Trauma: Learning from China Airlines Flight 611
“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.”
– Peter Levine
In May of 2002, a China Airlines flight mysteriously crashed 20 minutes after takeoff. The investigation baffled investigators. All seemed right with this flight, yet it suddenly disappeared from radar and crashed. No evidence of a bomb or bomb residue was found.
Then investigators made a startling discovery. Twenty two years earlier, this same plane had suffered damage during a landing. This damage wasn’t properly fixed.
An insufficient plate was used to cover the damaged part. This meant the damage was getting increasingly worse with every flight, yet it couldn’t be seen because of the repair plate that was placed over it.
Whilst the repair plate allowed the plane to function normally, it didn’t correct the damage. It didn’t even address the damage. It only enabled the plane to continue despite the damage.
All was seemingly good until one day in 2002, when the damage became too much for the covering plate, and the plane broke apart in mid-air.
The 1980 tail strike was the initial trauma.
The plate was an insufficient attempt at dealing with the trauma.
Despite the appearance that all was good, the trauma got worse and worse, yet it was hidden from all inspecting eyes.
In 2002, twenty two years later, it all came to a catastrophic ending.
Human trauma often follows a similar script.
People suffer a trauma and they try to use their defenses to help them cope and manage the trauma.
Sometimes these are sufficient, other times they are not.
Very often things will appear ok on the outside.
Just like things did with that plane up until that fateful day in May of 2002.
I mention this because people often ask: “If this trauma happened so long ago, why is this struggle only happening now?”.
Just like the airplane was able to continue flying for over 20 years with insufficient repairs, human beings can also survive and even thrive, for many years, despite not adequately addressing their trauma.
There are many different types of trauma. Different people will cope differently, and with varying reactions. But that doesn’t mean the trauma isn’t there, and it doesn’t mean the old trauma doesn’t have the potential to rear its ugly head.
If you are someone who has an old trauma, understand that nothing is wrong with you if it affects you many years down the road.
Just like repairs that were good enough for twenty years might suddenly be insufficient, the coping and defense mechanisms that assisted with managing the trauma might also lose their efficacy after a period of time.
That’s how trauma works sometimes.
The actual traumatic event might have only taken a few seconds, yet it can last a lifetime.
But just like it is never too late for the trauma to cause havoc, it is also never too late to seek assistance.
To end with a quote:
As every therapist will tell you, healing involves discomfort. But so is refusing to heal. And over time, refusing to heal is always more painful.
– Resmaa Menakem
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.
To speak with Yisroel about presenting at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at [email protected]
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