action. Interests include writing (fiction and non-fiction), family, reading, public speaking, volunteering.

Posted on April 25, 2012, in On Trauma and Loss of Happiness. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for this post Jane Ann. My daughter has gone through major trauma quite recently and I recognize these symptoms in her struggle to put it all back together. You blog makes it easier to understand her. You describe it well.
    Jane Roderick (Rozek)

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