By Nanette Nelson, LCMHC
This is my last week to discuss mental health issues and I’d like to focus on my specialty, trauma. For those of you who have heard my other talks, trauma also has levels of function. Some trauma symptoms are caused by a single event and chronic trauma can be caused by repeated events that may have occurred throughout childhood or during an abusive relationship. The typical diagnosis for trauma related behaviors is PTSD, either acute or chronic. It is brought on by either an actual, vicarious or perceived life or death situation.
Trauma is a physical reaction to fear. Every one of us has a “reptile brain” or amygdala which controls bodily functions we do not think about. Things like digestion, breathing and our heart’s continual beating. Another system it controls is self-preservation. When we sense mortal danger, it hijacks our brain and readies our systems to “fight or flight.” It will speed up our heart beat and make it stronger, it will tense our muscles to fight for our lives or run like heck, suspend digestion to conserve energy, cause sweeting so we don’t overheat, release adrenaline to increase energy release cortisol to dull pain and conserve our oxygen or cause us to experience breathing difficulties. These symptoms are evidenced very similar to a heart attack, but in fact they are a panic attack. I’ve had many clients go to the emergency room because they are positive they’re having a heart attack. I don’t want you to ignore symptoms like these, but will later discuss behavior to try and rule out a panic attack.
Besides the physical changes caused by trauma, emotions and beliefs are also altered. Our emotions become more negative including fear, horror, anger guilt or shame, estrangement from others, lack of interest in things that you once enjoyed and the inability to experience positive emotions. Your beliefs may become negative as well, including things like I am bad, no one can be trusted or the world is completely dangerous. Many clients blame themselves for the trauma they experienced, hence the shame and guilt.
I do recommend trauma therapy for those who may be experiencing these things, but we can also turn to the Bible for solace.
When you feel like you’re overwhelmed by the negative emotions:
Psalm 91:4-6 “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that walk in the darkness, nor the destruction that lays waste at noonday.”
1Peter 5:10 “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When dealing with guilt and shame:
1 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”
When you feel like isolating because of negative emotions:
Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
1 Peter 3:9 “…not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”
Much of the isolating and avoidance of social situations come from the avoidance of triggers. Triggers could be a sound, smell, noise or seeing something out of the corner of your eye that bring you right back to the traumatic event. These instances are often called “flashbacks.” If you are feeling triggered or experiencing a panic attack I would like to give you a quick coping skill to manage such events. First of all, the are “trauma reactions” and emerge from your amygdala. To manage these, you have to thought switch from your amygdala to your pre-frontal cortex, (point to forehead) First do some deep breathing. (example: smell the flowers, blow out the candle or bubbles) Then ask you pre-frontal cortex to provide evidence for the thoughts coming from your amygdala. You should not be able to list any evidence at which point talk to yourself expressing the fact that you are safe and list evidence to prove this.
To deal with trauma itself, the majority of studies have shown that talking about it is most helpful. A common metaphor for trauma is a helium balloon. If you try to push it down in one place it inevitably pops up someplace else. Let it go (through forgiveness) and eventually be out of sight. Another is a large scrape on your skin from falling on a dirty surface. If you don’t wash out the dirt, the scrape will not heal properly. I recommend accomplishing this with a trained trauma professional either with individual therapy or a trauma support group. Veterans often find help in VA facilities by talking with those who have experienced similar events. Women who have been sexually assaulted get help at Women’s shelters which often run support groups.
Again, if anyone would like to talk with me about any topics I have discussed, I would be glad to do so.