Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Car Accidents and Trauma

Dear Dr V ~

Last week I was in a really bad car accident. No major injuries, but my car is completely totaled. I’m dealing with the stress of the fallout of the accident (I wasn’t at fault but there’s still the insurance stuff to handle and what not, it’s just too much for me now).  Since then, I’ve been feeling afraid to even leave the house, let alone get in the car. I keep thinking about all the danger there is out there. It seems like there are threats coming from every direction. I don’t like being like this, but the fear is very powerful. What do I do?


Dear Linda,

I’m so happy that you came through this ordeal physically unharmed. However, I do think you have withstood a major emotional and mental trauma. Before we discuss what you’ve been feeling, please know that I think it’s very important you find some kind of professional assistance for the anguish you’re going through. It can be very difficult to heal on your own, and after all you’ve already been through, I don’t believe you should subject yourself to more hardship. A good online resource to find an appropriate counselor or therapist in your area is:

When trying to decide on where to go, you might want to focus on trying to find someone who specializes in treating trauma. Your doctor may be able to refer you someone who can help.

I think the fact that car accidents are, unfortunately, a very commonplace occurrence has dulled our sensitivity to just how upsetting even the most minor of fender-benders can be. The actual experience of the event itself can be very frightening, followed immediately by a suite of extreme emotions such as anger, additional fear and the stress of the financial and logistical implications of the accident; this is before we even take into account the physical stress and pain from any injuries that might occur.

In your case, however, I think the physical and metal trauma is particularly acute because if, as you say, the collision was severe enough to destroy your car (and your statement that you had no “major” injuries implies that you were still physically injured somehow), then I can only imagine the literal mortal terror you must have felt at the time of and immediately following the accident. You were given a very forceful face-to-face encounter with your own mortality. Or, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, you faced death and walked away. This is no small feat, and something I think worthy of reflection.

I hope that when you consider your unfortunate experience in this light it makes sense of the fear you feel now. How could you not be worried that danger and peril lurk around every corner, when just the other day you were going about your business, and but for the Grace of God (or whatever you believe in), you could have been instantly plucked from the Earth?

What you are feeling is completely normal. In fact, what would be abnormal would be if you had a close encounter with death, brushed yourself off and went into work (or wherever you were headed) as if nothing happened. Something did happen, something major, and it’s important to recognize and deal with the unique effect this event’s had on you.

Healing and resolving trauma is a complex process that will take some time. Of course, it’s entirely possible that you aren’t suffering from trauma, but still just very upset from the accident. Either way, it’s important for you to share your feelings. If you can’t “get on the couch” right away, speaking to a trusted family member or friend could help as well. Sometimes what’s important is not even what the people we share these things with say to us, as much as it is just the act of verbalizing and hopefully in some way releasing a bit of the pain that’s taken up residence within us.

Beyond all of the negativity of this situation, I hope that at some point you might find that this experience yields some things that are positive for you as well. Many have passed through what you just did and not come out the other side. I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in some kind of Greater Good that moves things forward in our world, so from where I sit, it would appear there are still important things for you to do in the world, important enough that you survived. You may also find a new appreciation for the “little things” in life, sunrises, breezes, delicious meals, good times with loved ones; all the everyday miracles that are so easy to overlook and take for granted when we’re caught up in punching time clocks, checking voice mails or slacking off on Facebook.

I don’t say this to minimize the other emotions you’re dealing with, and it would be premature to expect to feel “all better” anytime soon. But I hope those words can give you comfort and hope, and at least somewhat ease your fears. By all means treat your life as the delicate treasure it is, but it would be tragic if, after coming so close to losing it, you lost the ability to revel in it to the fullest.

With Love ad Light,
Dr. V

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