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Thursday, July 25. 2013
Does talking about traumatic experiences help?
A life, lived long enough, will collect many physical and emotional painful or disruptive experiences. Some will scar over, some will remain oozing wounds, and some may be crippling. It's normal life. Shrinks and therapists try to find ways to be helpful with emotional pain, but there is no panacea.
Some thoughts on the topic: Does writing and talking about trauma help? Probably yes for some, no for others.
Posted by Dr. Joy Bliss in Our Essays, Psychology, and Dr. Bliss at 14:20 | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)
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Maybe because I grew up in a household where feelings were rarely acknowledged, I do find it helpful to find an empathetic listener when I have experienced a trauma. Sometimes all I need is for someone to say, "Goodness, that happened? It sounds awful," and then move on. Sort of a "I hear you; ouch" message.
If I had grown up in an emotionally intrusive or manipulative household, I might feel that talking it out was just a way to wrap it all thoroughly around the axle and perpetuate the problem.
The ideal state is probably to suppress, with awareness. It's exemplary, yet open; one can lapse awhile as conditions may be. IOW, control the 'mull', as Scarlett O'Hara did with, "Oh, I'll think about that tomorrow." The uncontrolled 'mull' seems like self-control but it can't be, as it forecloses so much of better living. It's better than acting-out, but that borderline is thin and staying on the right side of it is an energy sink.
--thanks, BD --nice, coming from the pith master himself!
Sometimes no, sometimes yes. Personal examples. No: Talking about my three years in the Vietnam War didn't help. I had to work out the mental issues one or two at a time. It helped having a wife who loved me, calm me after the nightmares, etc. Yes: Last November, my wife of 46 years died. Talking about it a bit even with strangers - getting an "I hear you; ouch" - eases the pain a little bit at a time. Having several acquaintances who have had similar recent losses and who will talk about their grief etc also helps; sometimes helps both of us. Perhaps the difference is pain and trauma versus grief and trauma. I am uncertain. Your mileage may vary, of course, as we are each a bit different, one from the other.
Yes, it helps, with the right people and with the right timing. I recently got divorced after my husband cheated on me big time. The whole thing has taken two years. It took a year before I could really tell anyone, the process of broader disclosure is part of the endurance test, and needing to talk to people who have been through it is part of the healing. From an emotional standpoint, there things you have to get through alone or you will never really recover. Talking to other, appropriate people at the right time, is necessary in its own right.
Here is an example where it could have helped. When I was in elementary school, a friend of mine was killed in a gun accident with his older brother. I later talked about him in school, before classes began for the day, when a lifelong friend told me to STIFLE IT. I stopped talking about him. For decades.
In bull sessions in my college dorm, I strongly advocated pacifism as the correct response to the Vietnam War. When I later dropped out of college and was drafted, I obtained 1-O [Conscientious Objector] status.
After the genocide in Cambodia, I changed my mind on pacifism. When murderous thugs roam the earth, there are no clean hands.
Decades later, I shed my first tears about my friend's death. I came to the realization that my pacifism was a response to the suffering of the older brother for having killed his younger brother. No, he never talked to me about his suffering, but I knew how kind he was to his younger brother. It was not difficult to connect the dots. I didn't want to kill on the battlefield and suffer the agonies of the older brother.
It would have helped, I believe, to have talked about it when I was younger. It might also have helped to have gone to his funeral, but as I had never been to a funeral, attending a funeral was outside of my awareness of things to do.
However, I do not see the point of discussing my conclusions with the older brother. He has suffered enough already.
So often, for me, talking about it is a way of processing it. It takes time to process things and sometimes the processing is done bits or layers at a time, which means it might take several conversations and several people listening and saying "I hear you; ouch". For those like me whose traumatic scars resulted in deep insecurity, that validation gets us by until we're strong enough to trust our own sanity in how we've interpreted the event. I talk about my traumas to make sure I'm still sane, trusting that someone will give me a reality check if I'm way off the mark. [My traumas tend to ping my moral compass and fiddle with my anchoring notions of what is right and wrong.]
--back n forth through the looking glass,
which side was which, i forgot, at last!
looking for the truth, trying to find the place where the truth lies, and says, you don't need to look anymore.
oops --just for a lark i was re-writing "Ulysses" in the comment box, and forgot to erase that bottom part
Well, my New England relatives didn't have much tolerance for whinging and inflicting one's emotions and personal tragedies on others. Tragedy/ trauma to be endured bravely. As the Spartan mothers supposedly told their sons, return w your shield or on it. This was highly motivational but isolates one somewhat.
There is also a certain arrogance one develops from habitually donning an armor of restraint and silence about painful subjects in public, one is appalled by mere mortals or siblings who howl and yowl about FEELINGS in a "messy and undisciplined" way.
As Christians, and adults who have lived more than 5 minutes and had our share of traumas and tragedies, we know and profess that we are all broken and desperately in need of God's grace. Hence my love of these two popular quotes NOT from the Bible:
“Everything has a crack in it, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen
“Man is broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” Eugene O’Neill
But I still don't like talking about painful stuff except w a trusted handful of friends, a minister, the family MD, and a few online friends of years acquaintance.
--in a way, because we know mortality, everything is painful, because it's evanescent, because the greater the burst of joy, the more piquant the evanescence.