Trauma and Critical Episodes

What is a trauma or critical episode?

It can be any number of incidents that involve the loss of life or a near miss that could have involved death or serious injury. More specifically a critical incident might be a death or suicide or assault in a workplace. Or it might be a serious accident in a workplace which results in serious injuries for one or numerous people. An accident offsite or in its proximity affecting  family members or workers. It might include violent or very threatening behavior on a site such as a robbery. It could be a catastrophic industrial implosion or explosion. All might be considered to have an affect on people psychologically.

The time after a critical episode.

Critical episodes can be distinct and contained in a small discrete geography which affects the people directly exposed to the immediate circumstances of a trauma such as a armed robbery. On other occasions a trauma might involve a very public and significant number of people witnessing it or hearing about it or being on site and vicinity when it happens. For example a fatal plane crash.

If you or workmates or family members have been involved, or have witnessed or been in the vicinity of a traumatic event, it will bring about dislocation and disruption to your life in some shape or way. Being involved in a critical incident or trauma will affect people in their thinking, their emotions, their behavior and their physical health. At the time and the time after the trauma people can experience a spectrum of thoughts and emotions. There can be a sense of relief, guilt, numbness, regret, agitation or fear. The range of thoughts and feelings can be jumbled together or experienced like a rollercoaster ride. Trauma  is real in our lives and initially people can experience I sense of being emotionally and psychologically “all over the place” This is not uncommon and does not mean people are losing their minds.

 Some of the responses to trauma.

People react to grief and loss in different ways depending on their personalities and characteristics. With trauma it is very similar and the invasion of the unexpected into an otherwise predictable world sets the thinking and feeling world of individuals on its head. It should be noted there are no set rules of timeframes or measured and timed rules about what or when people should be feeling or recovering or not crying or feeling OK again. People who have gone through trauma are on a journey. They are  making sense and responding to the thoughts and feelings or images of life threatening events. Another way I put it is to say that the past present and future become tangled up all at once. With time and space and reassurance things will return to normal. The severity and the proximity and the relationship with the trauma and who was involved and its effect on immediate loved ones or friends or workmates are all factors in dealing with trauma and moving into a recovery from the trauma or critical incident. Individuals react to stress and anxiety differently. Some people have friends to talk with others have limited contacts or networks or families to reach out to.

Some specific responses to trauma.

  • Confusion and disbelief that the trauma has happened at all. Some people report feeling physically numb or initially being in a dream like state.
  • Disbelief and denial and an ongoing thought, that this awful thing, could not have occurred.
  • People will feel overcome with emotion and cry or they can display great resentment or anger and want to blame someone for the episode.
  • Guilt at surviving a critical episode or avoiding an accident where others were harmed.
  • Self examination and blaming and questioning ones own culpability in the episode.
  • “I could have, I should have, why didn’t I,”.
  • Sadness and feeling isolated or hopeless in the circumstances.
  • Feeling the trauma physically by having intrusive thoughts or failing to sleep or being hyper sensitive or overly vigilant.

What is important is that like many episodes in life  things can over time return to safe normal. The trauma however is part of the make up and bruising memory of an individual or group. However the severity and the proximity and psychological and emotional impact of any traumatic event and the make up of the person taking it in will be a major factor in peoples response.  

Also the dynamics of the trauma and who was involved and its effect on immediate loved ones or friends or workmates are all factors in dealing with trauma and moving into a recovery from the  critical incident.

Individuals react to stress and anxiety differently. Some people have friends to talk with others have limited contacts or networks or families to reach out to. Some are involved in systems or sub cultures where trauma or experience of it is perpetuated and sustained for political or social reasons which serves no individual who wants the matter finished or out of their life. Other times horrific things happen and there is never an easy exit in the short term.