What do we mean by “Trauma”?
Trauma can originate in different ways and at different times in our lives.
History: shell shock, PTSD and non-combat traumatic experience (e.g. high impact accidents and abuse)
The common idea of Trauma is something that happened which was/is traumatic (i.e. it caused great pain or disturbance in who we are which we are not able to accept and may leave us with feeling which can include: vulnerability, depression, guilt, shame, anger, resentment, weakness, anxiety, a sense that the world is an unsafe place etc…)
The three main types of trauma are described as: acute, chronic and complex
- Acute trauma can result from a single incident.
Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged and may include: neglect, domestic violence, abandonment or physical/psychological abuse.
Complex trauma results from exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often intrusive and interpersonal in nature.
That’s a nice quote but what does it actually mean for you?
We’ve all heard the concept. We’ve probably used some of the cliches which surround the idea, such as “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “we’re never given more than we can carry”.
This leads to the questions: “But how do I get stronger and how do I find a way to carry what I’ve been given?
There is no substitue for working honestly through your trauma with a skilled and competent professional. There are, however, many things you can do on your own which will benefit this process.
Our own growth happens when we are able to adapt to negative circumstances that have caused psychological distress, such as traumatic life events which produce unpleasant and unwanted psychological reactions.
Growth does not happen because of the trauma, it happens because of our willingness to struggle with the reality of our experience after the trauma has occured. This willingness is vital in determining how much we grow.
Reports of growth experiences in the aftermath of traumatic events far outnumber reports of psychiatric disorders, which is encouraging, but you have to do the work.
Due to the way society talks about trauma may people only think of it as caused by one event such as a car crash or a physical attack. This is partially true but as we see from the list of types of trauma there are other more stealthy ways that trauma develops and infects our lives.
One of the these ways is what Pysychotherapist and others call Core Beliefs. The following is a descrition of how these harmful self beliefs can manifest and the impact they can have on our lives.
Our Core Beliefs are usually formed between the ages of 0-5yrs old, due to this we may not even remember them forming or know they exist. From 6-20yrs old they can also be formed but it is far more likely that during this time the beliefs which have already been formed will be re-enforced.
Below is a short simple description of the process of how a Core Belief may formed.
Core Belief Formation
(A short story)
Anna is 2yrs old and lives at home with Mum and Dad. Mum has stopped work to be Anna’s primary carer. Anna spends her days with Mum, playing games, watch cartoon and baking etc…
One day Anna has painted a picture and is excited to show this to Dad when he gets home from work. She rushes to meet him with the painting in hand as he walks in the door from work.
But instead of Dad giving her the attention and looking at her painting he brushes her aside saying, “I haven’t got time” and walks into his office and closes the door.
If this scenario happens once then there will likely be no real impact on Anna except her disapointment in the moment. However, if this happens regularly Anna will start to wonder why Dad doesn’t want to be around her?
Children, like adults, need to feel safe and secure. To do this the have to be able to understand whats going on around them. Children don’t have the same cognative abilities or emotional inteligence to be able to understand that Dad have a very demanding job and has to work most nights just to keep up.
What Anna will do is what every child does, she will try to figure out what is wrong and will then personalise this reason, she will take the responsibility on her self by internalising the expaination.
Anna will start to believe that there is something inherantly wrong with her thats why Dad doesn’t want to be around me. She will make sense of whats happening by thinking and believing that she is in some way “bad”.
As she grows Anna will start school where an over zealous teacher may shout at her one day for no apparent reason. Anna will immeadiately go to her palce of shame “I am bad”. This will re-enforce her core belief and confirm to her that she is “bad”.
She may then move through life, start University and start a relationship with a boy who treats her poorly and doesn’t give her the love and attention she deserves. Again, she will go to her place of shame “I am bad” it’s something in me that is wrong.
She will leave Uni and get a job where her boss shouts at her one day, again, she immeadiately goes to her place of shame “I am bad”.
Anna will go through her entire life, probably making statements like “why does this always happen to me?” without realising the beleifs she formed at the age of 2yrs old are still governing her life. People hold their Core Beleifs to be 100% true and will never challenge them unless they are lucky enough to engage in some sort of Psychotherapeutic work.
Is Anna’s experience Traumatic? She may not believe so, she may describe her childhood in very positive terms and not think of it having any negative impact on her sense of her self.
However, in this story Anna will have been the recipient of what can be described as Chronic Trauma and she is wholey unaware of this.
Looking at recovery, whether that be Mental Health, Addiction or Trauma. Below is a description of the Personal Recovery Model which lays out what is required from each of us as individuals in order to achieve sustained long-term recovery.
Aspects of the Personal Recovery Model
(Adapted from Andresen et al 2003)
Understanding that the choices we make in life are ours alone and then taking responsibility for those choices and our own lives. Remember the more responsibility we take the more we can change.
Re-Establishment of a Positive Identity
Creating the “real you” identity which includes previous life experiences but retains a positive sense of self.
Building a Meaningful Life
Making sense of previous life experience, finding a positive meaning and becoming engaged in life.
