- The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed, or
- The individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.
(Pearlman and Saakvitne, 1995, p60)
Trauma is not just one having to deal with emotional or psychological conditions. A traumatic event or series of events can also affect ones ability to communicate effectively.
As an example, I would like to refer to being held up by six men at gun point. During the fact, you can only hope that you do not scream, cry, break down or retaliate in any way. Following the event, you are filled with adrenaline; anger; an overwhelming feeling of still being alive and being able to continue accomplishing what you have set out do. Finally you break! The tears start coming and they do not stop. When the crying has ceased for a little while and you begin thinking about what just happened, you cry again. This is the initial effect, the initial feeling of the trauma setting in and settling until you alone decide you need to exorcise yourself of it. Make no mistake, dealing with trauma is no walk in the park even for the greatest psychologist.
You yourself have to be open about the events of the day, the moment, usually with a complete stranger, which can be very difficult in itself if you are not a very open person, or someone who is able to share your thoughts and emotions with others easily. So, it begins. You sit in her or his office and you have to rehash that traumatic, soul-destroying event. "tell me what happened" "tell me how the events of the day unfolded" and just then a hard gulp in your throat is felt as you try to search for the words to answer this question. Invasive? Yes to some of us. Your mind is scrambling to find the words. You almost say something as you try at the same time to fight back tears. You did not know it could hurt so much. You never knew how strong you were until you had to be and then you crashed and burned at the end. Am I really that strong? Did I just go through something life-altering? You are filled with confusion as well. Why did this have to happen to me? Why was I a target? Why did i lose my belongings? my phone is gone and my connection to the world has been taken with it. Why did he lift his hand to me?
For the moment, clarity returns to you and you finally brave the moment to start talking and rid yourself of these very negative, self-destroying thoughts. She speaks. That harrowing event will hopefully be a thing of the past. You are told that at any time you want to break down you have every right to. A series of other questions are asked and you are completely terrified not to just sit with this stranger, but to talk. Talking about this particular event is one of the most uncomfortable things you have had to do to date. All you remember during the event - what helped you to get through it - was that you wanted to get home to your partner, spouse, children, your life as you know it. As each layer of your persona is gently stripped away, you begin to feel lighter; more hopeful. You realise that this person sitting in front of you is there to guide you, calm you, reassure your safety in the world and in this office and that you can go home and rest easier knowing that all will be well and that although you are walking through a very smoky, dark, painful situation right now, you will come through it triumphant, stronger, braver than before. Well wishes and love is sent to you as this special connection is finally broken.
You are now able to once again walk freely, safely, in a shopping centre without having to look over your shoulder. The colour blue is not a trigger for you either. Those endless days of writing and relieving yourself of that raw emotional grief, stress, anger, are gone. What comes out now are calm, peaceful thoughts. Love, no tears, no fear, pure love for oneself and the people around you. You are at peace. You are happy. This reminds me of the poem "Upon Westminster Bridge" by William Wordsworth, where he states, "Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!" he is completely at peace looking over the bridge at this godly view.
I have not neglected the communication side of trauma. On the contrary, communication will always be inhibited if we are not controlled, thoughtful, deliver a message with the correct intention. Communication is not just about speaking and merely saying words. If your mental state, thoughts, body, emotions are not in sync, deal with it. You need to walk through the pain to get to the best part. Be brave, do not give up. I promise, you will come out the other end better than you were before. I know I did.
This was a true account of what I personally went through just a year ago. My journey is still continuing and every day I am so thankful that I was able to deal with the very challenging events of that day. I am here. I am alive and I will strive to do the best I can every day and be the best I can. Our communication may not always be perfect, but there is always space to learn and improve. Do not throw away the opportunity to heal yourself. Without you being completely healthy, your communication will always need attention and assistance. Self-mastery is a lifelong goal that we are all continuously striving towards.