Thoughts on Trauma

The first and most emphatic thing I can say is that

We are all being traumatized right now  

The most difficult part of trauma is that most people don’t like to use the word trauma. There is a misunderstanding that trauma is “so bad”. If you had a bruise, it’s skin trauma. All of us have had a bruise, so all of us have had some kind of skin trauma. To others, skin trauma means something “really bad” like someone shaved off your face and wore it. Not all of us have had our faces removed, but we have all had trauma.

Bad vs. really bad is irrelevant. Trauma is trauma.

Our systems respond the same way because our system doesn’t rank trauma.

Trauma is sneaky – how many bruises have you had that you didn’t even know where there or how you got them? There is no blame in trauma because that changes nothing. But there is responsibility. Traumatized people must process their trauma in order to be healthy. The only difference for all of us right now is that we all know this is not good. We all have bruises and they are all coming from the same place

Trauma is a shock: it is something our systems cannot process easily. It has nothing to do with severity.

When your system “just can’t even” – your system just can’t even

Trauma acts like a virus. It spreads all over your life.

Anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar, borderline personality disorder all show evidence of trauma. Our brains create ways for us to cope with things we are struggling to cope with. That doesn’t mean it’s handled.

If you ignore a broken arm, eventually it will be some kind of healed…

…but that doesn’t mean it’s healed right

Like you can’t ignore a broken arm, you can’t ignore trauma. We all have weird narratives in our heads that most likely started during some kind of trauma. “I’m stupid”,  thinking you can’t do something or you are not good enough – all trauma. At some point, your system got overloaded and it made that narrative. And you’re a kid, so you have no idea that this is faulty thinking. When you become an adult, it’s been with you so long that you don’t question it.

And essentially – when you are a kid – that narrative comes back to it being your fault. Because how else could a kid process it? The child has such a limited language and context.

Trauma is like the butterfly who flapped its wings in your childhood and created tsunamis in our adulthood.

A child can blame a pandemic and anything you’re doing/feeling/etc on themselves

just like we did when we were kids

And it happens to everyone. 

There’s another curve being flattened right now and it has nothing to do with slowing the spread of the virus.

Behind almost every mentally ill person you could meet, you will find trauma. The stigma of mental illness comes from a false belief that some are sick and some are not.

Trauma may affect people differently and have different results, but it is universal. We are all mentally ill – it just manifests differently.

There is no actual line to differentiate mental health and mental illness except by the degree it incapacitates your life.

We have all always had it, we just can’t ignore it, we can’t say it’s not happening to us/them/you/me.

It’s everybody.

Behind all the people you assume are healthier than you, you’ll also find trauma – it was true before the pandemic, and it’s undeniable now. Anyone reading this is experiencing some kind of trauma, ranging from bruises or having their face carved off on an otherwise uneventful socially distanced Sunday.

And on that sunshine-y note, let’s talk about the children. The children that thankfully aren’t reading my ravings but are more affected by this than they have the vocabulary to express.

Kids might only be able to say “I’m bored!” “I hate you” “I wish this stupid Coronavirus thing was over and I could get my life back!” etc. 

It also can be an eye-opening experience to have so much more time around your kids because maybe there are things they have been unable to express before this too. Normalcy tends to blind all of us into complacency.

Sometimes, things seem off purely because we weren’t looking.

Our kids have limited language, but limited language does not denote limited emotions. Imagine the whole universe of your emotions, packaged in a small body, with basic vocabulary and context of the world. Temper tantrums make a lot of sense when you don’t know what’s going on or how to explain it.

There was a time doctors believed newborns felt no pain because they couldn’t communicate it. The shrieking cries were all babies cry, after all. They would slice the foreskin of a newborn off without any lidocaine. Just a part of their body sliced off and they were assumed to be fine because they couldn’t say “that smarts!”

With that kind of logic, it’s not surprising to see that we aren’t very good at empathy if you don’t say it overtly. There’s been an improvement, clearly, things are better in that regard for newborns and for people overall as emotional intelligence becomes a thing. As mindfulness, meditation, mental health become more commonly used words, awareness of our internal worlds is becoming a focus.

Our inner worlds are so uncomfortable, we try to fill our outer world with activity

You can’t possibly wonder why you feel dead inside if you have a full day!

It is okay for us to be bored. Our society loves to make busy-ness seem good and this pandemic has flipped everything on its head. Now is a great time to talk about the merits of boredom.

We as parents have been completely bamboozled with shitty information. Kids don’t need to be stimulated. They don’t need to have constant, jam-packed, activity laden schedules. That is so friggin bad for all of us. The reason why this quarantine is tough is that so many of us forgot how to sit around and do nothing.

There are so many very old over-stimulated toddlers out here in the world, throwing tantrums, and all they really need is to shut up and destimulate.

