From Broken Boys to Whole Men: #13 – The Power of the Past: Trauma and PTSD

The image that comes to mind, for me, when one tries to bury the past without facing it is of a dead body someone tried to dispose of, in the earth or in a lake, doesn’t stay buried; it comes back to the surface, to the horror of the one who tried to bury it.

Traumatic experiences in the past have a way of making us deal with them. Until then, they suck the life and energy out of us, and come back to visit us in ways both familiar and strange when triggered by experiences in our present life.

Before scientists and clinicians developed the field of trauma studies, we used words like shell-shock and irrational fear to describe over-the-top reactions to loud noises or bright lights, or the inability to “move on” after a death, or a panic attack when it began to rain.

Now, we use terms like, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and grief to explain these reactions in soldiers returned from combat, bereaved relatives, or flood survivors.

And one need not be reach adulthood before sustaining trauma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) as the term used to represent a group of negative experiences children may face or witness while growing up. This past summer, I served at Camp Noah, a day camp for children who have had ACE’s. The majority of those I worked with in August were children of immigrants, and the traumas were inflicted by our own government’s policies.

Men and boys have been slower to benefit from trauma studies and trauma-aware services and care. As I’ve written here before, the suppression of all emotions except anger blocks talking about and dealing with the effects of traumatic experience in men’s lives.

We tell them to “suck it up” when it comes to recovering from a trauma, or convey the expectation that a real man is strong enough to endure traumatic or difficult events on his own. Men and boys get these messages from as early as infancy, when, studies show, well-meaning adults unconsciously reinforce emotional responses in girl babies while discouraging it in infant boys.

Boys and men grow up with the belief that if you’re emotionally impacted by an experience, it means you’re weaker, or less of a man. This can lead to outbursts of anger, hypersensitivity, anxiety or depression, conflict in relationships, self-medication and addiction.

Life ends up being unfulfilled and unsatisfying for the man—and often dangerous to those close to him.

The bodies we bury in our quest not to feel keep coming back to the surface until we acknowledge them, make friends with them and even embrace them, therefore making them part of our story.

Until we do that, they have tremendous destructive power.

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