Adversity can come in many forms. Adversity can be small things that build up over time, little shocks to the system. Adversity can be big things, like job loss, abuse, accidents, war, fighting, financial woes, relationship problems.
The list goes on. Being resilient is an admirable quality. Some people bounce back from adversity and negative events, stronger than ever.
Have you heard the Kelly Clarkson song “Stronger” and in it, the lyrics say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? This is also a reference to Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. To an extent, this has been proven to be true. Small adversities that we overcome do make us stronger.
However, that applies to people who naturally release their strong, negative response to a past event (this is also called trauma). These people are very good at changing their mindset and putting negative situations in the past, where they belong.
When they do so, they are able to release the full emotional palette that comes in an adverse time.If you aren’t one of those people or if you have suffered a more traumatic experience, the game changes.
The adversity that you “should” be able to get over and move on from, has morphed into a trauma.
The negative memory plays over and over in your mind. As a result, you suffer varied symptoms. In that case, what didn’t kill you did not make you stronger. It made you weaker because, for whatever reason, the negative emotions did not release for you at the time.
When Adversity Morphs into Trauma
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, it might be a result of the effects of a trauma, big or small.
- Memory flashbacks
- Panic attacks
- Lack of focus
Let’s take an example of a client, a woman in her 30’s who suffered an unimaginable car accident when she was in her late teens. Laura had glass embedded in her body. It took hours of surgery to repair the damage.
Even though there were only slight scars, the real damage was done to Laura’s mind. As a result of this, Laura had the symptoms of trauma, including anxiety and memory flashbacks.
She had difficulty driving in a car, even if she was a passenger. When she found herself in a car, driving, she recalled vividly the sound of the smashing metal.
She could “hear” the crunch of the breaking glass of the original accident. Laura found it difficult to control her anxiety in other situations as well. She did not feel safe.
Her brother, who had been in the car at the time of the accident, did not have any symptoms of trauma. He was able to shrug the event off. He believed that it was a one time thing, that the probability of another accident was slim.
Jack has only a dim memory of the event and does not attach much significance to it. It happened and it was no big deal. He doesn’t understand why his sister just can’t “get over it”.
Reason #1: You Feel Like You are Still in the Memory (Associated) of the Event
When a person is heavily associated into a memory of any event, they feel like they are right there…that it is occurring as if it is now…the feelings are the same feelings that were present at the original event. Laura was heavily associated with the car accident and her brother was not.
In order to lessen the grip of the event, it is necessary to mentally take a step back and put some distance between you and the image of the memory.
You can push the picture of the memory out in front of you and see yourself in the picture, instead of you seeing it through your own eyes, as if you were in the picture.
Reason #2: You Have the Movie in Your Mind on Automatic Replay of the Event
A person who is able to recreate the traumatic event very well has a movie that plays in their mind; that replays the entire scenario over and over again.
Some people represent it as being in color, larger than life, moving. If you take that movie in your mind and make it still, shrink it down, make it black and white, you will lessen the emotion associated with it.
Laura had a vivid image of the crash, complete with the sounds and could recreate it quickly in her mind, whenever she was triggered by being in a car. Her brother had put a damper on his recollection of the event. He could drive a car and be in one with no hesitation.
Reason #3: You Are Stuck in Freeze Mode
Fight, flight or freeze…three responses to a highly stressful, traumatic, or negative situation. Deep in our brains, we have a primal system that originally served to protect us. This system gave us responses that saved our ancestors lives….they could fight, they could run away or they could freeze.
Laura froze and so was in a stuck state, like an endless loop where the vivid memory is in constant replay mode, when triggered. Her brother chose to fight, at least in his mind, and moved on.
Overcoming Adversity and Trauma
It isn’t easy for someone to live with the effects that they feel post trauma. You might need help and there is no shame in that. There are many ways to deal with trauma.
- Traditional talk therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Emotional Freedom Training (tapping)
- NLP (my personal favorite)
….and more….if it is just a small one, you might even be able to just use the tips that I have given you to make that change…now…mightn’t you?
It is possible for massive growth to occur after a negative experience of adversity or trauma. It can be a wake up call, if you let it be. For others, it can cause a stuck state that causes them to relive the horror of it, over and over again.
The relationship that you have with yourself is so important. Even though you feel that you are powerless, you aren’t…really…you do have the power to choose a different outcome…just like that…
“Drive your own life…you deserve to, don’t you?” Sherie Venner
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