Why It’s So Hard To Talk About Our Experience Of Severe Trauma

Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.’

Gustave Flaubert

 

Whenever I have become highly emotionally upset about my traumatic childhood experiences, in the presence of another person, I have found I become highly inarticulate, unable to communicate coherently what I am feeling and why I am feeling it.

It is as if there is some kind of mental blockage, rendering me incapable of conveying verbally my state of mind in any meaningful way. Essentially, I seem to regress, leaving myself with the verbal dexterity of the average three- year- old (albeit, perhaps, on occasion, a three- year- old with a precocious knowledge of swear words).

As it transpires, it would seem there is a scientific and neurological explanation for this loss of articulacy when in such emotional distress relating to one’s traumatic experiences:

Our inability to verbalize our feelings about our traumatic experiences is most powerful immediately after the traumatic experience itself and during periods in which we are experiencing flashbacks (when we experience flashbacks, the brain reacts in much the same way as it did when we experienced the original trauma).

During such periods, research has revealed that the part of the brain responsible for language production, known as Broca’s area, all but shuts down. In some cases, the traumatised individual may enter a kind of speechless daze.

Broca's area

In calmer moments, traumatised individuals may talk about their traumatic experiences, but in a superficial way that does not remotely capture the intense distress, rage and mental agony their experiences may have evoked – language cannot adequately convey what it is like to experience such feelings.

Because we can’t communicate properly what our experience of trauma was like, or how it has made us feel, we can start to feel extremely isolated and cut-off, emotionally, from the ‘normal’, everyday world.

No -one can understand what happened to us or how it affected us as our experiences are, quite literally, beyond words; this produces, in many of us, an especially intense and profound sense of loneliness.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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