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Our Inner Conflict: Managing the Impact of Traumatic Events

trauma photo 1Sometimes we don’t realize the impact of a tragic event until after the day of the actual occurrence. Whether this is death, theft, or a loss of a job, emotions often do not surface until days, weeks, months or even years after the event. For me, several tragic events have led to hidden inner conflict within myself. I would like to share two examples of how these events impacted me and provided some strategies that have I have used to try to handle my circumstances in an effective manner.

The first traumatic event was watching my mother die in my home. I witnessed her passing out, the air go out of her lungs, her veins bulge, and her eyes roll up to the ceiling. She died from what is known as sepsis as a result of pneumonia. The experience was not only traumatic, but it was life changing, for, at that moment that I saw my mother die, I felt like I failed. This event triggered for me an internal conflict about my role and primary responsibility as a daughter. Since I was a child until my mother’s death, I held the role of caregiver for my mother who struggled with mental illness. It was my job and mission to save my mother from herself, and I could not.  The impact of this traumatic event stays with me today as I struggle with my self-deprecating thoughts and my emotions about my role and our relationship.

The second traumatic event is a recent theft that occurred to me back in April. A young lady, known for her drug abuse, stole my cell phone, credit cards, driver’s license and other important items such as my husband’s credit and debit cards as I was sitting in a restaurant. She immediately used our money to purchase food, tobacco, and other items at local stores. This life-shattering event violated my privacy, compromised my identity and that of my family’s identity. I am a very private person, and this theft was a violation on so many levels. Upon going to court, this young lady, who has since offended three more times since my theft, had a very casual, no-care attitude. She took no responsibility and even stated she didn’t secure a lawyer due to her “laziness.” This attitude only triggered me further and tapped into my internal conflict from prior traumatic events.  I now have difficulty trusting others even my friends, and I am fearful of this happening again. As a result of these two specific experiences, I knew I needed to do something to manage my internal turmoil and conflict. These recommendations come as a result of my experiences and may work for you too.

1) Seek professional guidance or counseling. Often people wait or do not seek help in any way after they have experienced a traumatic event. This form of assistance can come from a trusted friend, a religious leader, a counselor or therapist who specializes in grief or trauma, or even a specialized coach. The key is not to get stuck, and to talk about the internal struggle with someone.

2) Keep a journal. Get into the habit of writing daily to express your thoughts and feelings. There is no right or wrong way of doing this. This journal is something just for your eyes only. It is your process for dealing with the impact and consequences of the event.

3) Be patient with yourself. Remember that this journey to healing is not a race to the finish line. The impact from traumatic events can have long-lasting consequences which needaddressed. It is a process of forgiveness, healing and everyone experiences this process differently. It is highly individualized.

4) Take daily time away from everyone. It is important you give yourself alone time even if it is 10 minutes in the bathroom to decompress. This private time can be hard to do  if you have children or other caregiver responsibilities, but make this a priority to give yourself this quiet space to reflect.

It is my hope that my experiences with traumatic events and my suggestions are helpful for those who are experiencing the effects of trauma. To learn more about dealing with traumatic conflict, listen to our podcast “Handling Stress After a Traumatic Event” with Denise Thompson, LCSW with Crisis Response Consulting. For professional tips on how to handle trauma, visit the Better Health Channel of the Victoria State Government in Australia’s website, and read their article entitled:  Trauma-Reaction and Recovery.

Best Wishes.

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

Negotiations and Conflict Management M.S. Program



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