Why Talking Works - The Processing Answer
A problem shared is a problem halved, isn’t that how the saying goes?When something is on your mind and you're struggling to figure out which direction to take, talking it through with someone often helps you find a way out of the dilemma. What appeared to be an obstacle shrinks when you have put it into words.
Why?When we talk about something, we adapt our understanding of it. Talking about something out loud means we have to slow down and think about it differently rather than having thoughts racing around our mind. Speaking about something forces us to think things through so we understand things differently; we have processed them.
Processing means understanding. We understand something about the circumstances and ourselves. Something happens, and we have to understand what happened and the effect it did or did not have on us.
When a person has experienced a significant event, particularly a life change, they will have to process what happened or is still happening and what it means to them; they are adapting.
The significant events do not have to be large traumas to require processing or adaptation. Consider the person retiring from work, a life change requiring them to adapt to how their day-to-day life is different. They do not have to set the alarm in the morning. Their routine is not as predictable as it might have been at work. They are not going to see the same people each day. There is a change in purpose and sometimes status. It is not uncommon for a new retiree to find difficulty adjusting to their new life. It takes time to process and understand the life change.
They may talk it through with a friend or relative, helping them make sense of the circumstances and how they feel about it.
It can sometimes be a shock to find that you need to adapt to circumstances. We might think I can’t wait to retire, but when it happens, the adjustment is challenging. We have to understand it and adapt. We process it.
The more significant the change in circumstances, the more processing is required.
The person who has experienced significant trauma needs to make sense of it to adapt and recover, understanding the events and the effect. It is not enough to know what happened, we have to understand how and why it made us feel in a particular way.
We often hear the term grieving process. When a loved one or someone equally significant to us dies, the circumstances change. A life change has occurred because things cannot be the same. They are no longer here. We adapt to life changes by processing what has happened and its effects.
Talking helps us to process the events and the associated feelings. By putting them into words, we can understand and think about them differently. We can think it through. Saying something out loud forces us to think about it. We are unable to hide from how it made us feel.
What happens when we don’t process significant events?Without processing events, we are stuck with a faulty understanding created at a time when our emotions are at their highest. At the moment of trauma, we are experiencing high levels of stress both physically and psychologically; it is not the time to process any more than dealing head-on with the circumstances or escaping it (flight of flight).
The more significant the trauma, the more inclined we are to avoid thinking about what has happened afterwards. Our instinct is to let sleeping dogs lie. Try not to think about it. Think of something else, don’t upset yourself. All good advice when you are very close to the trauma, but it does need processing at some point. The individual has to understand it from a safe distance when they are not in a fight or flight.
If someone does not process the trauma, the mind will force them to process it. Their mind will ensure that the experience intrudes on their thoughts frequently. They will be triggered by other circumstances and find themselves thinking about and feeling emotions associated with the trauma. They are experiencing flashbacks.
Flashbacks are our mind forcing us to think through an event(s). It is the mind making us process what happened and how we felt.
If we avoid processing, our mind will make sure we do.
Flashbacks are unprocessed trauma. Flashbacks can be debilitating and an emotional experience because they are not in context. Feelings and fragments of events intrude upon an individual's thought pattern without warning and with little reasoning.
In these circumstances, it is understandable to push it away, after all, it is not appropriate to process your trauma at the checkout at the supermarket! Your mind needs you to think through (process) the trauma. It will continue to force the process upon your consciousness until you do.
Talking is the most efficient way we process events and their effects. Vocalising what happened and how you felt at the time helps you understand and adapt. It calms our mind and takes us out of the re-experiencing of the trauma psychologically.
Talking Therapies are helpful because they encourage us to talk through events in a safe way. Talking to a professional is different to talking to your friend. A therapist encourages you to think about how it made you feel at the time and the effects.
Talking Therapies work because your therapist is not involved in the events or your life. You can speak openly without judgement.
Sometimes people find while they talk through significant events latent emotions are released. The release and understanding of that emotion is the repair of therapy.
A professional therapist will help you explore those more painful aspects of trauma in a safe and supportive way. Many people find that when they begin processing events and feeling that they have been holding back, the latent effects of the trauma cease.