#TBT: What is Trauma?

These are important points about trauma to remember: how it is experienced by the individual matters more than the nature of the event. I would also like to point out to those who think that doctors and nurses cannot cause PTSD, trauma inflicted by caregivers, as seen above, tends to be the most severe, esp when repeated. So when psychiatric caregivers repeatedly seclude and restrain patients in abusive and brutal fashion, as they do and did me, trauma results inevitably in those who are prone to it…

I had a long talk with my psychiatrist yesterday about my ongoing anger on this issue,and i said to her that it was easier for a Mengele twin to forgive the Nazis than for me to forgive Michael Balkunas, MD because the whole world acknowledged (or most of it) the heinous deeds of Hitler and Mengele, and grieved for the slaughtered millions in WWII…they acknowledge that terrible wrongs were done. But who ever acknowledges that wrongs were done to me, or to other mental patients? NO ONE! Entire nations apologize to the Jews and even the violated catholic children get an apology from Pope Francis but american mental patients just get more forced Haldol shots and silencing! Am I angry, yes! And hurt and my heart races and i get tearful every time i even go to that place where i tHink about Manchester or Middlesex or Hallbrook, or st raphaels or Yale or new Britain General or so many other bad bad places i have been…but i am leaving Connecticut. I have to. i will be moving to Vermont on November first, whether they really want me, destitute or not, because i believe they have a kinder system towards both the people and the environment up there. And finally, as Rainer Maria Rilke’s wonderful poem “The Archaic torso of Apollo” ends, “Du must dein leben andern…” Or you must change your life….and that is what i am doing, in huge style. Changing everything. Ending one life and starting a brand new one in another place i have only once spent 6 weeks…i know no one there except two people i met there this summer. But i can do it. I survived rape and poverty and near murder. I can survive anything.

Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma in Tucson

Happy Thursday! Today I want to revisit a foundational post and a good starting place for further exploration of Treating Trauma.

What is Trauma?

What do  therapists mean when we talk about trauma?

One definition I like states that “psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event or enduring conditions in which: “The individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences (subjectively) a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity.” (Pearlman & Saakvitne, 1995, p. 60)

The important part of this definition in my practice is the emphasis on “unique individual experience”.  You get to define which experiences are traumatic for you, whether or not it would impact others in the same manner.  It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic,  but your own emotional experience of the event.

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6 thoughts on “#TBT: What is Trauma?”

  1. Dear Michelle,

    Thank you for the lovely comment. I wish you could move to VT too. But you never know, so don’t give up hope. I am both scared and excited but try to keep the plans for my future in mind and my excitement in the forefront. That way panic doesn’t overwhelm me. Right now, I am so overwhelmed by the simple task of culling and giving away much of my stuff that I scarcely have time to do much but clean and pack and donate…plus PT and other doctors appointments that I cannot put off until after the move to VT.

    Take care and be well, Michelle. Things will work out in time, I feel sure of it. Try to eat as healthily as you can and get good sleep, because without those nothing works well, as you know. It is difficult to do even those two simple things when you don’t feel well, but without them, things go to pot really fast. You have a lot to deal with already, I know that well..Please take care of yourself if you can, so you are prepared for whatever comes your way. Life’s really a beach sometimes, and I don’t mean Miami, that’s for sure!

    Remember that you aren’t alone. I will be thinking of you, my friend, and keeping you in my heart.



  2. Dear Pam,

    I love this post. I totally agree with you too and what you said needed to be said and I believe, needs to be heard by many people. I had never thought before about the inequality or rather, injustice to mental patients who never ever get apologies nor recognition for having been truly traumatized. People think it is all good. Older people, younger people; just about everyone I’ve known or know still believe that psychiatrists know what they are doing and as a whole, they do not. Or, if they do, then they know they are truly, “the crazy ones!”

    I so wish I was going to VT. I called the state hospital yesterday and it is a lovely one indeed, but little did I know that the only patients they accept are involuntary. I thought it was a crisis hospital for anyone! sigh…

    My son needs a place to stay for rehab, but there is not one that will not make his body very sick with toxic drugs, as well as treat him like he is not fully human. I hate my state’s psychiatric care, but then, I guess most places in the US are like they are in NC.

    I wish you well and I think you are making an excellent decision!

    Travel well, my friend! I love you.



  3. Thank you Barbara and Joy. I am taking a risk but am as excited as i am scared. It’s a good thing. Just gotta keep my chin and spirits up and keep looking forward. I have lived in CT all my life so this is a huge move for me, but i am truly truly looking ahead to a new life! Thank you again for your well wishing!



  4. I hope your move to Vermont brings you peace. A new beginning may just what you need. I am sorry about all that you have survived, but you did it. Now you can begin to thrive. Hugs, Barbara


  5. Thank you for this thoughtful reply. I have never moved away from anything before, but I am damned sure going to try now. Maybe as you said it is an attempt to break the cycle, but if it works and I recover, all I can say is: terrific!


  6. I hope your plan to move to Vermont works out for you. Sometimes a new environment facilitates recovery from trauma. In my opinion, that is why many of us (people with mental illnesses) lead such nomadic lives. Though many clinicians view our life in constant motion as a pathetic attempt to out-run our “failures”, a few of them are able to see this for what it is: an attempt to break the cycle of domination and neglect.


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