Adjusting to a new representation of self
The word “trauma is commonly used for tragic events and situations; however, also minor events may trigger a traumatic response, if people have been fearing for their own’s or other people’s safety, or if they have been through several humiliations over the time.
The COVID-19 pandemic may also be seen as a trauma, since we’ve all being fearing for our health or the health of our beloved ones, and even when not being in direct contact with the virus, we’ve all been and maybe we still are on a long ongoing alert.
During a traumatic experience, a defence mechanism protects us by temporarily blocking out emotional reactions and triggering all those actions that allow us to be safe. For instance, if we have a small car accident, we immediately think about our safety and the safety of passengers in our car, then we check on other people who may be involved in the accident and call the emergency if needed. The fear that we have experienced during the crash is manifest only in a second moment, and may become visible in the body, by shaking, crying, palpitations and vertigo; the emotional response indeed is only active when we feel safe. A similar mechanism is activated for all small and big traumas, therefore psychological distress may appear even years after the trauma; in these cases, we talk about a “post-traumatic stress disorder”.
Indeed, there should be a time to fully process all the sensations, emotions and images associated to the trauma that had been blocked and left out, since this may determine a dangerous fracture in one’s own story, that may affect self-confidence and relations. This process may not be easy and a psychotherapist may help to go through it in a safe and protected way. There is also a specific technique, called EMDR, that allows a better elaboration of trauma, by analysing all the aspects of self that had been processed half way and by integrating those into personal identity.
If you want to know more about EMDR, read here.