Individual’s trauma can affect generations to come: mental health expert

There are two types of traumas: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that comes from a very high intensity of trauma such as after rape or an accident, and complex that stems in from living with a trauma for years.

The latter, according to counseling psychologist Dr Humair Yusuf, is perhaps more damaging. He was speaking to a two-day Karachi Wellness Festival’s session titled ‘How are you feeling?’ at the Veritas Learning Circle on Saturday.

The moderator of the session asked how Dr Yusuf perceived trauma and emotions stored in the body and subconscious minds and why it was important to address trauma, big or small.

“Our natural instinct when faced with a threat is to fight,” he responded. When one cannot fight, he or she freezes. This is where one experiences trauma.

“There is a big trauma or a small trauma, but one way of understanding long term effects of trauma is your fear response. You are living in fear. You are in constant state of fear,” he explained.

Recent studies, he said, had highlighted how trauma could affect an individual’s DNA. “You can see the effects of trauma for generations,” he said, adding that trauma was very real and part of our physical brain.

Dr Yusuf said that one well-known response to traumatic incidents was the PTSD but another condition was complex trauma which could be seen in studies with children who were bullied.

“The complex trauma is a low-level trauma but day in and day out. The PTSD is usually a very high intensity trauma but brief,” he said. “Complex trauma comes from living with low level trauma or even a significant level trauma for years.”

The complex trauma, he said, was perhaps more damaging.

The other panellist, Dr Shahnaz Tapal, pointed out how small traumas formed knots in lives and it got painful and complicated to untie them. “When we start unearthing the stuff we buried for a very long time – small traumas – and we want to heal ourselves, the process becomes painful,” she said, adding that there were exercises with which one could heal themself.

In Pakistan, she said, people were often belittled. She explained that we looked at how someone was dressed, the color of their skin, or where they were from and then we formed the opinion that they were lesser than us. “Until we open our eyes and see that’s not the case,” she stressed.

Even teacher, she said, did this with children in schools. The teachers were not in a position to say that their individual student did not know much. “You have no idea what that child does know. They might not be in a position to share because you have created this environment, where he or she doesn’t feel to share.”

She went on to explain that when a child was born, they needed parents for primary care. “It is very important for the infant to feel safe,” she said. The onus is on parents to tune into the child’s needs. The eye contact and touch is very vital. The parents need to hold the child very gently.

She said that parents should not handle infants with anger as the child does not feel safe. “The internal world of a child, especially an infant, is kind of chaotic. They don’t understand what is happening with them,” she remarked.

For example, she said, if a mother was agitated and her child needed comfort, they were not on the same field because the mother was not giving them the same energy they needed.

Dr Yusuf said it was great if children and parents could talk about emotions. He said that it was the first generation to do that. “Previous generations did not have that but their children were loved,” he said, adding that one could have secure attachment, and a solid emotional template without actually having to articulate.

The Veritas Learning Circle president said that at the festival, they were celebrating Karachi’s wellness as a community. Different wellness providers, he said, were offering over 50 sessions in a day.

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