Trauma, Repression, and Depression

Perhaps the saddest thing and one of the most tragic is the warped soul energy created by deep denial and suppressed trauma. In the effort to repress something horrible, human beings create a kind of psychological and emotional vacuum in their spiritual life and a “walled-off” area in their life story. Like soldiers returning from combat and holocaust survivors, they usually dont want to think about it or talk about it. The majority of them also do not believe that others will truly understand, and they might just be right.

Just like in books and in many of my favorite movies, ie. Planet of the Apes, Apocalypse Now, Name of the Rose, etc., traumatized people and subsequent generations after them (think Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust survivors) learn to associate these unexplored, avoided and sometimes meticulously erased life experiences and personal histories with something “taboo”.  Early trauma becomes akin to a radioactive wasteland or Area 51 type psychological zone….not to be trespassed.  Either through social modeling/osmosis learned from others or from their own necessary coping under unimaginable circumstances, ie. sex abuse victims, combat related PTSD, etc., many trauma survivors struggle with bouts of anxiety, depression, and anger for years and surmise that their horrific experiences are something to deny, not talk about, and to generally fear.

Over time the human psyche is prone to either minimizing or exaggerating such life changing events and cloaks them in a kind of confused imagery and creepy jungle emotional ambiance. At worst it is a place full of monsters, blood lust and physical threats to survival. Ironically, another extreme is nearly the exact opposite….denial and minimization whereby the life trauma essentially becomes a distorted lie as wide and long as a river in Egypt. Victims sometimes create absurd stories to help replace their horrible losses and lessen their painful memories. My ex-father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor said “Auschwitz wasn’t that bad. I was 17 years old and there were no real rules”. Now that’s crazy because I know for a fact that his father died in his arms two weeks before the camp was liberated. My mother’s first reported memory (to me) about my biological father, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the middle of the night at age 31, was, “I remember he made me wash and scrub his mother’s kitchen floor”. That’s nearly as crazy and emotionally distorted as the concentration camp story. There must be more to the story and to the overall narrative.

Lacking the distinct emotional memories a clear chronology or unable to block the intrusive thoughts and anxious feelings in a safe or secure manner (to better understand and process them), the mind is left to interpret stress, trauma and forbidden feelings on its own and may even create substitute fears, irrational phobias, and symbolic “feared objects”. An out of proportion fear of the dark, bogey men under the bed, snakes on the plane, sharks in the shower and the “Beast” in Lord of the Flies comes to mind. Minor and temporary childhood fears are perfectly normal, but ongoing emotional reactivity, physiological arousal, and startle responses in adulthood are not. For a soldier returning home it may only take the sound of a backfiring car or an airplane  flying overhead. One feels immediate anxiety and panic to such triggers and is usually uncomfortable to even begin to think about repressed/ forbidden/forgotten traumatic events in their past.

Sometimes such habitual avoidance and denial is wholly reinforced by other family members and relatives who would similarly prefer to not remember, either out of overconcern or guilt. Frightened financially insecure mothers and emotionally distant fathers (either of whom may have had a pattern of drinking, yelling, or fighting too much) may communicate just as powerful a negative message to a child and their needed sense of security as an unanticipated IED explosion does to a professional soldier in Afghanistan or Iraq. To summarize, without processing traumatic events many myths, misconceptions (about self) and fears can end up replacing psychological discovery, needed insight and eventual integration of body,mind, heart and soul. Ongoing depression, mood swings, nightmares and recurrent anxiety can result because the heart and soul of a person (and what they used to believe in) is deeply damaged/violated and cries out desperately for repair.

Embracing all aspects of ourselves and our life experience, a common and noble therapy goal is unfortunately delimited and diminished when there are multiple psychological, emotional, and social/familial roadblocks in the way. Some of those roadblocks we place there ourselves to protect oneself from unwanted emotional pain. Others, however are placed there for us, to protect someone else and their need to avoid pain or take responsibility for causing emotional pain to another. A sense of betrayal by ones superiors or primary caregivers and guilt about betraying ones own cherished beliefs, life principles and personal convictions can lead to a spiritual/moral injury, an especially deep psychic wound at the soul level.

An inner conflict (severe neurosis)  is inevitable when one says to themselves, “I want to know myself. I seek full knowledge, transparency and self-acceptance” while there are still co-existing internal signs reading “Verboten”, “DO NOT TRESPASS” or “Don’t Go There” written in bold letters on intrapsychic barbed wire fences.  It can only make the inner conflict worse if these signs and symptoms are accompanied (like in Apocalypse Now) by other peoples denial, avoidance, secrecy, mixed messages, primal fear and symbolic shrunken heads propped on wooden stakes, so to speak. Psychosis and suicide is too often the result of deep depression, despair, moral injury, and a final loss of hope that ones traumatic injuries and soul wounds are repairable.


About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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1 Response to Trauma, Repression, and Depression

  1. Joede Berman says:

    I totally agree with you Cliff about the need to express fears, sadness, depression, and difficult situations we have all experienced sometime in our lives. By keeping our feelings inside or pushing them aside we usually create additional emotional issues in our lives. We all get caught up in doing what we perceive that we should do, and we lose touch with what we want and need. We may wonder, “Is this all that there is?” We may feel lost in response to our unlived lives, and we long for a sense of meaning and purpose. Engaging in creative expression provides the opportunity for creating some of the meaning that we crave, and it sometimes leads to inner knowing and clarity. Creative expression provides a counterbalance to the doing in our external worlds and gives us an opportunity to simply be and to reconnect with our own heart and soul.

    My passion for creative expression which includes spiritual connection and community awareness and involvement has been the core source for me to express and address difficult situations and moments in my life. I strongly encourage everyone to express their conflicts and pain through creative expression; whether by creating art, movement, music, writing, poetry, exercise or just talking about what’s going on in your life. Help others by volunteering and find out that as much as you think you are helping someone else the fact is, that person or act of doing for others is what is going to help you. Everyone’s soul can be healed and making connections with others is a first step in the process. “Creative Expression is the Healing of the Soul” “When we expose our hurts to the light of creativity we have a chance at recovery.”

    I love this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”

    Joede Berman

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