Retraumatization can occur when any situation, interaction, or environmental factor replicates events or dynamics of prior trauma and triggers feelings and reactions associated with the original traumatic experience. – just like yesterday’s fire at the port which triggered the painful memory of August 4 explosion that becomes difficult to let go of.
Some of the possible effects of retraumatization include:
- Loss of trust and security
- Feelings of pessimism, fatalism, and cynicism
- Less enthusiasm for treatment or optimism about its benefits
- More intense-than-normal flashbacks and nightmares
- Persistent fears or paranoia that lead to a higher level of hypervigilance
- Agoraphobic behavior as the person becomes reluctant to leave the house or other safe environments
- Increase in vulnerability to triggers, either responding to more of them or reacting more strongly to their occurrence
- Greater reactivity to stress and increased susceptibility to other psychiatric or behavioral health conditions
- Higher incidence or self-harm, including attempts at suicide
- Possible delusions or hallucinations related to the re-experiencing of the emotions connected to the retraumatization
This means greater stress and anxiety, and chronic stress is related to the onset or exacerbation of numerous medical conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Respiratory disorders
- Digestive disorders
- Chronic pain
- Loss of reproductive system functioning
Self-Care during Tragedy
For those experiencing trauma, a specific type of self-care called “grounding” is often helpful. Grounding brings you into the moment through physical and mental stimuli that help to distract your mind from anxiety and traumatic thoughts and memories. Here are 7 techniques that could help if you are feeling retraumatized:
1. The 5-4-3-2-1 Exercise
Describe 5 things you currently see.
Describe 4 things you feel right now. For example, “my sweater on my arms,” or “the pencil in my hand.”
Describe 3 things you can hear.
Describe 2 things you can smell right now or smells you like in general.
Describe 1 good thing about yourself.
2. Call a friend
Call a friend and ask them about their day, focus on what they have to say and allow yourself to be carried away by the conversation. Also, don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re feeling as well!
3. Take a shower or bath
Let the experience of the warmth wash over you and focus on the sensation. Maybe light some candles or play music as well and focus on the various sounds and scents.
4. Move around
Take off your shoes and socks and rub your feet on the floor, do some gentle stretches, go for a jog or a walk – anything you can do that will allow you to focus on the sensations within your body. Describe them to yourself and try to stay in the moment.
5. Guided meditation or yoga
For some people listening to a meditation or practicing yoga can be mentally or physically engaging enough that you’re able to be completely in the here-and-now. While these types of activities aren’t for everyone, for many they reduce stress and anxiety.
6. Distract yourself with a project
Whether you paint, draw, sew, or even just like to color, engaging in an activity you enjoy and is soothing can help bring you into the present and relieve some of the pain of trauma.
If you are a survivor who has been struggling in the wake of tragedies like Beirut explosion, you may be experiencing retraumatization. Remember that healing is not a straight line -- there are highs and lows. The way you react in any one moment doesn’t define your overall progress. In fact, recognizing the signs and signals of retraumatization can help grow your resilience -- the ability to heal by learning to identify, create, and grow the tools and strengths you have to self-regulate.
Survivors can build on this resilience by seeking out support during difficult times like these so when future tragedies occur, they are prepared to adapt to the reactions that might otherwise present a stumbling block in their healing journey.
Of course, everyone’s journey to healing is different and there is no one size fits all approach. It’s always important for survivors to understand that they aren’t alone in experiencing retraumatization, that many others are going through something similar, and there are people out there like us at Wellbeing Center who understand and want to help.