Updated: Mar 27
When you talk to a person who has been diagnosed with breast cancer they will tell you their story in a way that emotionally makes sense to them as to why they ended up developing the cancer. If we were to ask it to them before they have been diagnosed, they would tell you a different story where they emphasize different events and experiences. I know this because this was my PhD research. We, humans want to have a sense of why something happens to us even when the ‘why’ cannot still be explained by medical risk factors.
This study has showed me that there is something in the way we are somehow emotionally reminded of our past traumas – even if they are totally unrelated with our current experience – when we experience something as traumatizing in the here and now. Say a person is worried that they might be exposed to Covid-19 and worried about getting their loved ones also infected in the here and now reality, and I feel extremely anxious. When you talk to that person, you might discover that internally their experience of anxiety is related to something that happened to them as a child, for instance, of having been bullied at school and them trying to prove it to their family to get help. Once the person makes that connection in the here and now, something remarkable happens and they are able to let go of that paralyzing type of distress go and shift to a logically informed coping mechanism. Imagine the dread of waiting to hear whether you have failed or passed an exam and you finally find out that you passed. Can you feel that relief? That is what I am referring to.
Therefore, when you are working with a severely traumatized person, do not only focus of the stressor at the visible level and inquire for more. Ask if this current situation reminds them of anything from their past experiences. The person might easily make a connection to a seemingly unrelated situation. Stay with the emotional experience of it, as that is exactly what might help the person to resolve their actual emotional trauma. This is to show that each trauma is experienced subjectively and it is the subjective experience of it that we need to work with.