We have just experienced the 10th anniversary of 911. We have been moved by the individual stories of heroism, family and incredible unity that emerged through the catastrophic loss. I have been impressed by the wonderful expressions of support for the children, families and rescue professionals affected by 911. The tribute inspired us, but the tragedy still affects us.
Do we understand the reality of trauma?
As I talk to people about their perceptions of the media coverage of 911 (and surrounding tragic events), some tell me they avoid looking at the film clips because the effect is too disturbing. The visual reminder of the event brings dread or beyond normal panic or fear. For these individuals, seeing even a reminder of a traumatic event puts them in a very difficult emotional place. Their reactions are like those we label as post-traumatic stress.
Not unlike post-traumatic stress or PTSD
I have spoken with several of our soldiers who have returned from battle. Each one subsequently experiences emotional reactions and problems due to the level of trauma encountered on the battlefield—trauma that has left each veteran in a state of chronic panic or fear.
When I was asked to help plan an event to commemorate 911, I considered what I had learned from the soldiers to whom I had spoken. I did not wish to inflict emotional impact or episodes of PTSD. It was for this reason that I insisted that we not show burning structures, planes slamming into buildings or other graphic videotaped scenes. Even some of the more graphic photographs can negatively affect people.
Besides soldiers, many children have been scarred by trauma. Statistics state that approximately 40 percent of children in urban settings have experienced some kind of traumatic event. If the statistics are accurate, we really do have a serious problem because that indicates that nearly half of the children in urban areas suffer from post-traumatic stress.
Traumatized children reflect that trauma in their behavior
Not long ago, I attended a conference at which a world renown trauma expert spoke to a group of kindergarten teachers from a major city. As the expert spoke, the teachers became almost indignant telling of the level of trauma they were seeing each day from the children in their classrooms. The trauma had grown to such a state that the teachers found it difficult to keep order in the classroom because of the behavior of these small children.
Certainly, not all inappropriate behavior is due to a traumatic event. However, we must face the reality that children who are traumatized show signs of its impact in their brain and behaviors. In fact, we see the impact of trauma in many places within our society, but we call it by other labels and thus may not realize what we are seeing is the result of trauma.
Develop your “trauma lenses”
I think that we need to have a new set of eyes for trauma in the world around us. We’ll call them “trauma lenses.” If we learn how to recognize the signs of trauma, we may be able to help those around us realize why they are feeling like they do. Then we will have a better chance of helping them strengthen their ability to cope.
In my next set of posts, we will be discussing some issues, facts, brain states and general impact of trauma to a child or an adult. I believe this information may help us understand our world differently. It may also help us be able to spot and help someone near us who may be traumatized. Hopefully, we all will better understand the impact of trauma to our children and those around us.
Stay tuned for more about trauma.
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network