Tag Archives: Posttraumatic stress disorder

How are you coping?

Coping in relation to trauma and PTSD

Coping mechanism

When you are confronted with a traumatic event,  there are certain automatic responses taking place in your brain.  Some of them you are conscious of,  like the adrenaline that heightens your awareness and prepares your body for action,  others are happening on a unconscious level.

Either way,  the coping mechanisms used are adaptive,  and therefore useful in reducing stress,  or maladaptive and increasing your stress level.

Whatever you choose or is chosen for you,  those mechanisms are there to help you manage the anxiety produced by the traumatic event.  As I stated in a previous post,  no one can decide what constitutes a traumatic event for someone else.

About 400 to 600 coping mechanisms have been identified,  according to Wikipedia.  So,  why do you cope the way you do?

You are unique

Photo by me

Life is experienced differently since each of us is unique in every way.  You are not born as a blank piece of paper.  Generations have gone before

you,  having an impact on who you are.  You might have your father’s nose or your grandmother’s eyes.  You inherit certain traits,  not just in how you look,  but also in how you behave and react to life events.

For instance,  anger is a coping mechanism in my family of origin.  I deal with a lot of anger,  but having been exposed to the detrimental effect it can have,  I struggle in expressing my anger in a healthy way.  In the beginning of my healing journey I wasn’t even aware I had anger issues.  Can you say denial?

Upbringing & social environment

The way you have been raised has a huge influence in how you perceive trauma or stress.  Maybe you had to overcome the death of a parent.  Or the betrayal of trust.  Or you had a happy and care free childhood.  Maybe your parents believed in you and  raised you to be a strong person in his or her own right.  Or the whole family system was skewed and you had to take care of a parent,  instead of being taken care of.

Maybe you were bullied in school.  Or you were a little shy.  You were the popular guy or girl.  You were intelligent,  learned easily.  Or you struggled to do your homework and exams,  feeling dumb.  Or you were told over and over that you wouldn’t amount to anything.

I can go on and on.  The way your parents relate to you and vice versa influences all your relationships with major authorities.  Do you get that?  Do you really get that?

I was astounded to discover that after finally being able to leave my highly dysfunctional family behind,  I entered a social network with leadership that was actually identical to my relationship with my father!  And I walked into it with open eyes.  I had absolutely no clue what was going on,  since I was used to misuse/abuse of authority from my parents.  How could I recognize a healthy authority-dependence relationship when I had no idea what it actually looked like?

Coping skills

Besides being influenced by your environment and unconsciously learning from it,  there are also coping skills you can acquire.  First you need to be aware of how you respond to the stressor.  Then you consciously have to change your reaction to something (more) desirable.  This takes practice.  For example,  to reduce stress you train yourself to focus on your breathing instead of the stressor.  Or you learn how to practice mindfulness in order to stay in the moment and not be hijacked by the stressor.

In other words,  even though you might have inherited lots of coping mechanisms,  you don’t need to be stuck with them.  You decide the outcome you want,  then you work on the skills you need to reach your goal!

So,  how are you coping?

Further reading:

A list of coping mechanisms

Photo credit: lululemon athletica 

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Trauma: what is it?

Trauma according to the dictionary is

  1. an emotional wound or shock often having long-lasting effects.  This is also called psychological or emotional trauma.
  2. any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident or fracture etc.  Typically an injury.

Trauma,  according to Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW,   is an event that is life threatening or psychologically devastating to the point where your capacities to cope are overwhelmed.  Following trauma you may relive the traumatic event,  fragmented memories related to the trauma arise unexpectedly,  emotional,  and behavioral dysregulation occurs.

Trauma causes your body to fill with adrenaline,  preparing it for fight or flight.  If neither are possible,  you will freeze.  In any case,  the memory and the effects of the trauma are stored in your body.  This is important to know in order to resolve the issue.

Trauma has three main characteristics:

  1. it comes with an intense negative emotion.
  2. you feel alone.
  3. you feel trapped.

Trauma causes your mind and body to be in shock. You have to process what happened,  work your way through your emotions,  accept the consequences and move on.

The length of time needed to process the event depends on the individual – we are all unique and different.  Thus there is no set time.  Just like there is no rule for what constitutes an event to be traumatic or not.  It is not the event,  but how you experience it that decides if it is a trauma.  Meaning it is subjective.

Therefore we can never judge someone else’s trauma and tell them to “get over it”.

Post-traumatic-stress-disorder
With post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  you remain in psychological shock. Your memory of what happened and your feelings about it are disconnected. In order to move on, it’s important to face and feel your memories and emotions.  source

It is also possible to sustain trauma while not even knowing it.  (I know,  totally unfair!)  This is known as subtle trauma.  An example is childhood trauma,  especially under the age of 3.  When the events are severely traumatic,  your emotions and memories go ‘underground’,  they disconnect.  PTSD is born.

When this occurs you fall into a vicious cycle.  PTSD produces anxiety.  Trying to manage your anxiety generates more anxiety which increases the need to try to manage it and so on.  Nasty business!

How do I know?
Unfortunately,  I am dealing with a lot of childhood and adolescent trauma.  Like abandonment & neglect,  emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.  I think that covers it.  Hence,  I suffer from PTSD (ew).  Right, change that to:  I am overcoming PTSD.  (Phew, that sounds better!) 

I am not telling you so you feel very sorry for me.  Don’t.  (Well… a little is ok.  Maybe.)  Life is life and none of us come through it unscathed.  Plenty of peeps have suffered more,  plenty have suffered less.  Let’s be clear that this is absolute NOT the issue here.

If you have followed my blog even for a bit,  you know I am interested in how to live my life to the fullest and encouraging others to do so as well.  Working my way through my trauma’s will significantly improve my life and most likely my bipolar.  I decided to share it with you so you know you are NOT alone and there is a way out.  In that the traumatic event will sit in a place in your life where it will not disturb your daily life anymore.

Let’s go for it,  shall we?

Photo credit 1
Photo credit 2


For further reading:

What is Trauma? by  Jane F. Gilgun, Ph.D., LICSW
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – Symptoms,  Treatment and Self-help

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