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Traumas: Miniature examples of long-term emotional disturbance

In the psychoanalytic model, emotional problems are caused by too much instinctive drive being stimulated without being given the opportunity for expression.  This is usually caused, as mentioned above, by the individual inhibiting her instinctual drive.  However, a useful example of this process is seen after the experience of a traumatic occurrence.  In fact, such an experience provides a miniature example of what occurs in more prolonged emotional disturbance.

Example: a sudden aggressive onslaught

Imagine for a moment that you are out shopping, and unprovoked, somebody begins shouting at you.  They start claiming that you deliberately barged into them as you passed them, and shouting expletives and challenging you to a fight.  You leave the scene as quickly as you can, whilst still hearing the taunts of the angry individual as you leave. 

Once you are happy that you are safely away from this aggressive individual, you find that you are shaking a little.  You quickly tell yourself that it was nothing, it was not your fault and that some people are just pretty weird.  But you can’t stop the shaking.  After a few moments, you find that you have begun to play the scene over again in your mind.  This time you acted differently.  You didn’t shrink away as though you were afraid.  You stood up to this individual and made him look rather stupid.  Then you are annoyed with yourself for getting so involved in this ridiculous situation.  You tell yourself,

          "Come on, forget about this.  Your'e actually demonstrating that this person has really got to you by indulging in this kind of fantasy".

You were on the way to meet with a friend when this event occurred and a few minutes later you arrive at your rendezvous location and sit down for a cup of coffee with your friend.  After sitting for few minutes whilst your friend has been chatting to you, you find that you are not really absorbing what she is saying.  Your mind is elsewhere, and you again realise that this situation has got to you a little.  You apologise to your friend and explain that the situation has clearly affected you a little and as you both discuss it, she offers comforting words and anecdotes and by the end of the hour with your friend you find that you have forgotten about this silly event. 

Traumas overload our capacity for mastering (or 'drives')

In the above example, the sudden influx of stimulation of  drives (of fear and anger) has caused you to be emotionally overwhelmed.  This is demonstrated in the fact that you found yourself shaking immediately after the event.  The emotional excitation was expressed in a physical way.  Next you began to play the scene over and over in your mind, whilst at the same time attempting to alter the details of the event in a manner that gave better expression to your repressed drives, in this case the drive to show aggression toward this individual.  Later you found that you were not able to concentrate on your friend’s conversation.  These symptoms are demonstrations of the fact that the sudden influx of stimulation of drives that has not been given ample room for expression, has induced, as it were, a ‘system overload’.  The overload has occurred because you were not able to channel your sudden rise in drives fast enough.  After the passing of a little time, you had time to begin to master the initial excitation, and a relative system equilibrium was restored.