Author’s Note: This article does discuss 9-11 and other traumatic events since then, particularly in paragraphs three and four.
So here we are, over a week into February; the year is already flying by and it’s only just begun. In fact, the years themselves seem to be flying by as well. We were reminded of that fact just this past week. Justin Timberlake performed by himself at the half-time show at this year’s Super Bowl; looking back though to when we first saw him during the years of NSYNC, it’s almost hard to image that that was about twenty years ago. Wow, were the mid-nineties really twenty years ago? Where has the time gone? Time has gone a long distance, as have we. The times have changed, indeed; it’s quite a different world…and we are quite a different people.
Before we look at where we are now, let’s take a look back at where we were twenty years ago. Follow me back to the nineties; a time of grunge music, Full House, jellies shoes. boy bands, Nickelodeon in it’s prime, beepers, Walkman CD players, and some now very questionable fashion trends. The nineties were a pretty good time, particularly for older millennials, the cohort of kids born from 1983 to 2000. During these times, older millennials enjoyed a time of great things; an economy that was doing pretty well, no major wars that dominated news circuits, no large acts of terrorism (save for the Oklahoma City Bombing and Columbine, which appeared to be flukes…too distant and unrelated to affect most everyone else.), a surge of new technological innovations, a plethora of deliciously sweet and artificial foods and drinks, promises of great things by our parents, and bright future to look forward to. It was a fun and relatively carefree time, and it seemed that the 2000’s (despite the highly mocked Y2K paranoia) were going to bring so many wonderful things. Enter, September 11th, 2001.
The 2000’s started off in the first year fairly optimistically; a new president was elected, some cool new music and movies came out, the PlayStation 2 was released…nothing incredibly huge, but it was only the beginning, or so we thought. Then, on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the world stopped and watched in complete shock as the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York fell to the ground and nearly three thousand lives were lost in an act of terrorism. It was almost unbelievable, that such a thing could happen, particularly in the United States. The world changed that day, as did an entire generation.
Before 9-11, older millennials lived in a relatively peaceful time. At that moment though, the world of peace and prosperity was shattered; gone was the childhood of Dunkaroos and Legends of the Hidden Temple. At that moment, an entire generation had to grow up and leave behind the comforts and safety of their childhood. Their concept of the world had to change, because at the moment, everything changed; the world changed forever, as did life in the U.S. The next two decades would bring a whole new onslaught of trauma and ordeals to wreak havoc on the mental and emotional wellness of the entire nation, and in particular, the generation of kids coming to age during these troubling times. Two large, costly, and long wars being fought concurrently, so many more acts of terrorism and school shootings to come, and an economic recession that the country still has scars from have all done so much to create a volatile and unstable environment that has not at exactly been great for the generation of kids transitioning into adults.
So, what effects has this era of continuous trauma had on millennials, as well as generation z? As mentioned earlier, so many kids and early teens were instantly and aggressively brought into the throes of adult trauma and severe emotional & psychological pain. Busy public places all of a sudden had an ominous sense of danger, schools were no longer a safe place, the fear of biological weapons and hidden bombs were a constant factor in life, and the media was a constant stream of re-triggering material and fear. All of this trauma and fear takes a tremendous toll on people’s well-being, especially when an adolescent’s brain is still developing and is already going through a tumultuous period of hormone changes and strong emotions. What is also concerning is that this era of trauma is not over yet; there are still acts of terrorism, mass shootings, school shootings, and other traumatic experiences that affect the global population almost daily.
Let’s take a look at just the two years. In June of 2016, we had the then largest mass shooting with 49 lives lost in the Pulse Shooting in Orlando. Then, that record was broken with the shooting in Las Vegas with 58 lives lost. There have also been various shootings in schools and public places, bombs on trains, at concerts, places of worship, and almost any other type of location you can think of. We are living in an era of constant trauma, and it’s taking a toll on everyone’s well-being. These traumatic events, like smaller traumatic events that happen on an individual basis can leave scars that must be treated.
In the world of counseling and mental health, we have done much research on the subject, and have learned what we really already knew: trauma has a myriad of negative effects on people’s physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological, and overall well-being. In Bessel van der Kolk’s groundbreaking and tremendously relevant book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Truman”, we learn of trauma’s effects on people and how to efficiently address and treat trauma. Trauma is a nasty beast, and has the capability to grow into a debilitating monster. Unfortunately, the popular phrase “Time heals all wounds”, is woefully false, and does no good in the proper treatment of trauma. The good news though, is that trauma can indeed be treated, and the wounds can be healed. I believe that no amount of trauma is permanent and untreatable; there is always hope for healing and growth. The remedy is mindful care, a purposeful and thoughtful approach, and the right tools that are aimed at the treatment of trauma.
One of those tools specifically designed for trauma is EMDR, which stands of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. What that very wordy title means, is that we use eye movements to enable the brain to process a traumatic event, in a safe and comfortable environment. By making use of some very specific questions, setting up coping skills, and going through a thoughtful and deliberate process of looking at the traumatic memory and allowing the brain to process said memory at its own pace, we are able to guide clients through the process and find healing. When treatment for a particular memory is complete, the client is able to think about the memory without being flooded by emotions, and without being upset about that memory. It may sound strange (it sure did to me when I first heard about EMDR), but it is a highly effective and heavily researched treatment approach. EMDR is also useful for more than just trauma; it can be used to treat a very wide variety of issues brought up in counseling, such as: anxiety, grief, substance abuse, dissociation, and even impulse control disorders like impulsive gambling and pyromania. EMDR, along with bringing stability and coping skills, can help clients to heal from trauma and other events in a quick and safe manner.
Along with counseling, we can do a variety of things to cope with and heal from trauma. One of the most important things is to take care of ourselves. Our mind, body, brain, and soul are all connected, and we must be sure to take the time to care for each. Making sure to get plenty of rest, eating better, and not overextending ourselves can go a long way in taking care of our bodies. Taking time to get away from the trauma exposure and doing something we enjoy and find peaceful can be very soothing and healing to our emotions and souls. Our brains and minds can be taken care of by taking care of the rest of ourselves, in addition to keeping them stimulated with learning new/improving skills or knowledge, allowing time for processing and downtime, and not judging yourself and your reactions to trauma. Along with being a very popular southern farewell phrase, I believe that “Take care ya’ll!” is also a call to take the time and effort to take care of our whole selves. Our body, brain, mind, and soul are all connected and make up who we are; make sure to treat yourself right, and take care of yourself.
So, what’s the takeaway here? Well, as we have talked in length about, our world has experienced a tremendous amount of trauma; that trauma has in turn affected us in a variety of ways, and has been a continuous negative force in the lives of Millennials and even Generation Z. We are more than just shell of a body and a brain, humans consist of different parts that all affect one another, and can be tremendously impacted by trauma. By seeking counseling and proper treatments such as EMDR, and by taking the time to take care of our whole selves, we can successfully navigate this era of trauma and continue to live whole and meaningful lives.
Take care, ya’ll.