NYC Therapist Talks: Balancing the Traumas of Life
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
Although most of us have probably heard this euphemism before, a recent study looked at traumatic life experiences to see how true this saying really was.
Published in the Current Directions in Psychological Science, Mark D. Seery, PhD and his colleagues from the University of Buffalo, delved into the impact trauma has on individuals and whether or not it actually makes them psychologically stronger and more resilient.
Traumatic events like major natural disasters, sexual abuse, or the death of a loved one obviously incur psychological damage, so where does that saying come from?
It turns out that not enoughadversity can be just as harmful as too much.
Dr. Seery and his colleagues found that people who experienced multiple traumatic events in their lives had high levels of global distress, functional impairment, and PTS (post-traumatic stress) symptoms.
But they also found that people who experience little to no traumatic life events had similar levels of distress, functional impairment, and PTS symptoms.
Their results identify a “sweet spot” in life, where you need to have had some hardships, but not too many, to have the highest life satisfaction and the lowest distress. (Read Article) ##
Life is traumatic. Life is full of random moments that we attach meaning to, that is, we think about these moments, and then we feel and behave accordingly. When our thinking goes haywire, the random moment takes on a larger-than-life negative meaning, and we begin to ruminate, or go over that negative story over and over again, what people also call "racing thoughts". The feelings that come from these racing thoughts? Worry, nervousness, anxiety, panic, and then sometimes despair. When we get stuck ruminating over these thoughts and feelings, we might be diagnosed by some as having symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
What's interesting about this article is that people who haven't had "traumatic" events in their lives also report symptoms of "post traumatic stress". What on earth does THAT mean?! To me it proves the subjectivity of life experience. One person makes it through childhood sexual abuse, wars, deaths, destruction- and makes it out relatively unscathed. The next person reports being a broken-down mess because their parents got a divorce when they were 7, and they never got over it. One person's "traumatic life experience" might just be another person's "well, that sucked, but I'm still here, and can move forward with my life".
This illustrates nicely the whole concept of cognitive behavioral therapy/rational emotive behavior therapy. The events themselves mean nothing. What we TELL ourselves about the events is what leads us to trouble. Cognitive behavioral therapy spends much less time wallowing in what it FEELS like (again, subjective) and more time helping you make sense of the event, and move on with your life.