For those who have endured any form of trauma, life can sometimes feel like an uphill struggle.
So much of what takes place after psychological trauma or any form of traumatic stress can severely impact the trauma survivor.
Traumatic events can significantly impact a person’s mental health, and it’s not uncommon for people to develop mental disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Moreover, in trauma cases where physical injury is involved (like a car accident), there will be physical (as well as emotional) wounds that require time to heal.
Traumatic stress often creeps up on trauma survivors; when people think they are coping relatively well with past traumatic experiences, unpleasant trauma symptoms begin to manifest.
Fortunately, most trauma survivors adapt well to their experiences, with many people developing resilience and phenomenal survival skills, which can be significantly reassuring.
But is it possible to thrive after trauma?
How do you thrive after trauma?
According to mental health professionals and trauma experts, it is possible to ”survive” traumatic experiences and ”thrive” after trauma.
There are many ways that people learn to thrive after something challenging happens, and thriving will look and feel different to each individual.
Childhood trauma often referred to as developmental trauma, may take longer to unpack and work through.
Repeated exposure to trauma (i.e., physical, verbal, and sexual abuse) takes a lot longer than single event traumas to process and work through. However, trauma recovery is still possible under these circumstances.
Single event trauma
Single event traumas involve:
- Natural disasters
- Being involved in a car accident (or other severe injuries)
- Exposure to a physical assault (or being the victim of an assault)
- The sudden loss of a loved one
Prolonged exposure to traumatic events often have more long-term effects on trauma survivors and include:
- Childhood trauma
- Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse
- Domestic violence
- Sexual assault
- Being the victim of a kidnapping
- Child exploitation rings
- Serving in the military
- Multiple exposures to traumatic events (such as witnessing a loved ones’ long-term illness)
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
Many individuals suffering from trauma often develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a stress-related mental health condition.
Symptoms of PTSD can vary from person to person but typically include:
- Flashbacks related to a traumatic experience
- Intrusive thoughts and memories associated with a traumatic event
- Nightmares and sleep disturbance
- Hyperarousal (i.e. feeling on edge, jumpy or alert)
- Dissociation involves feeling disconnected from oneself and may also include emotional numbness.
- Avoidance behaviors such as avoiding people, places, objects or conversations related to a traumatic event
- Substance abuse to numb the pain caused by trauma
Post-traumatic growth is still within reach depending on the nature of a traumatic event (single or repeated trauma).
The human capacity for resilience is astounding, and, in many cases, trauma victims often adapt well to post-traumatic stress.
However, trauma can often be debilitating, and people can oscillate between hopelessness and hopefulness interchangeably.
Re-framing extremely aversive events
The ability to re-frame our thoughts and perceptions surrounding a traumatic event can be profoundly valuable and help us develop the capacity for trauma recovery and growth.
As difficult as the above process can sometimes be, had we not gone through what we did, there would be no opportunity to get to know ourselves on a deeper level as we navigate our way through the healing process.
Much of the trauma work in a therapeutic setting is centered around modifying perceptions, thoughts, and feelings surrounding a traumatic event or challenging life period.
This type of cognitive processing involves therapy treatments such as:
- EMDR (eye movement desensitization Reprocessing)
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Talk therapy
- Addiction treatments (in the case of substance abuse issues)
Another effective way to manage trauma symptoms is to change how people conceptualize and relate to adverse experiences.
For example, many trauma survivors experience intense guilt for whatever has happened; this is especially prevalent in natural disasters and severe accidents where one person survived, and the other’s didn’t.
Survivors’ guilt is common in other trauma incidences, such as childhood trauma, where traumatized children (and adults) blame themselves for their perpetrators’ actions.
Those who have gotten repeatedly exposed to trauma are likely to feel guilty and require professional help to re-process their experiences and adverse events in a safe space.
Further trauma can also trigger post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and strong emotions where the victim may require the help of a mental health professional or support group for trauma survivors.
As well as engaging in therapy treatments such as CBT and EMDR, trauma victims may also benefit from the following:
#1. Acknowledging that you’ve seen the worst and still pulled through.
Many trauma experts state that when trauma victims acknowledge how harrowing their experiences have been and yet have still managed to pull through them, it can be a requisite for healing.
All this may sound like a blessing and a curse.
However, the capacity to trust your ability to overcome profound conflict and stress will give you the psychological tools and self-confidence to manage complex events in the future.
For example, things that may have seemed terrible or earth-shattering in the past, such as failing, being rejected, etc., will seem much less of a problem after trauma.
Essentially, the worst has happened, and things can only get better from here.
#2. Supporting other trauma survivors
Many trauma victims go on to help other survivors of trauma.
Some people may choose to become counselors, psychologists, or take up volunteering to help people who have endured hardships in their lives.
Resilient people are not born; they are made, and challenging events often motivate individuals to improve their well-being and encourage others to do the same.
Making a difference in other peoples’ lives can be profoundly cathartic to people who have endured trauma since trauma victims have the compassion, understanding, and humility to empathize with those in a similar position.
#3. Getting to know yourself
After a traumatic event (such as losing a loved one), many people may feel lost for a while.
Grief can be a profoundly stressful experience, one that ultimately changes us and turns our entire life upside down.
However, even if grief is not the cause of your trauma, the impact of trauma can significantly harm your mental health and emotional well-being.
Thus, getting to know yourself after a traumatic event can lead to significant post-traumatic growth, allowing you to explore parts of yourself that you never had time to do before the trauma.
Our ability to cope with challenging life events often means drawing on many different resources such as family, friends, mental health professionals, and even the wider community.
There is no shame in seeking help and support.
After all, we are only human.
Whether it is anxiety or anger causing the problem, or other issues such as drugs and alcohol addiction, people must seek treatment and support.
Whatever traumatic event happened in the past, living with the effects of trauma doesn’t have to be a way of life, you have survived whatever tragedy has befallen you, and you owe it to yourself to start thriving.
Contact one of our specialists to find out how you can move on from trauma and live a fulfilling life free from the clutches of the past.
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