Have you experienced sexual, physical, and/or emotional trauma? If so, then you probably understand the enormous influence these events have had on your life. I have worked with individuals who have experienced physical, sexual, and/or emotional trauma through the following life experiences:
This is by no means an exhaustive list. The effects of these experiences can be very hard to live with, but please understand that you are not alone in having survived trauma. Some of the more common effects can include
It isn’t easy to explain the shift that a person who has endured trauma undertakes in order to evolve from considering oneself a victim to looking at oneself as a survivor.
One client put it this way: “I’ve taken back my power, made sense of the abuse in the larger context of my life, and I now look at myself as a survivor of the abuse”. This link explains how this process can work for many.
In working with clients, I’ve found for a real, lasting change to take place, people must be able to shift their perception of the meaning of the trauma that has taken place. The shift usually happens when a survivor goes from “this awful thing(s) happened to me and I’m messed up as a result of it” to “this awful thing(s) happened but I’ve been able to put it in its proper place. Yes, it was really bad, but I’m moving forward in my life and I’m able to appreciate the pain that others in similar situations have gone through”.
How does one make this shift? The journey each individual takes is somewhat different; however, here are common routes that people take
The effectiveness of the above methods vary from person to person. Often a combination of these is best. By no means is this an exhaustive list, it is intended to be a list of some of the most common methods people use to work through their trauma.
Some additional things to keep in mind are:
* You are not going crazy. Clients tell me they feel overwhelmed, frightened, anxious, depressed, even self-loathing. These are part of the process for many survivors. There is hope. Trauma is treatable.
* Whatever you are feeling, don't pathologize it. Feelings are not bad, they are what they are. Make note of them, and get support for yourself.
* If you are angry at yourself and/or the perpetrator, understand that this is a fairly common reaction.
* One of the most telltale signs that someone is making the shift from victim to survivor is that she/he goes from anger at self to being angry at the perpetrator.
* Going from "Why me?" to "Why did this person do this to me?" is another shift in thinking that often accompanies the change from victim to survivor.
Trauma Healing: The Trauma Healing Project here in Eugene, OR is a wonderful non-profit that is dedicated to trauma recovery and community wellness. Their website is found here.
Creating Sanctuary and Safety: The Sanctuary Model, developed originally by Dr. Sandra Bloom, is a model that addresses emotional and physical safety in organizations--both for clients of services and for the providers. This model has been a wonderful resource for organizations that are dedicated to creating a safe and welcoming environment at the workplace, and has been successful in reducing emotional trauma in many organizational settings. Learn more here.
Isolation/Reconnecting with Others: Many people who have experienced a trauma express a sense of bitterness and hopelessness. This is often mixed with anger and poor self esteem that leads to a real sense of isolation. Sometimes it helps to know that you're not alone. Others may not have experienced exactly what you have, but they have experienced something traumatic and can help.
Therefore, getting support from other survivors in some form can empower you in a unique way. There are many resources out there for survivors. This link is a resource for trauma support groups in Oregon. The important thing to know here is this: there are people who want to help. We heal in connection with others, and we tend to suffer more in prolonged isolation. While reaching out for support can be difficult, it is one of the single most important acts of healing.
Forgiveness: The concept of forgiveness (either forgiving oneself or others) comes up often for survivors of trauma. It is important to note that many survivors blame themselves for what happened, and thus self-forgiveness becomes very important.
Many people have asked me: How do we forgive? How do I know that I am truly ready to do so?
There isn’t a simple answer. Forgiving others is something each survivor needs to consider individually, as there are many considerations that go into this process. It is very important to understand that you can forgive the perpetrator (if and when you are ready to do so) while still holding the person accountable for their actions.
Bessel van der Kolk's book The Body Keeps the Score is an amazing book that gives real hope and direction for mental health professionals and trauma survivors alike. More on this book on this page.
Another outstanding book about the notion of forgiveness is Desmond Tutu’s “The Book of Forgiving”. This is hands down the most helpful book on the concept of forgiveness that I have ever read.
Professional help is available. For survivors of physical, sexual, and emotional trauma, the relationship between the counselor and client is even more crucial. Emotional safety is the most important aspect of this relationship. For more information on making a selection, go to the bottom of my homepage and read the section entitled “Choosing the right therapist is critical”.