This is addressed to your personal experience of being a survivor of any of the following: sexual assault, terrorist attacks, ethnic violence, homicide, violent crime, physical and emotional abuse, natural disasters or any other traumatic event.
The impact on your mind is debilitating and a gamut of intense emotions get stirred up as a consequence.
Fear, rage, frustration, guilt, sadness and panic are common:
• You may in fact endeavor to deny these emotions by engaging rigorously in the work or day-to-day activities as if nothing has happened.
• You may feel that the event will occur again and are on constant alert and feel scared as a result of it.
• You may experience difficulty in sleeping and relaxing.
• You may feel sad or angry as you lose the ability to trust in the world at large.
• You may experience that a part or the whole of yourself has died.
• You may experience nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event.
In the Indian socio-cultural context, as a victim, you could experience internal and external pressures which force you to banish these emotions and suffer in isolation. Some of these are:
• There have been cases where friends, family and the community at large abandon the victim holding him/her responsible for the trauma.
• There are few spaces wherein you can express the immense pain without experiencing disdain.
• The experience may further re-victimize you.
• This is despite the universal canon upheld by mental health professionals and international forums that survivors are not to be blamed for the crime committed to them by another person as they have no power to influence the actions of the perpetrator.
In order to recover from the aftermath of trauma and traverse the journey from being a victim to being a survivor, you need
• A supportive environment
• Relationships where you feel accepted and valued
• Professional counseling and psychosocial support
• Processing intense emotions.
Specific emotions and their intensity vary between the victims. Nonetheless, despite these individual differences, there are some common threads that bind the experience of almost all traumatic victims into a single pattern right from the initial experience of the traumatic event to the advanced stages in the road to recovery.
The knowledge about this pattern is of tremendous help to all the victims of trauma as it binds them together and gives them the hope that eventually there will be a dawn after the tumultuous dark night of trauma.
STAGES OF COPING
Despite the umpteen individual differences in the road to recovery from a traumatic event, a predictable pattern of broad stages can be discerned given by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and thereafter developed by several others.
It must be kept in mind that this pattern is not linear and smooth, the individual may progress one stage and come back to it due to overwhelming affect. Such cycles of to and fro movement are a norm rather than exception.
• Peri-traumatic Responses: During the traumatic event, the individual may experience heightened horror, fear and helplessness. Also, some individuals may feel ‘depersonalization’ and ‘de-realization’, i.e. they experience their self as completely changed and everything happening to be unreal. There is evidence that those individuals who react to a traumatic event more negatively are at an escalated risk for posttraumatic difficulties.
• Denial and Isolation: Almost everyone experiencing a traumatic event reacts to it by telling himself/herself that ‘it is not true’ or ‘this is not happening to me’. Though denial is unhealthy in the long run, at this stage it protects the individual from the threatening affect and pain. Therefore those around the victim should not force him/her out of denial at once but must realize that the process needs time. Alternatively, the victim may shut himself/herself away from all social contact.
• Anger: As the initial upset of the event mitigates and the victim surfaces from denial, anger sets in. The person feels enraged that why he/she was the target? The person feels that why without any fault of his/her, he/she was the target? The intensity of rage at this stage is enormous and it may get displaced to almost anyone and everyone. There may be fantasies of destroying everything.
• Bargaining: As the anger lessens the person enters the third stage where he\she postpones the grieving process.
• Depression: In this stage, after the anger and denial have subsided, the individual experiences a great sense of loss and sadness. He/she realizes that life is not the same. The illusions that one has held in a just world and one’s capability to fight all adversities shatter as the individual realizes his/her vulnerability and smallness.
• Acceptance, Reconstruction and Recovery: In this stage, the individual accepts what all has happened and moves on with life. Though emotional upheaval may still occasionally disturb the victim, better control is gained over the situation. A thorough processing of the traumatic event takes place, the person does not ‘forget’ it but ‘integrates’ it with other life experiences.
You need to process the situation, accept your feelings and thoughts in a non-judgmental and non-critical manner. Psychosocial support along with professional counseling helps in speedy recovery.