While science has long acknowledged the mind-body connection, the mechanism of this phenomenon and the extent of its effect remain obscure to science and medicine. For lay people, the concept tends to be very much an abstract.
In short, our overall understanding of the mind-body connection is still in its infancy.
In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the phenomenon of “burnout” as a medical condition, and included same in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. For decades, the Japanese have acknowledged karōshi which, translated literally, means “death from overwork” in Japanese. This typically manifests in a fatal heart attack or stroke due to stress.
In families in which parents have divorced (these used to be called “broken homes” colloquially, before the phenomenon became so common that it made too many people uncomfortable), if the children are young (and they often are), they blame themselves on some level, despite all admonitions from their parents that they are not to blame.
As unfortunate as this is, it is normal. Because of the way children process incoming data, when something unpleasant that occurs that the child is unable to reconcile due to lack of experience, they tend to believe that if they had behaved differently, such a thing would not have occurred.
Thus, we as a society summarily deny the deep damage that is done to children as a result of divorce—even if the divorce in question is an amicable one—because divorce is so prevalent. To do otherwise would necessitate public policy measures that would run afoul of far too many political agendas.
And this example of divorce is one of the mildest when we speak of unresolved trauma.
So, when we speak here of unresolved mental and emotional trauma, we are not speaking of combat-related post traumatic stress (what is commonly called post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD), although unresolved trauma does qualify as post traumatic stress. What we are speaking of is trauma that is born of long-term, protracted stress or abuse. This could involve serial sexual or serial physical abuse, but these severe types of trauma account for but a part of the unresolved trauma discussed here.
The unresolved trauma being discussed here usually begins with severe dysfunction in the family of origin, and though it includes the serial abuse mentioned above, it more often manifests in actions and behaviors that are not typically thought of as giving rise to trauma.
Those who have been raised in homes in which one or more parents are alcoholics or drug addicts account for a large number of these trauma cases. Quite often, children raised by the children of alcoholics or drug addicts—though not alcoholics or drug addicts themselves—wind up suffering from the same types of trauma, as damaging behaviors are passed from generation to generation.
Those who had a parent or parents who suffered from mental illness often suffer from unresolved trauma, whether the parent’s malady presented in extreme neurosis, or something more serious, such as schizophrenia.
Typically, the environments in which those raised in severely dysfunctional homes (regardless of from whence the dysfunction arises) evidence fixed sets of circumstances and dynamics which inevitably give rise to varying degrees of mental and emotional trauma. These can include any combination of shaming, severe criticism, blame, isolation, guilting, abandonment, threats of violence, and a host of others.
While many individuals raised in such environments believe that they’ve put the past behind them upon becoming adults, this is often far from the case. Even those who do not become substance abusers themselves (among those who’ve been raised with substance abuse in the home) frequently come to a point in their adult lives where emotional, mental and even physical maladies manifest, sometimes seemingly out of the blue, to disrupt and even destroy their lives.
Some become substance abusers, co-dependents, or exhibit other forms of emotional dysfunction. Some become demonstrably neurotic. Some develop anxiety disorders and/or depression. As a result, some lose jobs and families. Many agonize for years or decades, thinking they’re “going crazy.” Some commit suicide, never knowing the reason why life became so unbearable for them.
The most insidious and dangerous aspect of this sort of unresolved trauma is that many, if not most, individuals who suffer from it are not aware that they’re suffering from it. Many rejoice when, upon attaining adulthood, they are able to extricate themselves from their families of origin. Many do maintain unhealthy relationships with family members, but the point is that the trauma follows them whether they do so or not.
Despite acknowledging that their upbringing was “less than ideal” (or other such minimizing of their ordeal), such individuals mistakenly believe that they can put the past behind them and get on with living.