Trauma; Honor For Your Healing Journey
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 30, 2018 compassion, pittsburgh, positive psychology, resilience to trauma0 comments
The four things your therapist wants you to know about your healing journey. When you’re healing from a grief, trauma, or resultant PTSD, you must be thinking about ‘how will I ever move on from this horrible, unexpected, agonizing reaction to the traumatic situation that I have experienced?’ Remember, PTSD is a reaction to witnessing or experiencing a sudden and unexpected event which caused one to feel powerless by delivering, threatening, or witnessing harm. How can I rise above these feelings and thoughts and create meaningful and complete healing? Maybe you want to go backwards in time and undo all of the harm that you have experienced. A common and reasonable response to all of these above disorders, particularly PTSD, is to try to avoid all triggers associated with the situation which evoked the trauma, hypervigilance, intrusive memories, nightmares, flashbacks and an increased risk for anxiety and depression. This disorder presents a mountain to ascend, and whether you have spend years in therapy or are only beginning to acknowledge the depth of the effects this has had on you, these are some points to keep in mind. These are the 4 things that your therapist wants you to know about healing that are not immediately evident.
Healed but not Forgotten
Some people have the unrealistic expectation that when they reach the end of their healing journey they shouldn’t have any emotional reaction to their memories of the traumatic event which led to grief and loss. That is not how healing works. It is quite likely that you will always have some sort of reaction to the memories and thoughts associated with your grief or trauma. In fact, according to a 2011 study published in NIH by Sherin and Nemeroff, and according to all of science and psychology support the fact that there is potential for long term neuroanatomical and neurochemical changes to the central nervous system resulting from trauma. These changes are especially evident in the way we respond to triggers or trauma associated stimuli. What we should be striving for in the healing from trauma is a ‘new normal.’ Healing means that you are able to function in professional or personal settings and that you are practicing resilience and positive coping when waves of thought and emotion do come.
Healing means Acknowledging Feelings
One of the ways that therapy works is by creating an intentional space for healing warriors to be honest with themselves, to create an understanding of their emotions. After an awareness has been formed adaptive responses to feelings and thoughts can be generated. We create psychopathology by being critical and attempting to repress our internal honest responses. For some people like first responders, police, and paramedics, there may be an extra layer of difficulty and stigma attached to acknowledging ones feelings and seeking mental health support to manage trauma. This can cause further damaging denial of the effects of traumatic experiences, One of the core tenets of psychological theory present in every form of therapy is that the more we repress, judge or avoid our feelings, the more we cause problems. Repression elicits tangled feeling constellations, blocked energies, incomplete and unintegrated shadows. Mindfulness based stress reduction, EMDR, Cognitive Processing Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Exposure Therapy, have shown efficacy in treating PTSD. Our feelings can turn into psychopathology that are bigger and sometimes socially unacceptable forms of the original emotional response.
Healing Happens in Relationships. Find your Healing Tribe.
It is especially true for trauma that happens in relationships, that this same trauma is healed in relationships. When trauma survivors open up to those people who they consider to be safe, there is an incredible potential for healing to happen. Healing relationships are those that resonate compassion, gentle acceptance, warmth, and non-judgement. Think about it, we become close to those who we can be really honest with, those who ask about our feelings and can share in a compassionate interchange, (Mgrath, 2001). Sharing trauma should be exercised with caution. However well-intentioned our healing tribe may be, its members may inadvertently respond in less constructive ways that judge, shame, or put down the survivor for having the pain or scars of trauma. Another risk is not being able to hear or understand what is being shared. What is really needed is non-judgmental acceptance, understanding, and compassionate warmth.
Positive Psychology, Pop Culture and Non-Reality
You may have survived a trauma but that doesn’t mean you have to fall victim to meme reality. Scroll through a social media forum and you will see many posts and memes which declare that everyone should be happy all the time. That isn’t honest or possible. The healthiest among us are those who are honest with themselves about what they experience and then respond to their vulnerable reality in a constructive way. According to a 2016 study by Elizabeth Kneeland, pop cultures layman positive psychology is damaging. When pop culture got its hands on positive psychology its representatives distorted the message, and now laymen perpetuate unrealistic and uninformed messages which imply that we can think our way into a good mood. It suggests that if we blink our eyes we can make trauma and psychological distress evaporate. Your therapist knows differently. Its ok to be outraged, disgusted, sad, hurt, angry, confused, and it is important to acknowledge where you are in your healing journey today.
No matter where you are today, the best we can do is to risk opening to ourselves, to create an honest internal dialogue that we are eventually able to share with others. We should unabashedly honor our own processes, giving relentless permission to feel, think and be; in reverence of joy, in honor of glorious fury, to the fullest expression of gaiety, to the utterance of insuperable hurt, to fully hone in on repugnant disgust. Keep developing your divine awareness, and eventually you will have created the unique meaning which understands with a lens of compassion, acceptance, and self love all that has happened to you.
