How did the trauma ruin you

Trauma: promoting resilience - how does it work?

Not necessarily, because resilience depends on many factors. One of them, the attachment style, is also rooted in the experiences of the sensitive phase, as observed by the British psychiatrist John Bowlby. According to this, a child is more likely to develop a so-called secure attachment when it experiences reliable affection and sensory stimulation: It then behaves more confidently and can express itself well, for example stretching out its arms, smiling and showing sadness. Regardless of their cultural background, two out of three people have a secure attachment style and are therefore able to successfully cope with common stresses such as the first day of school or work. What they experience as an exciting game, a person with insecure attachment perceives as traumatic. He is more emotionally vulnerable, more likely to be depressed after a difficult experience, and less likely to recover from trauma, while others do well in the same situations. We do not all have the same protective factors.

In addition to these protective factors, what determines how we cope with a traumatic event?

Duration, intensity, the time of the trauma and then the resilience factors themselves. After the Bataclan attacks, Denis Peschanski and Francis Eustache observed that neuronal activity in the tonsil increased tenfold in those affected, but completely extinguished in the left temporal lobe, a region in which are right-handed language areas. The victims were silent and stunned. Over and over again they saw the same images of horror in front of them, were trapped in the past, unable to work, love or speak. The resilience factors that help the brain to reformulate in this situation include two things: that the victims receive non-verbal certainty even before they can find the language again. And when they finally want to tell about the trauma, that you will listen to them and that they will find meaning for themselves in what is happening.

First aid for traumatized people simply means being there for them?

Yes, you should calm them down, hold their hand, bring them a warm drink, talk to them like a child, never leave them alone - like you do with a baby. They cannot control their emotions because the necessary cortical structures are practically switched off, and they cannot express themselves because the left temporal cortex has become silent. But if we give them security, we can see that their tonsils gradually calm down and that the temporal lobe becomes active again. Slowly they find their language again. Getting shocked victims to speak too early can contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder. Because they are not yet able to deal with the horror at the time.

"If the victim wants to tell his story, but society reacts indifferently or disparagingly, then resilience is impossible."

How do you know if it's too early?

If the victim is not yet speaking spontaneously, i.e. taking the floor himself. How long it takes for this varies from person to person and depends on the protective factors acquired. Few are able to express themselves immediately, but there are also cases like this. So the main thing is to stay with them and wait until they want to speak for themselves. Then comes the second act of resilience: talking about it. The temporal cortex is active enough again for the victim to report on what happened and begin the verbal work. The memory is reformed when the patient consciously searches for words and new images in order to tell his story and thus address selected people, such as family members, partners, priests or psychotherapists. This allows him to free himself from the traumatic images that run in his head like a loop.

So speaking is a critical resilience factor?

Yes, words have a liberating effect. Talking about it enables the brain to regulate emotions. Several neuroscientists have already managed to record the extinction of the almond kernels and the remodeling of the brain using a brain scan. But something else affects resilience: the public reaction and version of the story. Because if the victim can and wants to tell his story, but society reacts indifferently or even disparagingly, then resilience is impossible.

An example?

During the First World War, many wounded soldiers suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and were unable to return to the front. They were mistaken for cowards and given electric batons as a punishment. Even after the Korean War there was a general who beat the returning soldiers. Many of these men never recovered from their anguish, even if some of them were well cared for at home. Likewise, a woman who has been raped and mistreated has little chance in certain cultures of starting the process of resilience. Because her family wants her to be silent, and society expels her. In a different cultural context, a similar experience of violence and humiliation might have less negative consequences. Post-traumatic stress disorder and its resilience also depend on the cultural context.

This article was originally published under the title "Créer les conditions de la résilience" in the French psychology magazine "Cerveau & Psycho".