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Trauma and Resilience

According to Google: Resilience is often defined as the mental reservoir of strength that helps people handle stress and hardship. I find this to be a very workable definition.

Trauma seems to be everywhere in the world today. And it’s not just war, violence, natural disasters and disease that causes personal trauma. The CDC states that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent severely enough to leave a mark on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. One quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one in eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.

Trauma not only affects those directly involved but also leaves emotional and even physical scars on those close to the victims as well as their descendants . Some feel childhood trauma is absorbed in the DNA of victims and can be passed on for generations, affecting our capacity for joy and intimacy as well has having damaging consequences on our biology and immunity, leading to physical illness.

Human beings are extraordinarily resilient, able to come back from seemingly unimaginable traumas to lead productive and even joyful lives. To get to this point following significant trauma is not always easy. Behavioral scientists are beginning to realize that some of the difficulty in dealing with traumas is the result of reprogramming and even restructuring of the brain following trauma.

To “come back” from traumatic experiences requires a combination of strategies. One involves talking and connecting with others, allowing trauma victims to know and understand what is going on with them while processing painful memories. Medicines are sometimes used to biochemically alter unhealthy reactions to trauma.

Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk in his book THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, describes a third mechanism, one I find particularly intriguing. He states: Imprints from the past can be transformed by having physical experiences that directly contradict the helplessness, rage and collapse that are part of the trauma, and thereby regaining self-mastery.

The best treatment for trauma is, of course, prevention. But no matter how hard we try, humans being humans, we will always find ways to hurt and frighten one another. Rather than denial of our traumas, which does not work, we must face them with mindfulness, compassion and courage. We can move past trauma, my friends, and find joy.

Dr. John Monaco

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