With love and hope for resilience,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
For More Reading
Kneeland, Elizabeth et al, Positive thinking Newsweek, 2016
McGrath, Ellen. Psychology Today, published November 1, 2001
Post-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma
Sherin, Jonathan E, Charles B. Nemeroff
Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2011 Sep; 13(3): 263–278.
Providing Grace and Resilience to Trauma Survivors, How To – Help Guide.
by Counseling and Wellness Center of PittsburghOctober 7, 2018 abuse, abuse resources, domestic violence, help for trauma victims, rape, resilience, survivors, trauma counseling, validation, victim blaming, victims0 comments
How to Provide Grace and Resiliency to a Friend or Family Member Who Discloses Trauma.
According to the United States Veterans Administration, about 50% of women and 60% of men will experience trauma at some point in their lives. Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a distressing event. Traumatic events can include witnessing or experiencing sexual or physical assault, violence, robbery, or attack. We are not all equipped with a vast understanding of psychology, and when a friend or family member turns to us with their memories of a traumatic event, more than ever we could benefit from some information on how to respond with validation, support, and compassion. The literature on trauma widely cites how important loved ones’ responses are to survivors’ disclosures of the events that they experienced. In fact, in a 2016 study by Lischner and Hong at the University of Washington, invalidating responses of friends, family, and others are correlated with an increased likelihood that the survivor will experience psychopathology including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With the number of people who have survived trauma growing each year, it becomes ever more likely that someone will turn to you with their memories of a traumatic event. Below we will highlight some invalidating responses and provide validating responses so that each of us can do our best to provide caring support to those who may approach us with their heavy burden.
Validation is defined as responding with empathy, agreement, acknowledgement that we believe what was shared and that it makes sense. We can validate many levels of expression and meaning, feelings as well as thoughts. As a couples counselor, I help couples use the tool of validation to comfort each other in conflict. Validation is powerful. Some validating responses are;
- ‘Thank you for trusting me enough to share this.’
- Summarize the memories that were shared, always referring to them as memories or experiences.
- ‘That must be so (painful, scary, traumatic, other feeling word) for you.’ Summary of emotions, this is to indicate a full understanding of the feelings that the person shared.
- ‘You were so strong and brave in sharing your experiences.’ This is a compassionate response that highlights their survival skills.
- ‘How can I support you further?’ Letting the person know that you are glad to discuss any of it further, that you want to be there for them in any way that they need.
Invalidating responses can cause survivors to feel anxious, depressed, panicked, overwhelmed, and called to defend themselves and their pain. Many trauma survivors cite that invalidation from family or friends of their traumatic event is at times just as distressing as the trauma itself. Invalidation can be consciously used as a tool to manipulate and coerce, and it can be unconsciously done because the recipient to the confidence doesn’t know how to respond or help. Some examples of invalidating responses are as follows:
- ‘Why are you bringing this up right now?’ Every survivor unfolds their trauma memories to different people and in varying times, when and how they will share their trauma and with who it feels safe to share.
- ‘Are you sure you remember this accurately?’ The first duty of love is to listen and validate, provide understanding, care, warmth, and support. It is not a good time to put them on the witness stand for cross examination.
- ‘The perpetrator remembers it differently.’ Attend to the survivor’s feelings first and save the fact checking for a different time and day. Even if you feel called to defend the person or event that is being discussed as the source of trauma, this survivor is sharing something very vulnerable and the immediate need for understanding and care would indicate that we should triage and be delicate.
- ‘Try not to think about it and put it behind you.’ This response indicates that the person’s experience of grief, pain, panic, anxiety, is something that can be dismissed. Working with trauma clinically provides opportunity to experience the depth of the memories and emotions to be reprocessed. There is much evidence that the more we think we should be able to dismiss our responses to trauma, the more likely we develop PTSD.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you recognize after reading this that you may have been invalidating to someone in the past. ‘We all do our best and when we know better, we do better.’ Maya Angelou
Please pass this along. Every day another person survives and attempts to thrive in the wake of pain and anguish. Each of us has the potential power to be a safe zone, to provide support, help, and healing for those who are making sense of traumatic events, we have the ability to provide resiliency against emotional pain and we can create a buffer and reduce the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
With resiliency and hope,
Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC
Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh
*The is not a replacement for mental health support provided in a clinical setting by a licensed counselor, psychologist, or clinical social worker. If you or a loved one has experienced trauma and are working through its effects, reach out to a therapist near you.
Thank you to our editor, Dr. Stellan Wijkstrom.
For more reading;
Phan Y.Hong, David A.Lishner: General invalidation and trauma-specific invalidation as predictors of personality and subclinical psychopathology, Personality and Individual Differences. January 2016.