How to React to Trauma
How we react to trauma can depend on a wide range of factors, including:
- The severity of the incident and the circumstances involved
- Who was present at the time and how we feel about that person or those people
- Our own temperament and state of well-being
- Our age and past experiences
An incident which may have been very traumatic for one person could be of little consequence for another. Two boys may fall off a boat into shallow water. The six-foot teenager may finish up sitting in the water laughing at his predicament, but the five-year old may be beneath the surface, face down in mud, inhaling water and fighting for his life. Years later the teenager may not even have any memory of the incident, whereas the five-year old may, as an adult, have a chronic fear of water, never learn to swim, suffer regular panic attacks and experience breathing problems in his life.
Another indicator of how long the effects of trauma will last is the response of the people who first react to the incident. A three-year old may suffer one of hundreds of minor injuries that are part of life’s rich learning experience. In the rough and tumble of play the child falls over and bangs their forehead. The child instantly bursts into tears and runs to Mommy. Mommy opens her arms wide, scoops the child into her lap and kisses it all better!
There is absolutely nothing medically therapeutic in that kiss, but its effect is usually instant and dramatic. The kiss does not speed up the rate of physical healing, but the love and security of a mother’s love almost instantly removes the trauma from their hurting child’s inner being.
In contrast, if this mother had pushed the child away, refused to show care in the moment, and insisted that the crying stop, the physical pain would go on much longer and the inner trauma would now be at the root of an unhealed memory.