I can recall sitting in my “psychology of personality” course as a college sophomore, a few years ago or so, and asking the professor if certain hardships have a tendency to change someone. (I usually come from the school of thought that we all encompass an underlying essence that remains the same, but I’m using ‘change’ here to imply an outwardly drastic difference in character.) He adamantly nodded, and then went onto explain how being immersed in intense family conflict can induce an aftermath of psychological effects.
I remember asking the question since, at that time, I knew someone who appeared as a stranger to me. This person’s inner light seemed dimmer than what it once was. It was difficult for me to grasp.
However, I was aware that this individual had endured recent traumatic experiences. From then on, I always wondered whether particular traumas or stressors could pave the way to an overt transformation.
Stephen Joseph, Ph.D and his colleagues developed a questionnaire to asses positive changes that may have resulted from trauma. Garnering newfound confidence, self-worth, control, openness, purpose and establishing close relationships are the basis of the survey. However, what if an individual scores low on those various dimensions, indicating another picture altogether?
“If you scored under 3 on one or more of the items, is this causing considerable problems at home or at work?” Joseph wrote. “Is it leading to significant difficulties with family, friends or colleagues? Have you tried dealing with the problems already, maybe through reading self-help or talking to others?”
It’s evident that post-traumatic mindsets can take a negative, darker turn; perhaps one that allows someone to sport that unrecognizable mask.
According to the article Common Reactions to Trauma (PDF), grief and depression may occur. Interests in activities and people are lost, future plans are approached with apathy, or a hopeless feeling (that life isn’t worth living) unfolds.
Trauma also can alter a person’s views of the world and self-image. Cynicism increases, and the ability to trust others recedes as well. “If you used to think about the world as a safe place, the trauma may suddenly make you think that the world is very dangerous,” the article stated. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed people react to severe stress by coping via unhealthy outlets (such as drugs or alcohol), which may only heighten conflicts further.
Yet, even if you do feel lost, you can always find your way back, and I’d like to end this post with a silver lining. Confronting situations and learning from adversity can lead to growth, but Helpguide.org offers constructive suggestions for dealing with trauma that go beyond cognitive coping techniques.
Reestablishing a familiar routine reduces anxiety; keeping your mind occupied (with reading or watching a film, for example) redirects your energy for that designated time-frame. Connecting with others (my favorite piece of advice) can help you feel more connected to life overall. Family, friends and loved ones provide support, care and enjoyment; community organizations may also hold beneficial support groups.
And, by challenging feelings of helplessness by assisting others, your own worries and insecurities are no longer the center of attention. This can include volunteer work, donating blood, or simply comforting a friend. Of course, if a downward spiral still does ensue, seeking professional assistance may be warranted.
I had a gut feeling, back in my sophomore year, that this person was still the person I knew, deep down, but I do think that, on the surface, trauma can transform. Luckily, there’s ways in which it can be dealt with accordingly.