Dealing with trauma: How do I react when I’ve had the shock of my life?
Are you dealing with trauma? The good news is: you will be ok. Things will improve; you will get better. Your “circumstance” will get better… a professional or personal setback is just that – temporary.
What bad things can happen? What if you are made redundant from a job? What if you are forced out of a relationship? What happens if you are evicted from your rental property? How do you learn to cope?
The good news is: You are more resilient than you realise. You have gone through this before. You can work this out. You are smart, efficient, prepared and reasonable. Right? Right…?
Of course you are. Take a deep breath. This is just but a moment in time. This is a learning opportunity. You will be ok. Everything will be ok. Even if it is not – times change on a dime; life will go on.
How to react to shock: my story
I have just had a bit of a workplace shock – the kind where the CEO calls an urgent company meeting and drags everyone into the boardroom to deliver bad news. Lucky for me, it’s not about my performance in particular, but it is the sort of news that could have very bad, long term ramifications for everyone here. Although it’s bad, I have been around the garden path a few times now, so I am trying not to panic. Although I love my current employer, I never trust anyone to look out for anyone but themselves in these sorts of situations. So, Merry Christmas.
Dealing with shock is something that human beings (formally known as “people”) have to get comfortable with. unfortunately, we all go through bad things that happen to us: even the Queen, Pope Francis and Justin Bieber need to know how to cope with bad times, bad press, and therefore, bad news.
Let me make this clear: bad news is coming your way, so you need to be prepared for it.
Bad news surpasses no man. Bad news, and bad circumstances, are universal. If you are alive and breathing; you will be hampered with bad news at one point. Bad news is always coming your way: are you ready?
Psychology Today says, “When losses are sudden, totally unexpected, or accompanied by horror because they are senseless, the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and physical impact is profound”.
Lisa Ferentz is an expert on treating self-destructive behaviours, particularly in traumatised people. She points out that trauma is natural, and to be expected. “Although we are faced with devastating losses that can leave behind a residue of profound trauma,” she says, “these experiences can also represent the extraordinary resiliency of the human spirit and our capacity to come together in grief and assist one another in healing.”
I think this is a beautiful notion. Yes, trauma is real. Yes, trauma hurts. Yes trauma is working for you. Yes, you will be able to heal your trauma.
Can things “turn on a dime”?
When I was a child, I was an Australian girl going to an American school, in India. I was 6 years old, and we were learning addition and subtraction, as well as currency. One of the questions I had to try to answer was, “Mary has three dimes. If Mary gives John a quarter, how much money does Mary have left?”
In Australia, we do not give our coins nicknames like ‘nickel’, ‘dime’, and quarter’. Five cents is five cents, twenty cents is twenty cents and a dollar is a dollar. Therefore, I was completely confused by this question in my Year 2 mathsbook
(in Australia we study “Maths”, not “Math”).
My teacher was Indian; working for the American Embassy School in New Delhi, which I attended in the 1980s. She couldn’t really justify to me with any great emphasis why learning the importance of the nicknames for coins was relevant to me; so I never bothered.
“So, a dime is 10 cents?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, “10 cents is called a Dime, but only in America.”
“So,” I asked, “If I am from Australia, I don’t need to know that a Dime is 10 cents?”
“Well, you should learn it anyway,” she said, “because that is the correct name.”
Fast forward 25 years later and I have never, ever, heard 10 cents being called a Dime, outside of American TV shows. Really, what I wanted to know, was – how much information do I need to retain from this class, and how much can I forget?
On reflection, my Indian teacher was being paid by the US Embassy to work at the school, and the fees for the school were being paid by expats from all over the world; with the justification that American education was the best-in-class in the world.
Should I have questioned that?
Dealing with trauma can feel like a kick to the guts
I originally started this blog because I suffered a really bad breakup. The guy was a total asshole, an emotional vampire and a narcissist. Honestly (and I can say this with the benefit of hindsight) I am better off without him.
He barged his way into my life, wreaked havoc, and fanned the flames of dissonance from a safe distance. I would be more upset as his total f**kery, but he did this to everyone he “loved”, a.k.a. anybody who out of their great mercy would grant him an audience. In the two short years we were together, I saw him bring lawsuits against his parents and uncle, have a yelling match with his sister, and saw him break and use/abuse every possible gift of kindness that his various (hapless) friends would extend to him.
When we have to deal with trauma, there is a sense of “this is not fair”, and, “this should not be happening to me”. And you are right; it should not.
Like my narcissistic boyfriend up above; trauma can come at us when we least expect it; often when we are giving the most, and working our hardest. Why does life just not seem fair?
Dealing with shock – some tips
Situations will occur where you simply have to cope, no matter what. Psychology Today gives some examples of different types of sudden shock and how to deal with them. Examples of sudden shock might be:
- a car accident (or even a near miss)
- dealing with a relationship break up
- physical situations that provoke fear (plane, horse, car)
- your company has gone into receivership
- a story that makes you feel traumatised, either real life or imagined
- the news (e.g. terrorism attacks)
- legal issues, e.g. being sued
- visiting the emergency room, birth suite, or the dentist
- you have been made redundant or lost your job
How do I react when I have had the shock of my life?
The good news is, you will get through this; there is no choice. You must rise above, take heart, and push forward. Set backs are a part of life; even Jesus had them.
Do simple setbacks pave the way for success?
Some theosophists believe they do. “And this is God’s way for us too. We are promised glory—if we will suffer with him (Romans 8:17). The way up is down,” says John Piper.
Successful setbacks might be part of your “bigger picture” after all. “The way forward is backward. The way to success is through divinely appointed setbacks. They will always look and feel like failure”.
So, take heart. Even though you have had the shock of your life; this may be the biggest turning point you’ll ever experience.