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Last week we continued our conversation on the impact of trauma to the warrior. We focused on the physical effects of trauma. This week we will discuss the psychological effects of trauma.
Last month, many thankful citizens expressed their words of appreciation to our veterans for their sacrifice. As we consider the word “sacrifice”, it generally means something was given up. If you are a veteran, what did you give up while you went to war? Birthday and graduation celebrations? Holidays with loved ones? Watching your children play school sports or their involvement in other activities? The intimate connections with a spouse? Although these are important and can never be recaptured, I would imagine there were other important sacrifices consequential to your deployment such as your health and well-being.
It is important to note, trauma changes the person. It is not that we are worse, but we are different. Each person who returns from war will be different. War changes all who have stepped onto the battlefield. Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror. How can one return from war feeling anything but changed? In fact, some returning veterans ask the question, who am I?
Can we do anything prior to deploying that would preclude a negative response to a traumatic event, to build our resilience? I thought so.
Prior to my deployment to Iraq in 2003, I intentionally spent much time in prayer, study, and meditation. I thought that this prep time would be like an inoculation for me in case I experienced difficult times. I believed that I was emotionally and spiritually resilient. However, that was not the case. Even though while deployed I was able to fully function, I returned deeply changed by my experience and I was not prepared for this response.
Why do we respond to traumatic events the way we do? We think that we have all we need to help us on the journey, and then we experience combat and go through what no one ever wants to experience; isolation, fear, loss, and the terror of war. There are numerous pre-trauma factors that could affect how one responds;
- ineffective coping skills
- survived another trauma event; plane crash, fire, violent crime, serious car accident, natural disaster such as an earthquake, or tornado
- lack of spiritual grounding or faith
- sexual/emotional abuse, especially experienced as a child
- poor social support mechanisms
- lack of realistic training to deal with the sights, sounds, and smells of death
- distrust of leaders and mission intent
There are other factors that we could add to the list. The point is that each person’s response will be different because of one’s experiences in life and also their spiritual and emotional grounding prior to going to war.
Additionally, we must remind ourselves that no two persons are effected the same way from a similar traumatic event. Whether we experience a one-time event, or multiple events, or sustained repetitive events, the psychological responses to trauma will be different for each person.
There are numerous factors that impact how a person reacts to trauma;
- closeness to the incident (were you injured or did you witness another being injured)
- amount of warning time, such as a bomb or a sustained attack
- existence of an ongoing threat
- seriousness of personal injury or the injury of others from the incident
- intensity of the incident, gunshot versus a bomb
- responsibility you feel toward causing or not preventing the incident
- length of time between multiple trauma events
- an existing condition, such as mild brain injury from a former incident
- poor command climate and support
- loss of confidence in the success of the mission
- where one is in their spiritual journey
There are numerous factors that affect how a warrior copes with adversity. In a times of stress, warriors react in a variety of ways. You may know of other factors that effect how a warrior reacts to trauma. If so, what are they?
PSYCHOLOGICAL SPECTRUM OF RESPONSES
We have shared the various factors that impact how a warrior reacts to trauma. What are some of the common psychological conditions of trauma? Particular responses vary in range from the following;
- panic attacks
- emotional disturbances
- Post Traumatic Stress
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The above factors are marked by numerous and differing symptoms that occur in three main areas: flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and avoidance. Most people recover on their own. However, when a warrior becomes stuck with these symptoms for more than 30 days, a formal diagnosis of PTSD can be made. Often the above symptoms can combine and lead to depression and the tendency for the veteran is to isolate themselves. Suicide is the risk.
For years after my return from Iraq, I exhibited five of these factors. I realized if I was to begin a journey toward healing, I needed to learn more about trauma and trauma care and find ways to mitigate the impact, and develop self-care practices in my life.
SOME HELPFUL RESPONSES
What are some helpful responses that a veteran can make?
- create a safe place
- develop relaxation and breathing techniques to reduce stress
- step away from business to meditate, pray, read
- consider growth possibilities from the trauma experience (Post Traumatic Growth)
- deliberately plan and take time to heal
Lastly, if after following these helpful responses and a personal assessment, you believe you are stuck in a depression or are suicidal, reach out to a friend or a professional for care. Take care of you! We will discuss PTSD in more detail in another conversation.
What are some of the helpful responses that the faith community and faith partners can have? We too can be an integral part of our veteran care. What can we do? How can we care? Let’s be in conversation as we explore answers to these questions.
In the meantime, thanks for sharing in this important conversation. We will share next after the New Year. May you and yours experience a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year…