It was Nietzsche who said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” But in reality, something that does not kill us can leave us seriously traumatized. When you go through a life-shattering experience, a very scary or tragic event, it can leave you with serious depression or anxiety issues – or even post-traumatic stress disorder.
When you go through a horrific experience, you don’t always come out of it fully intact. And I’m not talking about a trip to the dentist. What if you lost your job, ended a relationship, and had to move because you couldn’t afford your house anymore? Victims of violent crimes can have lingering trauma related to the original assault. A serious accident may leave you mentally as well as physically challenged.
The condition known as PTSD has gotten a lot of attention since 9-11 and the wars that followed in its aftermath. Mostly, this disorder is used to describe what happens to soldiers returning from the battlefield or to first responders who’ve had to deal with a tragic rescue operation, but the truth is that a bad divorce can cause similar symptoms, and so can the loss of a loved one.
If you have gone through a traumatic experience, both your body chemistry and the way you look at life will be different. You will not see people, places, and things the way you did before. You may find it very difficult to take in anything positive and enjoy your life and family.
Healing from trauma takes time. You need to learn to be gentle with yourself and with your loved ones. They also need to learn to adapt to how you are dealing with the world. One of the best things you can do is to sit down with the people you care for and talk about how you feel and about what everyone can do to make life better for everyone concerned.
When I was young, I was a passenger in a horrible car accident where everyone was killed except for me, including my friend’s 12-year-old daughter. The memory still lingers, and the thoughts of it still make me shake and want to cry. This is something I will never get over, but I have learned to live with it over the past few decades. And through this healing process, of learning to cope and trying to make some sense from a trauma or tragedy, you will get better over time.
When something has affected you so drastically, you need counseling and emotional support. You may also need medication. Do not try to ignore your feelings. Denial won’t help you or anyone around you. What you need to do is admit that you aren’t the same person. Then you can begin to look for ways to make your life whole again. Getting help wherever you can find it has to become part of your lifestyle for awhile.
Once you are back on your feet, life will still be different, but one of the gifts that healing from trauma can give you is a new outlook, so that many of the little things that used to bug you or even make you mad won’t be as important anymore. What you will do then, instead of wasting emotional energy on trivia, is find new ways to increase your inner peace and add harmony to the world around you.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at [email protected].