Overwhelm : Flooding and Trauma : why telling trauma survivors to ‘just get over it’ shows you don’t have a clue!


Part of being involved in an intensely traumatic situation is being flooded or overwhelmed on a physical level which mirrors the terror and fear you may be feeling but this terror and flooding isn’t just something happening in your mind, it affects your entire body and chemicals in the body and leaves a lasting imprint which so few understand unless they know something about trauma.

I was thinking a week ago how limited words are in expressing or conveying the full impact of trauma.  I was watching the movie Their Finest part of which shows in graphic re-enactment the trauma of bombing in London during the war with people being blown to smithereens.  Think about that for a moment with your mind and the feel the difference between seeing or experiencing that as a real event and imagine how removed from it all the sentence “yes, they used to drops bombs on London” really is!  It doesn’t quite portray the same intense impact as the real body mind event does it?

So how frustrating is it when we explain our traumas to others with words and they can’t understand why we aren’t ‘over it by now’.   My mother often says to me when I try to tell her about the intensity of my nightly panic attacks and accident re-enactments “well just say to yourself, I am not going to let this affect me any more!”  WTF? When we were undergoing the trauma our entire body and being was flooded or overwhelmed and that is an intra cellular event and affect that doesn’t just end when the event ends.

Today I was thinking a lot about stress, flooding and overwhelm.  In a recent post on panic attacks I was talking of a therapist who treated a young man with constant panic attacks, as a child his father exposed him to terrifying things and left him with no resources or skills to cope.   A lot of what goes on when we are overwhelmed in a family or by parents or events is that we are left alone with those overwhelming feelings.  There is literally no one to talk about them with.  We take ourselves off and try to calm ourselves down in the best way we can, we may have to use substances.

Today while gardening I was aware of how much less stress and trauma/imprint/charge my body is now carrying.  I have been able to unpack a lot of my trauma in therapy and body work release its charge.  I know that my body suffered compound traumas from a young age.  If I made a list here there would be at least 20 major traumas I suffered by the time I was 21 and one of them was a near death collision, one witnessing an attempted suicide. Those are not little things.  They all got retriggered when I was in my 40s and my marriage ended and that was in many ways a repeat of earlier traumas of being left and left me in a near breakdown state where I went into complete retreat.  This was following a very serious accident that occurred for me when I was on the run from a fairly emotionally invalidating and abusive family.  In the end I was in such overwhelm I had to abort my attempt to move overseas and move back to Australia as I was so completely overwhelmed with zilch practical support and I figured that at least at home I could have financial support but no emotional support at all (although at the time I was still suffering under the illusion that one day I would find this from family).

The truth is that unless you have suffered major trauma you are never really going to understand what trauma survivors experience every day.  Trying to tell them to ‘get over it’ or to move on or put it in the past is not just insulting and ignorant its double wounding to them considering what they and we are suffering.

Trauma survivors need support.  They need validation.  They struggle enough inside their own heads with feelings of guilt and shame about not being able to function in the ways others do.  Trauma survivors have deep wounds that can and are retriggered in present time.  They can make a choice at times to put the focus beyond the trauma but not overcome it completely.  The most they can do is learn to live with the symptoms and the pain of knowing that their lives will be irrevocably changed by what they have gone through.  So do trauma survivors a favour.  Don’t comment if you don’t understand.  Listen and educate yourself or just do trauma survivors a favour and leave them in peace if you can’t at least try to show some empathy.


18 thoughts on “Overwhelm : Flooding and Trauma : why telling trauma survivors to ‘just get over it’ shows you don’t have a clue!

  1. The quotation that suggests traumatic pain goes beyond “all rationalization” explains it well. I suspect that traumatic experiences – those events that surpass our physical/ mental/ emotional / or spiritual capabilities – become etched in our DNA and affect us at a cellular level. There have been some studies that suggest that there is a link between trauma and chronic illness, for example.

    1. Yes, most certainly and if you think about we start out as one cell from both parent’s and so we carry the genetic DNA history in our cells. Also if a parent carried a lot of trauma before we were born we carry that too on some level, I firmly believe and science is starting to back this up.

    1. Yes, Peter Levine the person I think has the most deep insight into trauma writes how being left alone in trauma with no comfort from anyone else makes it so much worse. When he had a near fatal crash someone came to the roadside and sat with him and held his hand, he credited that for helping him recover from it, but that also led him on quest to understand trauma’s affects.
      I am so sorry you were so alone as a child and as adult we can be just as alone with all the pain and so little understanding or validation for what we have been through.

      1. That is so true…(your last statement.)
        Hm. I was in a bad wreck when I was 17 and someone who saw me (a total stranger) pulled over and took me to the hospital right down the road.

        You mentioning Peter Levine’s experience reminded me of my own and that could be why that particular trauma doesn’t haunt me so much now.

      2. Wow that amazing I also smashed up at 17 but was stuck in the car. I wonder if our earlier trauma brought those kind of experiences towards us?

  2. It’s true that if you haven’t suffered through trauma you don’t understand. I only have one friend who truly understands what trauma is. I still get triggered and even years later the memories are still alive.

    1. Yes, those memories will never be gone, they are a part of your life and your story. Mine come back with great force and power sometimes. I am glad you have one friend, its not enough but its a help. Wishing you love Deborah ❤

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