GUILT - THE FALLOUT FROM TRAUMA
Guilt - such a strong emotion and one that often controls our lives for years. A traumatic incident will almost always guarantee an element of guilt baggage that you end up carrying with you for a long time - whether it is warranted or not.
I certainly experienced this following my car crash back in 1989. It wasn’t the fact that I would never walk again that bothered me but rather the effect it was having on everyone around me. How their lives had to change because of what happened to me - that bothered me a lot. The result was a feeling of guilt so ingrained it has been with me for decades at varying degrees.
Recently, I had a chat with a friend on a road trip back to Sydney, discussing this element of guilt that happens in life following trauma. Not long after this trip my friend’s brother went through a traumatic health incident and was discussing this very same emotion with his sister. He felt guilty about what he had put the family through.
During my time doing Peer Support for patients with spinal cord injury, I came across many who felt the same way. It is common to feel like this. My friend was quick to empathise with her brother and understood the emotion he was feeling. She made a comment that summarised the situation perfectly. She made me see my trauma in a completely different light as she did for her brother. It was so timely for me and so powerful that I feel compelled to share it here with you.
She said “I saw it as something that was given to our family as a whole - we were just all given different roles to play within it”. This perspective has given me a whole new angle to look at what happened to us back in 1989. It wasn’t something that happened to me and affected the others. Rather it happened to all of us together. This viewpoint has allowed me to reduce the intensity of those guilty feelings and shed some of that baggage. It is a life long process of shedding layers and this has stripped some more.
Recent emotional and traumatic events in my family have triggered these feelings again and exposed the rest of my family’s individual perspectives on the crash back then. Now we are more ready to talk about each of our roles within it. What it comes down to is that it is exactly like my friend said. We each had different roles to play and we each have different strengths and different skills or lessons to learn within the trauma. Each of these roles are as important and crucial in supporting the whole family to cope within the trauma.
Understanding this concept, allows us to step back further from the situation and see it as a whole instead of individual parts. When I look at it as a whole it allows me to feel like we’re in this together and the emotions link us together rather than tear us apart. It creates more understanding and empathy for each other and how we cope with whatever comes at us in life.
It is through talking together with friends and with family, allowing ourselves to be open and vulnerable that we find enlightenment through other people’s experiences. Their stories help us give our story understanding and meaning within our own world.
What gift has been given to your family? What role do you each play to support each other within your trauma? May you be grateful for whatever is given to you no matter how tough it is at the time, It is there to teach us and allow us to grow within.