We think straight away of a war, like that currently happening in Ukraine or a large-scale crisis like the pandemic, in particular the doctors and nurses battling to save lives in hospitals. But trauma can happen on a more individual level, the loss of a child, sexual or physical abuse, suicide in the family, a sudden unexplained death like that recently of Nicola Bulley that captured the heart of the nation. Even long-term care of a loved one whom you watch die by degrees in front of you can be traumatic, trauma can lurk behind any of these events and catch you when you least expect it, affecting how you think and feel.
Sometimes we might feel we do not have the right to be so affected by our experience, that old stiff upper lip, saying to ourselves there are people out there far worse off than I am. We hide behind this or perhaps secrecy, colluding not to discuss whatever the problem might be, and it festers and grows. We do learn to live with the tragic events that can affect our lives, whether on a personal small scale or a national scale like coming through a war, but to do so we need help. We need to shine a light on our trauma, or we can allow emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and blame to brew beneath the surface of our lives. We need to encourage anyone who we can see living in a family that has suffered a trauma to talk about it, to seek help, to find their voice.
Of course, some traumas have a sense of taboo around them, such as perhaps suicide, but we are gradually as a society beginning to break down some long-held taboos to enable people to gain appropriate support. If we hide from a difficult experience, it does not heal and it can manifest not just in our behaviours, it can also lead to physical symptoms, like IBS, migraines, and auto immune disease. If we do not work with our own trauma, we may unconsciously pass it on to those around us, it ripples out unfettered into the lives of our family and friends, as they grapple to cope with and understand the changes within us. There has been a great deal of research in recent years about how an individual affected by trauma can impact on their family, much of this understanding came from looking at the effect of trauma on the families of Holocaust survivors, for example the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors are 300% more likely to need psychological support that the general population.
With this in mind, we need to be careful not to give our family this unwanted and indeed unconscious inheritance and I say again you do not need to have suffered in a large-scale tragedy to have experienced trauma. The are no awards for suffering alone and in silence.