First of all, I’m not a health professional. This is simply practical advice from someone who has spent many years studying, going to therapy and learning what worked for me. Everyone is different. You may want to do things totally differently. I just want you to realize that severe trauma is painful but it is something that you have survived. Now it is time to look forward and grow. Here are some tips I have used to grow in over thirty years from a shy, scared and hurt girl to a strong, and successful adult. I didn’t do everything by the books. I did it my way but learned from experts along the way.
Whether your pain is from war, childhood abuse, witnessing trauma or whatever, it is strong and best handled by talking to a professional. Therapists are helpful, go to a few and find one you truly can relate to. My whole family has been to, and been helped by them. They are there to give you advice, and help, not condemn or hurt you.
The source of my pain was due to a highly aggressive, angry and disturbed female family member. I am fortunate to be alive and functioning fully, after enduring bullying, aggression, and a host of erratic and unhealthy behavior at the hands of that person. Authorities removed me from the home and put me somewhere safer as a teen. It changed my life to be around kinder, gentler and caring people. Since that time I have spent my life learning about what it takes to relate in a healthy manner to others and being thankful to those who rescued me so long ago. I forgive those who were abusive, and those who ignored it. It took years but it did happen.
The residue from abuse or trauma can be severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety, like in my case. Everyone reacts to life differently, I became very sad and reclusive as a young adult, but hid it by forcing myself to go out with friends. It was a huge struggle to hide the pain sometimes. Having never learned trust, the world felt hostile, and unsafe. At times it still can, but I put it all in more proper perspective now.
Here are some tips to help if you are having trouble with adult survivor or post-traumatic issues:
Remember, the abuse or trauma was not your fault. Don’t beat yourself up about it. People chose to be the way they were, they made choices that were unhealthy. That is not your fault. Defend and nurture yourself, don’t self-hate or blame.
Keep a journal. Nobody else needs to see it. Just write down what is going on in your mind, there is no right or wrong in journaling. Get the feelings out. If you are in a domestic violence situation, I reccommend you hide the journal somewhere where it won’t be find. Keep yourself safe. But, still keep a journal, to give yourself a voice you may not have had in situations out of your control.
Don’t give up. Fight negativity and sadness. Sometimes medicines help, sometimes talk therapy is enough. Doctors can help you decide what is best for you. It took time to build up this pain. Now, do things that make you feel safe and at peace to help rebuild your faith and self confidence. I like to draw, pet my cat, play my guitar, and watch movies. Everyone has their own choices. Do what is your favorite, not what someone else wants to you to do.
Avoid highly unhealthy people. Controlling, negative, angry, mean or rude people are on the top of my list. Do not react or get emotional if these types try to engage you in battles or discussions. Put up boundaries. Even if the offending person is a close family member, establishing boundaries (letting people know your limits of what you will and won’t tolerate) is very important. Do not let others push you around. If they try, be calm and firm, keep repeating your stance on the issue or avoid them. Eventually they will learn or get lost. Do not tolerate poor treatment. You teach people how you want to be treated.
Do not get stuck in the “blame” game (who’s fault this or that problem is). It’s a losing battle, and nobody wins. A lot of my young life was dealing with this. Distance yourself from people who do this, show them that you will not engage in the debate. It is wasted energy, better used on more positive things in life.
Develop positivity, even when you feel very, very negative. Use affirmations (small phrases that are meant to uplift or comfort your mind such as, “I am intelligent, it is ok to stand up for myself,” etc. Say them or stick them on Post-It notes to remind yourself of these positive thoughts throughout the day. Eventually, if you throw enough mud against a wall, some will stick. Same with positivity. In time, it will stick. Then think up new ones and add them into your your affirmation regimen. It does work. Really. It’s fighting those negative inner voices. The more you use them, the more they replace the bad with the good thoughts.
Develop a routine, and stick with it. Be dependable to yourself. Others may not have been there for you, but YOU can be there for you. It’s true. You are your own friend or enemy. Choose to be your own friend. When things are hard for you, cut yourself some slack and stop to realize that the bad time will pass, and that you WILL be ok because you are not alone..you have you. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, just simply be a kind, supportive and understanding friend to your mind. It is uncomfortable at first if you’re not used to it, but in time, the kindness and peace it gives you is worth it.
Don’t look at the big picture, look at pieces of the puzzle and tackle them one at a time. Take care of yourself. Even if depression makes you feel like you’re walking in a big vat of quicksand, realize that baby steps will get you through it. This way, things don’t feel overwhelming. I use a Dayrunner calendar and stick to it. It helps me know what I need to do and when, when my mind is going in a hundred directions. For me, it is a powerful tool and I depend on it to keep organized. The goal is to de-stress as much as possible, using whatever tools work best for you. Simplify your life so your mind doesn’t have to work so hard to deal with everything.
Work to have peace in your life and be very careful of who you let into it. Trust must be earned. Beware of those who are angry, critical and violent or cruel to others or animals. See how a person reacts when angry, that can be a good clue to see if this person has anger management issues. True narcissists and overly self-absorbed people are hard to live with or relate to. Big, fat, red flag. Also, those who have had very shady pasts. Past behavior gives you a glimpse into what their future behavior may be like, according to experts.
Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in it. I look back on my past to reflect on how much I’ve grown and learned, not to waste energy thinking of all the bad things that happened. It is more important to focus on the present, to make an even better future. Grieve the past then let it go. Sometimes it won’t go away, but with healing, the thoughts will lessen. Let yourself heal by focusing on positive and helpful things you can do to improve your life right now.
Hopefully, these tips are helpful to you. That’s my therapy in a nutshell. I am happier now at 43 than I ever was when younger, due to knowing myself better. I’m a busy professional, and there is no trauma in my life anymore. If it comes up, it will be dealt with, with skills learned through life. Being resourceful and learning to be positive are important to being a successful survivor. Sure, there is still self-doubt and pain deep down, but those feelings lessen, with more positive, productive thoughts to replace them. Do not give up on yourself or your life. I owe my own success to a strong amount of stubbornness and persistence, which I consider good traits. Know yourself, and surround yourself with those who will nurture and help you grow. We’re like plants, feed and nurture and we grow. Ignore, and we wither up. Choose to grow..and you will not only survive but prosper.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio. Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico for two years, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. Her focus is on realistic, natural artwork and illustration through her agent and her website, http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.
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