What is the afterburn period?
The afterburn period is a psychological term which refers to the period of time in which a past event influences or has an effect on an individual's daily life, despite the fact that the event is over or completed. The afterburn period was defined by Eric Berne a "the period of time before a past event is assimilated." By this, Berne meant that the event had not yet assimilated itself into an individual's mental state. When an event occurs, it has an impact on a person's life in some way, whether it is mentally or physically or a combination of both. Generally, the event will cease to have a major impact on the person's life or mental state through a process of assimilation, or a process which involves the individual's mental state accepting the event. This typically happens after the event is over or shortly after the event is done with.
However, when the event continues to have an effect on a person's life after it the event is done with and the event would ordinarily have been assimilated by that point, it is called an afterburn period. In order to be considered an afterburn period, the event must be having such an effect that it "... disturbs normal patterns for an appreciable period, rather than being assimilated into them," according to Berne's definition of afterburn period.
Although the above definition is the most common one used in the psychological field, there are several other definitions which are worth mentioning. The first is in relation to college-level examinations, as a form of stress management related to the stress caused by the intense pressure surrounding such important examinations. In this way, afterburn is referred to as the period of time after the exam when the student must deal with the aftermath of the exam; worrying about question which were answered incorrectly, regretting a lack of proper study time, or otherwise expressing their fears, worries and other feelings about the examination and their academic performance.
Sara Corbett, a psychologist, definite afterburn specifically as a delayed reaction to a traumatic event or to a traumatic psychological state. Corbett used the example of soldiers who have recently returned from duty in Iraq that report sudden mental trauma days, weeks or even months after returning home. These soldiers report that while their bodies are physically at home, their minds are still on the battlefield, reacting to the pressure, trauma and stress which they underwent while on duty. Corbett’s definition does not deviate very far from the most common definition, offered by Berne, but Corbett does specify that afterburn must be a delayed mental reaction to the event—and not the continued affect of an event on an individual’s life.
Why does afterburn occur?
While there is no definitive conclusive reason for the existence of an afterburn period, its existence is often attributed to the fact that many people find themselves unable to cope or process certain events in their lives. When they are unable to properly cope, their mind will continue to be affected by the event in ways that impact their daily lives.
There are many types of events which may cause the afterburn period to occur. The events may be particularly traumatic, for example: being the victim of a violent crime, such as rape or assault; being the victim of a violent or near-fatal accident, such as a car accident; witnessing a violent crime; witnessing the death or injury of a loved one; the death of a loved one; the loss of a job, home or important assets, etc. The event may also be relatively harmless but still be impactful enough to have an influence on a person’s life: failing a class or examination; experiencing humiliation or embarrassment; a disruption in a personal relationship, such as with a spouse or family member, etc.
Because individuals deal and cope with situations differently, it is difficult to predict when or why someone will experience an afterburn period. Some may experience afterburn following the death of a loved one, while others with a similar experience may not undergo afterburn at all. Others may experience afterburn following a relatively trivial event, such as failing a college course, but they may not in turn experience afterburn following a relatively more traumatic event, such as a death or accident.
What treatments are associated with the afterburn period?
In general, the treatments for this period are natural and can be done by individuals. The most common treatment for afterburn is to prescribe a dream journal, as dreams are one way that the mind will attempt to resolve afterburn on its own. Other treatments include prescribing periods of rest and relaxation, during which time the mind will begin to heal itself, for however long is necessary.