If you have three or more of these symptoms in your life, it may be that you are suffering from a level of trauma that has been caused by a change in your life that has overwhelmed your capacity to manage.
We often think of trauma associated with military vets or first responders, but people do not realize that the death of a loved one (a common loss in life) can trigger various levels of trauma.
Many of the people I serve in my private counseling practice are suffering from the after effects of trauma, but do not realize that is what they are experiencing. Not knowing, and therefore being treated for trauma, creates other struggles in life:
· Marital strife
· Low self-esteem
· Parental issues
· Job dissatisfaction
And so because we are not being treated for trauma, we attempt to treat the symptoms, often resulting in re-traumatization without realizing that our efforts are making our situation worse.
So what can someone do once they realize they are dealing with the after effects of trauma? My first suggestion is that you get professional help; someone who can walk you through a treatment process like the one I am going to share with you here.
Knowing that trauma is a real factor in your life opens the floodgates for treatment success. In other words, it does not help someone to be treated for depression when they are dealing with trauma. When I work with clients who are struggling to cope with trauma, I walk them through a process that is simple, easily remembered, and can be measured for movement.
A word of warning when it comes to trauma: People are not machines, so we must avoid the following advice to others and especially to ourselves when we know that trauma has occurred:
“Get over it.”
“Deal with it and move on.”
Although the intention is to help people work through their experience, people must process pain before they are able to categorize and value it. When I work with clients going through trauma (loss, sexual trauma, violence, vocational trauma), this is a model that gives people something they can use to monitor healing.
When people have experienced trauma they need a vessel, distance, and an anchor.
Imagine getting into a boat, rowing out to a remote location into a peaceful cove in the middle of nowhere where you are alone with your thoughts, a pole in the water, a cooler of drinks and snacks, perfect temperatures, and the day to just relax and enjoy having no pressures or expectations upon you. There were three things you needed in order to experience a day like this: a vessel, distance, and an anchor.
When you are on the water, you need a vessel that will float. You need something that will allow you to focus on the amenities that surround you without any fear of sinking. Holes in the boat must be addressed before setting sail so that your time on this vessel is not invested in worrying about the means through which you arrive or depart.
For some people, their vessel is their work. They pour themselves into projects, meetings, people issues, and keeping occupied. Though this might be a form of re-traumatization for some, there are those who find comfort in their work. If your work provides a place for you to “do your thing”, then this can be a good thing.
But for some people, their work reminds them of their trauma, or is a constant source of irritation, making the vessel a daily concern instead of a daily support. If you are distracted by “holes in the boat” it is unlikely that this means of travel is going to provide the necessary vessel.
So others might find their vessel to be a hobby (sports or collecting), a new venture (cave-diving or a puppy), or an old habit (journaling or coffee with a friend). These “vessels” are a regular part of your week that you look forward to, that are stress-free, and that do more to energize you than drain you.
Do some creative thinking here, but make sure there are no holes in the boat. Better yet, have a back-up vessel that you can choose from in case one vessel needs the occasional break.
Once you have identified your vessel(s), decide which direction to go and put some distance between you and that which has traumatized you. There are so many ways to accomplish this, but because we have chosen poor vessels, distance seems to be a daily battle.
Obviously, quitting your job is not an easy decision, but in some cases, that is the most logical way to distance yourself from trauma. But in case you have other options, and your job is not the source of daily irritation, consider how else you might put distance between you and the things that prevent you from healing.
Sometimes, distance means that certain relationships must go away…for a while. I am not advocating for isolation, only distance with a purpose. It may be that those relationships can be mended at a later time, but if your goal is to heal from trauma, then distance is required in order to process and repair what has happened.
For many people, relationships cannot just “go away”. Perhaps some relationships can be in a cooling off period with the explanation that you are receiving help for some things you have experienced and privacy is appreciated. Close friends and family members are sometimes not as understanding as we desire, so let it be known that this is not permanent and that you will let them know when it is ok to re-engage.
Boundaries must be set and maintained at this juncture. I have literally been sitting in a cove on a lake, thinking I am all alone, only to have the moment ruined by a jet ski looking for calmer waters. Maintaining boundaries is harder than setting them, but the sooner they are set, the quicker people will begin to understand that you are serious about healing.
Ask for advocacy here with those who are aware of your need for healing so they can help you protect your boundaries, giving you the distance you need.
One more word of encouragement on boundaries: Initial criticism is due to not understanding or even believing that trauma is a reality in your life. Expect criticism from some, but be ruthless to find those in your life who believe you and partner with you so you can be protected as you daily set sail to your cove of choice.
My dad always had two anchors in the boat when we went fishing in Lake Okeechobee, FL. So my encouragement is that you have more than one anchor in your life that will be the mainstay for your healing process.
Anchors are that which ground you. They are steady and stable and understand they have one job…to keep you from drifting. This means that anchors know what you have been through, they understand the nature of your trauma, believe in your plan, and protect you as you sail toward more peaceful rivers of healing.
Anchors are weighty, and a little unyielding when you try to pick them up but their weightiness works to your advantage if they understand their purpose. Anchors work with you, and therefore, against anyone or anything that is attempting to move you where you do not want to go.
Partnering with anchors takes honesty, openness, and regular accountability so they can use their influence to your advantage. It is unwise to get into a weight distribution contest with an anchor. The wasted effort is a form of re-traumatization, so working together is a must.
Choose anchors wisely as they have a key position in the healing process. Much like the vessel, they are steady and dependable. The only flexible part of this process is the distance (How much? How long? Where?).
Obviously, trauma is a serious issue that require specific care, but having a model to think through helps the person get started, move forward, and see actual progress.
Trauma recovery is possible if treatment is offered and received. The path on the other side of healing is paved with wonderful discoveries for those who have the help and the courage to work toward that path. Today is the day to start, so share that encouragement with someone in need. They are just small one step away from hope and a few steps away from healing.
© 2017 by Tim Bolen, LPC
Tim is a professional counselor and marriage therapist and has a private practice serving two locations in Covington, GA and Loganville, GA. Tim works with adolescents and adults, and families in crisis. You may contact him or set up an appointment by visiting his Psychology Today profile. Tim specializes in marriage and family issues as well as offering various groups and workshops in the Newton and Walton County area. You can also visit his website for additional resources at TriCord Hope, LLC.