Years ago, a veteran told me, "I was never really prepared for the reality of war."
As a psychotherapist, I often think about his powerful observation when I work with people who have suffered various kinds of trauma. His comment continues to prove true as I hear stories from people who have been affected deeply by trauma, whether war, abuse, crime or a severe accident.
There are several realities to the experience of trauma, which we can describe generally as a situation that is a shock to the system of the human being. The experience calls upon all of our resources -- physical, mental, emotional and spiritual -- to survive.
After survival, however, the person continues to feel the reverberations of the event. These after-effects may show up in many ways.
Hypervigilance. Keeping highly watchful is an important survival skill in wartime. In ordinary life, however, this watchfulness creates huge problems; the veteran is unable to relax and perhaps may find himself or herself suspicious of others, having difficulty in crowds and certain situations, even close relationships.