Dr. Molina, Psychiatrist: “We all experience situations that can trigger microtrauma”

The noise immediately stops time, and through the protagonist’s pupil, we witness a memory that has invaded his head. When he arrives, he is paralyzed, terrified, and sweat is dripping from his forehead. Many of the references we have about traumas They come from the cinema and even if one prefers that situation to living with one of themit is inevitable that myths and clichés have infiltrated us which don’t quite fit this unpleasant reality. It is typical to think that trauma can only be experienced by someone who has witnessed horrific scenes.

They also exist microtraumawhich psychiatrist Rosa Molina compares to kiwi seeds: “barely noticeable compared to the juicy pulp that surrounds them”, but it “can affect the texture and flavor of the fruit.” This Madrid doctor of public health repeats herself as an author in her new book Your microtraumas (Paidós, 2023), which aims to help us identify traces of our past so that they do not condition our present.

Overshadowed by high voltage trauma —the most serious cases to which we gave the most hype —, our micro-traumas They go unnoticed, accumulate and shape the way we behave and we relate to others. Molina says that in reality these microtraumas are a very sensitive topic that should not be trivialized and that this book, of course, “cannot replace individual work with a specialist”. The expert also offers some hope: all people with trauma can overcome it and live a full life after it.

The first question is obligatory, what distinguishes trauma as we know it from one of these microtraumas?

Trauma is an adverse situation that threatens our life and our integrity, is unspeakable in nature, and damages the way a person sees the world. When we are traumatized, a fracture appears and we begin to feel vulnerable and fragile. Situations that trigger microtrauma may go unnoticed because they are unlikely to threaten life or integrity. Harassment in the workplace may not be life-threatening, but it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder equivalent to major trauma.

Do we all have microtraumas?

I think we have all faced situations that can trigger microtrauma, but whether it develops depends on factors. You can react to the same event in many ways. When the 9/11 attacks took place in the United States, it was expected that there would be many cases of post-traumatic stress, but according to Carmelo Vázquez, who is a professor of psychology at Complutense University, this was not the reality. The vast majority had a period of acute stress, but over time only a small group, around 10%, developed the disorder.

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We shouldn’t focus so much on the vulnerability of human beings because we are actually characterized by resilience. There are those who have also experienced positive emotions over time, such as a sense of belonging to a group. Why do some traumas develop and others not? It depends on the vulnerability factors, some can be genetically inherited as well as learned. In addition, the vital moment a person goes through when they experience that situation is very important, their support network, environment is very important.

Do you learn from trauma? Can we avoid trauma through this experience?

Lessons come from every adverse or traumatic experience, and of course, if we succeed in the previous ones, we win the draw. At 40, you live longer than an 18-year-old, which can give you some tools. But you have to be careful with the typical phrase “there’s always something positive you can take away” because it can be very harmful. Sometimes you can’t take anything positive, it’s something painful, unfair, and it would be better if it didn’t happen. Of course, you can always move forward and recover. Everyone can get well, we must not think that it will stay forever and that life will no longer be unsatisfactory.

How do you think cinema represented trauma?

As with many mental health disorders, some key points are overstated because others are more difficult to express. A major trauma I call high voltage and the most delicate ones were left aside. But what do we see in schizophrenia? Well, delusions, hallucinations… symptoms that are easier to represent than emotional dullness, abulia, or anhedonia.

There is also a problem with the way we normally label trauma, and above all on social networks. Everything seems to be trauma because the word is trivialized: ‘my boyfriend left me and left me traumatized’. The same thing happens with the word bipolar or depression.

There is also a myth that trauma is something exclusive to childhood, but can it happen outside of this stage of life?

Yes, it can also appear during life. Childhood trauma seems more comprehensible because it marks and configures our brains. When this happens at this stage, the brain is fully developing and can determine what the child’s relationship will be. Trauma can occur in an adult, but in this situation it is seen as a fracture: vulnerability, mistrust and a sense of insecurity arise. It can occur in either of two phases.

Treating trauma in consultation is complex…

Yes, some authors say that while you transform the past each time you recall it, it moves away from the initial memory, the trauma remains frozen. This happens with many traumas, but not all. Sometimes the trauma is fragmented into small ones box which are in our heads and which we find difficult to integrate into our narrative. Sometimes there is amnesia and sometimes dissociation. This book is not a substitute for therapy, we need a professional because trauma is complex.

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Another thing that is said a lot to people with trauma is to tell everything. There are times when you don’t have to start there. In these cases, we focus on symptoms and behaviors, what kind of relationship the person has, whether they are creating relationships of dependence, and then we return to the trauma. Now this can be approached in many ways, from group therapy to EMDR.

Regarding this search for trauma, do you think there are psychologists who have abused it? Are there patients who came to the clinic because of discomfort and the therapy focused too much on exploring the past?

This is pure speculation, but I think trauma is being talked about more among professionals right now. We didn’t see it so easily before and now the knowledge about attachment has developed a lot. Maybe it’s my own bias, but I think it’s more common now to talk about trauma.

Many people do not know how to recognize that they are traumatized. I’ll give you a pretty brutal example that I explain in my book: the typical person who tells you “when I was little they beat me up and left me alone and look how well I turned out”, but then it’s the people who create relations of dependence with all their partners. This type of person doesn’t realize that the trauma shaped their relationship. She thinks that her partner may leave her, she is very jealous and interprets any sign as a warning of abandonment. Behind this repetitive pattern is trauma.

Speaking of attachment, it’s a topic that gets a lot of attention among parents on the Internet. Is it possible and desirable to meet all the needs of children?

There is a lot of talk about secure attachment, attachment in general is innate. It is parental care that gives a child the feeling that the world is a predictable place and that he can find help. In this environment, the child dares to discover, love and be loved. The seeding of a secure attachment is a prevention against trauma, but it does not completely avoid the risk. Secure attachment is talked about so much that it has been instrumentalized: it is something that is standard and we seem to have to learn it from scratch, as if we are useless.

Now there are things we need to know. Safe custody means not giving everything to the child and not correcting him. Setting limits is a safe bond, you won’t hurt yourself. What you shouldn’t do is confuse limits with authoritarianism, yelling, and violence. The point is that you have to be patient, you have to know that you will have to set the limit hundreds of times. There are those who say that a child only learns by being spanked, but that is a hyperactivation of his amygdala, so he learns out of fear. Secure attachment is a fascinating field, but we must learn that there are no perfect parents, only good enough. Being overprotective is also bad, it sends a message to the child that he is useless.

Are traumas overcome or will there always be a trace?

We’re talking more about recovering from trauma. It doesn’t always work out, traumas don’t condemn our lives, sometimes we heal with the support of our friends and family, other times we need to ask for help. A health professional’s most important tool is the word above all others. People do recover, although it can be a slow process. Recovering means being able to express our feelings verbally and non-verbally, being able to recast our past experiences into memories that don’t overwhelm us, and realizing that we’re in the driver’s seat again. our life.

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