Finding and Maintaining Hope
Believing in you, having a sense of personal power, and being optimistic about the future.
Recovery is “A deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills and/or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life. Recovery includes the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows…”. (Anthony 1993)
Becoming able to view our experiences as beneficial will not happen over night, nor will it be painless. It demands courage, determination and a willingness to look at every aspect of ourselves. The very aspects we’ve spent many years running from.
We won’t always like what we find there and may wish to push it down or deny it. It is imperative that we find a way to be accepting of these aspects of ourselves. Only once we are aware can we then start to do something about changing them.
We also have to keep in mind that we are imperfect beings, we are going to get things wrong, we are going to behave in ways which may not reach our ideal. We need to be forgiving of self in these circumstances and not become judgemental and self-pitying but philisophical and have the ability to determine to do better next time.
Our past lives, all our experiences are fixed in time and cannot be changed, they are a part of us and help to make us who we are, which is as it should be. However, there are two things we can change. How we view our past and how we feel about it.
Having the power to change our perception of oursleves and our history, allows us to be free to create the person we want to become today.
In order for this to happen we have to be engaged in the process, wishing it so will not make it happen. We have to use the tools available to recognise and re-enforce the positive aspects and qualities we already posses. This helps us to view things in a more realistic and managable way.
To help with this, what follows are some simple exercises which if practiced on a regular basis will help to empower and strengthen ourselves and our recovery.
These exercises will help to counter negative self-talk and challenge long held core beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of.
The information and exercises here are only a small part of what may be found on the internet or in books. Get curious, get interested, go and look.
The people you interact with will definitely benefit from your understanding and awareness of your self but they will pale in comparison to the benefit you yourself will recieve.
Healing is not a journey that is pain free, don’t expect it to be and don’t get down hearted when you’re feeling your pain. Growth only ever comes from pain, there is no other source.
It is of importance here to mention that the vast majority of human beings walk around on this planet with feeling of guilt, shame, fear, feeling inadequate or less than due to the influence of others.
None of us were born with these feelings, they develpoed due to our environmantal interactions, whether that be the family unit, our community, culturaly or the messages we are given by society.
It may not seem like it but this is very good news. It means that we learned to feel this way, it’s learned behaviour. Which means we have the power learn something new, to own what’s ours, work to change ourselves and to lay down the burden of what was never ours in the first place.
Identify Your Strengths
Highlight your Strengths
(Feel free to add more that come to mind)
Highlight Your Positive Assets
Adapted form TherapistAid 2020
How to Build Your Happiness
Buying a new car, getting a new job or jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft can all give us a powerful sense of happiness or even joy. However, each of us has a base level of happiness which we will revert back to once the event/ occasion has passed. Developing this to a higher level and creating continued happines is possibile but it’s going to take some effort. Below are listed some proven ways to increase your happines if they are practiced regularly.
Acts of Kindness
Do something nice for someone, not for any other reason then to help. Little acts of kindness can have a profound effect on others and in turn on ourselves.
Our connection with others has some of the strongest influence on our mood and how we feel about ourselves. Those who spend time with friends and family consistantly show higher levels of happiness.
Even when you are having the worst of days, writing down three things for which you are grateful will help to identify some of the positives you have. It doesn’t matter how big or small, just write something down. It works!
It is well documented how the positive effects of exercise have a hugely benefical effect on how we feel about ourselves. It can give us a sense of accomplishment as well as well known positives including: reduced insomnia, stimulate brain growth and have an anti-depressant effect. Start small if you have to but start.
Write about the positives that are happening in your life, set aside some time in the evening to reflect on your day, what happend, what you may have learned and how you can use this moving forward. It’s also a great way to look back over time and see how far you’ve already come.
It has been shown that those who meditate regularly have reduced anxiety and feel more positive emotions. There is evidence which suggests that over time regular meditation permanently restructures the brain towards sustained happiness.
In summary, here is a list of the top ten things you can do to help yourself to become happier and more content with yourself and the life you live.
- Take Personal Responsibility – reclaim your personal power.
Be Realistic – about life and the process of change – it ain’t always gonna be easy but it ain’t gonna happen unless you make it happen.
Help Others – doing things for others simply because you can, will pay you back in ways you can’t quite grasp yet.
Find/Create Prupose in your life – it doesn’t matter where or how or what anyone else may think, this is about you.
Acceptance – be accepting of what has been but know that you can change what will be.
Allow Youself to Feel Healthy Negative Emotions – they won’t kill you and they’re a perfectly normal part of the human experience. Everyone has them!
Have Fun – none of us get into recovery to be miserable. Get out there and enjoy your life, make it what you want it to be.
Sleep – A balanced healthy sleep pattern will leave you refreshed and more positive, it may take some work but it’s worth it.
Keep Things In Perspective – remember, after years in addiction you are learning to live a different life. You’re going to make mistakes, you’ll only stop making them when they nail you into your box. Relax, you’re only human.
Self-Care – consistantly the most difficult for most addicts. Eat healthily, exercise, relax, garden, paint, craft, bathe, travel, etc… whatever it is make sure you do something that fills your soul with a smile.
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