Trauma: The cycle of crisis

Why do some people recover from traumatic experiences and others do not? Most people have had some sort of trauma in their lives. And yet, there are some people who get stuck in the trauma. By "stuck" I mean that they continue to suffer from the symptoms of trauma long after the event itself has ended. 


I've seen some people continue to have nightmares, they get triggered by memories and can quickly and suddenly fall into a state of complete terror. Others avoid things or places that remind them of the trauma or avoid people that remind them of the traumatic experience. If the trauma was sexual abuse, some avoid intimate relationships by staying to themselves, using drugs to remain distant or don't allow any relationship to become long-term. Another way some people avoid dealing with feelings is by remaining busy with other things in life. They work long hours or avoid being alone with the thoughts in their head. And, others avoid remaining in a state of crisis. 


I'll try to explain this idea of crisis a bit more. Some adults with a trauma history just seem to attract crisis, seek crisis, ignore red flags until they become crisis and in effect move from one crisis to the next. Crisis is another way to avoid facing past trauma and feelings. But, the destructive thing about this pattern is that it is unhealthy to stay in a state of crisis. Our bodies go into crisis mode during a crisis and adrenaline pumps through to keep us alert and in survival mode. It becomes damaging to our bodies to stay in this state. Once a person is used to being in this state, they have a hard time dealing with life when there is nothing to be in crisis about and so they find something. Maybe they find a sexual partner that is dangerous. Maybe they go on a drug binge. Maybe they start a fight with a family member. Whatever it is, they work themselves up into a state of crisis so that this now becomes the problem rather than the original trauma.


One way to work with this is by going into talk therapy. My strategy is to figure out what feelings come up for the person in the moments between crisis. And then to stay there and feel those feelings. The goal is to learn to be more comfortable sitting with difficult feelings and to then to explore (at their own pace) the stuff that the person is so carefully avoiding. It takes more energy initially to face the trauma, but in the long run, not having to spend life avoiding something in your head, will save lots of energy and a deeper sense of peace.