How many of our mothers would say things like “Go play and I don’t want to see you ’til the sun goes down?” The thought nowadays is akin to child abandonment or something. It’s not. It is absolutely okay for anyone to be bored. “If you’re bored then you’re boring – the agony and the irony that’s killing me, whoa!!” The discomfort that comes with boredom is just an indicator that you don’t like being alone with yourself. And why is that?

Boredom gives you the chance to process the emotions you don’t want to feel or sit with the situations you don’t want to deal with.

It is okay to say to your kids, “Hey, I’m your mom. I’m not a cruise director. You have a house full of things to do, figure it out, my friend!” Not only are you saving your sanity, but you are forcing them to use their creativity and imagination which are the very things that build the skills to cope with and heal trauma.

Because of this slowness, this time out, this time to see what we’ve been missing and how we can help them. 

Trauma is an anomaly our brains cannot process. Our brains work on predictive modeling. When something completely blows out the predictive model, the system goes down. It can put us into survival mode – fight or flight.

In children (and many adults), this can look like “I hate you!” or “Leave me alone!”

This can look like aggression or retreating into themselves – unusual bouts of quietness, escapism – but how does one notice escapism when so many of us practice escapism? It’s only in a situation like now where escapism becomes boring. How does one escape from their escapism? My kids are actually bored with screens. I did not realize it would take a pandemic for this to happen, but it is fabulous in that regard.

Just like a baby learns to say mama and dada, we need to teach our children how to express their emotions

They need to be able to process this, or it will compound because trauma only ever compounds until it is processed

Kids are very creative, imaginative beings who blame everything on themselves

Give them ways to express, give them language, give them tools, give them your example

-Kids cope through play

-Allowing kids to play while observing and asking them questions about their emotions allows them to connect and express more easily. How they are playing and what they are doing can give insight to their moods

-“Can you play how you feel right now?” “Is that [toy] you?” “who is that [toy]?”

-Kids tend to talk out their feelings in imagination

-Kids who enjoy music may play what resonates with their feelings.

-Finding songs that may help them cope with their emotions just like we all did when we were angsty teenagers.

-“Can you play me a song for how you feel right now? If there’s an angsty teenager, remember your angsty teenage playlist – anything they might like? What are the lyrics in what they’re listening to? Any clues?

-Art is a natural coping and healing mechanism. Kids heal through art.

-Allowing kids to express their feelings as they create, or even directing: paint me how you feel right now. Can you draw a picture of how this is all making you feel? What is making you upset right now? Can you show me a color for how you feel? Can you color a picture with the color of your feelings? You can do this with so many things: playdoh, Lego’s, etc. Anything where a child can use their imagination, create, play, and express.

-Kinetic sand is extremely soothing to kids. It’s what they call “satisfying” and satisfying is a great way to calm frazzled nerves. “Satisfying” videos are great too and when kids feel “satisifed” they feel less resistance. They will be more open to conversation and will reply more easily because they aren’t feeling protective or guarded.

-Weighted blankets also help with soothing and calming down. Minimizing sensory inputs, hugs, back rubs, all help destimulate and soothe a frazzled child.

-Reassurances of love, affection, active listening all help a child feel safer.

-If a child is thinking this is their fault, they may struggle to talk about their feelings or feel like it’s not okay to have these feelings because it is all their fault. It doesn’t have to make sense or be logical. If it’s true to them, it’s true. And the only thing you can do is help them talk so you can reassure them of truth.

-Think about how they could be processing it as their fault. Try to recall how you handled things as a child and what you needed.

-Your experience as a child has merit. Things that would have benefitted you as a kid may benefit your kid. Try to look at things through your younger eyes and see what inspiration you get

-Don’t hide your emotions. If you getting pissed off because you’re stressed out – they might think that it’s their fault, but if you explain your feelings, you are teaching them to explain theirs. No mom or dad is always calm and mom’s and dad’s who can speak intelligently about their own emotions teach kids the language they need for their own.

-Watch for signs your child is blaming themselves. In play – they will express shame – they will yell at whatever they are playing with and call it bad. That is a clear indicator a child is feeling they are to blame.

-In life, they blame you. “You’re the worst mom, I hate you!” is a clear sign they think they’re the worst kid and hate themselves.

Creativity, art, play, imagination: that’s how all of us heal. We all have more time for this now. We all have time for introspection. And we need it. We have all been too busy and now our inner world and our outer world are basically the same – except it’s always been that way. It’s just easier to see now.  Remember that we all process things differently and we’re all confused right now. It’s okay to feel your feelings in front of your kids. They will learn more about processing their emotions by your example than anything I’ve typed here.

What are your thoughts? What did I miss? How are you helping yourself and/or your kids now? 

 

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