This was a difficult blog for me to write because this is a complex question and is difficult to answer simply. I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling to process trauma, whether considered big or small, to reach out for support. After something big happens you may feel isolated. People can sometimes act awkward or distance themselves. They may not know how to help, or understand what you are going through, or know how to deal with their own feelings about what has happened. Sometimes you may need time and space to process on your own, or a break from a relationship that requires more energy than you are able to give right now. The important thing is for you to speak up about what you need. Tell them “I just need you to listen; no advice!”, “Just sit with me” “I need a good laugh” “I need a little distraction” or “I just need some space right now”. Let people know how they can best support you and what that looks like. It’s okay for them not to have the perfect thing to say or the right answer. Studies done on both immediate and past trauma have found that the #1 best tool to help with healing from trauma is a good support system.
Trauma changes your core beliefs about 5 basic needs. When these needs are not minimally met it causes acute distress.
- Safety for yourself: The need to feel that you are reasonably protected from harm
- Safety for others: to feel people you value are reasonably safe and protected
- Trust in yourself: the need to rely on your own judgment
- Trust in others: The need to rely on others
- Control of yourself: the need to feel in charge of your own actions
- Control of others: the need to have some influence or impact on others
- Esteem for yourself: the need to value what you think, feel and believe
- Esteem for others: The need to value others
- Intimacy with yourself: the need to know & accept your own needs, feelings, thoughts and desires
- Intimacy with others: the need to be known and accepted by others.
(This chart adapted from L. McCann and L.A. Pearlman, Psychological Trauma and the Adult Survivor. New York: Brunner/Mazel 1990, p. 23)
If you are experiencing post traumatic responses they can probably be traced to a change in your thinking about one or more of these basic needs. Healing from trauma involves gaining a new perspective of your experience. Your reactions to trauma (your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors) are a result of not only the facts but also what you think those facts mean. You can not change the facts but there are multiple lessons and perspectives that can be drawn from the experience. By changing the meaning the responses change. With the help of a trained professional you can learn to identify your beliefs and come to know yourself, who you are and where you stand. Discovering what you NOW believe, after the trauma, is a way to ground yourself again. This helps you become aware of choices, skills and resources you may not currently be able to see.
If you are interested in learning more about this check out the book “Life After Trauma, a workbook for Healing” By Dena Rosenbloom, Marybeth Williams, and Barbara E. Watkins.