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The Psychology of Trauma

by Dr. Jared Maloff, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Los Angeles, CA

Inherent in life is the presence of frustration, and its manifestation; stress. The essence of frustration is not being able to get what we want, how we want it, when we want it. It may sound selfish, but all of ourminds are wired to seek out the gratification of these urges. Freud called them id impulses, and they dominate during childhood years. As we grow into mature adults, these impulses are moderated by what he called the super ego, and its socially acceptable face that we put forth into the world, the ego. Though on the surface, it is usually quite important to keep a veneer over this id vs superego battle, internally we all have to cope with life's daily, inherent frustrations. In Los Angeles the major daily frustration is the traffic and the fact that many times, we cannot get to where we want, when we want, how we want. Though I'm quite certain that anyone who has ever been in traffic has fantisized about all the other cars disappearing and to not have to share the road with anybody else, obviously reality dictates otherwise. Thus we are left with frustration, the strain of the id clashing up against the harsh superego. What defines psychological wellbeing is not the absence of frustration, but how we cope with the frustration. How do we continue to keep life's speedbumps in perspective when our current, immediate needs are not being met?

This question seems particularly poignant given the stark realities that have unfolded within the past month and week. The devastation inflicted by the gulf coast hurricanes, the derailment of a Los Angeles Metrolink train and the seeming collapse of the country's financial markets are weighing heavily on many people's minds these days. The traumatic nature of these current events has a way of bringing to the surface of one's mind, manyprimative fears and inadequacies. Essentially the perception of stress, the true experience of not getting what we want or need in the moment, brings up a very primal fear of not being able to survive. Thisof course is the root of most anxiety. So how can we cope?

The experience of fear is exacerbated by the unknown. Not being able to tell the future incidentally is also inherently frustrating. One element of combatting fear is understanding what can be known, and what cannot be about a given situation. Once parsing these two concepts, gaining as much knowledge as is reasonable about the element that can be known can help reduce anxiety. Another factor that can reduce anxiety, paradoxically, is actually facing the feared variable. The depth of one's anxiety is usually connected at its roots to a fear of death, or being utterly humiliated, and since when facing a fear one of these two options does NOT occur the vast majority of times, it is customarily a very safe bet to say that when facing a fear, the worst possible scenario imaginable will not actually happen. Thus when looking fear in the face, we tend to come out ahead, feeling stronger, more capable and essentially more well equipped to deal with future frustration and trauma.

Courage is not defined by the absence of fear, rather the ability to face one's fears in the face of feeling uncomfortable. When it comes to natural disasters and a plunging stock market, one cannot control these factors anymore than a surfer can control the tide, but our ability to manifest courage will breed a future sense of capability and calm despite the unpredictability of the storms that each day has to offer each of us. The alternative to facing fears, hiding from one's fears only serves to severely exacerbate the fears. The internal monologue one utilizes when avoiding fears usually sounds something like this: “I feel safe because I am avoiding 'X'. As long as I avoid 'X', I will be ok. 'X' must be really scary, and thats why I try so hard to avoid it. If I ever had to deal with 'X' I'm not sure I could survive.” One's ability to prove that they can survive when dealing with their personal demon(s) is absolutely essential to building more confidence, or as Freud would term it 'ego strength'. It thus should become all of our collective responsibility to not strip ourselves of the chance to prove our own internal strength and resourcefulness.


Dr. Jared Maloff is a Clinical Psychologist practicing in Beverly Hills, California. He works with a vast array of adult, adolescent and child clients presenting with a variety of symptoms and diagnoses. Learn more about his work at:www.beverlyhillspsychologist.com or contact him at:jmaloff@hotmail.com or at (310) 712-5480 for more information.



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