Trauma Blocking: Driven to Distract
After a painful experience, some people may choose to face their feelings head-on while others would rather forget. The latter can manifest as trauma blocking, where someone chooses to block and drown out painful feelings that hang around after an ordeal.
Examples of trauma blocking include any number of distractions, often done to excess:
- Binge drinking
- Mindless eating
- Compulsive shopping
- Staying in a bad relationship because it seems better than being alone
- Too much time on social media
In essence, it’s a kind of deliberate distraction. Instead of risking dwelling on some kind of deeply uncomfortable experience a person will exercise, work long hours, or constantly take on busy projects — anything that soothes, calms, or diverts — to take the mind off things.
A person who was molested as a teen might turn to food to block pain. A veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might drink to blur the horrors experienced in combat.
Trauma blocking carries another risk, too: the danger of relapse. Once a person stops drinking or resorting to drugs, sobriety’s newfound clarity brings avoided issues into focus. That can drive a person back to substance use and alcohol abuse.
Some might liken it to repressed memories. The verdict is out on that one, however. A number of health professionals swear by it, while others attribute it to dissociation (detachment), denial (a kind of “checking out” mentally), or simply forgetting (which you may recall — rather unpleasantly, perhaps — if or when something triggers your memory).
Fortunately, there are therapeutic approaches to help work through such traumatic issues. It can take a lot of time and a lot of work, but ultimately it’s a healthier alternative to years of substance abuse (or whatever the preferred poison may be) to help mute the trauma.
gottman.com – When Trauma Blocking Gets in the Way
healthline.com – What’s the Deal with Repressed Memories?
sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Treat the Trauma, End the Abuse
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