A rocky childhood. A violent assault. A car accident. If these are in your past, they could be affecting your present health.
These are all examples of traumatic events — which, in psychological terms, are incidents that make you believe you are in danger of being seriously injured or losing your life, says Andrea Roberts, a research scientist with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Research shows that these events can trigger emotional and even physical reactions that can make you more prone to a number of different health conditions, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Traumatic events encompass anything from a sexual assault or childhood abuse to a cancer diagnosis. Child abuse is particularly likely to affect your adult life because it occurs at a time when your brain is vulnerable — and it often occurs at the hands of people who are supposed to be your protectors, says Roberts. "By abuse, we often mean things that are a lot milder than things people typically think of as abuse. It might include being hit with a hard object, like a whip, a belt, or a paddle," says Roberts. "The behavior doesn't necessarily need to be illegal to induce a traumatic response."
A child's perception of events is as important as what actually occurred. "While a child's life may not have actually been in danger, the child may have seen it as life-threatening," says Dr. Kerry Ressler, a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School.
People who experience traumatic events sometimes develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychiatric condition that affects 5% to 10% of the general population, says Dr. Ressler. It's more common in women, affecting twice as many women as men. And it also occurs more frequently in people who have certain risk factors, including those living in poverty, soldiers in active combat, and first responders, he says. PTSD can develop after a person experiences violence or the threat of violence, including sexual violence. It may affect people who have a close relative who experienced those things as well, says Dr. Ressler. These traumatic events are generally incidents that are considered outside the ordinary and are exceptional in their intensity.
While trauma is a terrible thing for someone to go through, that doesn’t mean that you have to live with it for the rest of your life. Recovering from abuse-related trauma can be incredibly challenging, but it is possible. Here are six tips you can do to help you in the healing process.
1. Recognize the Effects of Trauma
Many effects of trauma stem from abuse. Common effects include:
Panic attacks and anxiety
Flashbacks of sexual/physical violence
Feelings of self-hate and low self-esteem
Fearing people and relationships
If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to address your trauma and seek professional help.
2. Understand the Importance of Healing
It’s important to know that healing is key to overcoming trauma. Healing is different for everyone, but for any person, requires the intention to release past traumas and recover. This intention can:
Allows survivors to focus on themselves. Negative thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming at times. But with healing, survivors can take their attention away from the negativity and focus on what their needs are.
Allows survivors to develop closer relationships with other people. It’s important to allow your friends and family to serve as your support system as you take part in the healing process.
Helps survivors relieve their pain by finding different avenues to cope, such as taking up a new hobby, returning to once-abandoned hobbies, getting out more, etc.
Helps survivors experience their feelings again after releasing all the emotion trapped within from past traumatic events.
3. Embrace Positive Affirmations
Refocusing the subconscious mind starts with “forcing” positivity. The negativity — or the inner critic — can stir self-sabotage and hold you back from embracing positive things.
Refocus the inner critical voice by putting in place a system of positive affirmations that you can use daily. Positive affirmations can interrupt those disruptive and unwelcome thoughts and turn them into something better.
Here are some positive affirmations that you can try:
“I love myself.”
“I am worthy.”
“I am beautiful.”
You can also heal the mind through your body. Find at least one form of exercise that you can easily get into that helps you release the grief, rage, and hurt that can stem from the aftermath of abuse and trauma.
Here are some great exercises to get into:
The best part is that while you’re exercising, you can listen to empowering music or positive affirmations. Just remember: Exercise is supposed to be beneficial, not self-destructing.
5. Embrace Creativity
Art therapy has proven to help survivors of PTSD by having them create and integrate. In 2018, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) had conducted a study where they had a group of participants take part in eight 75-minute sessions, where they were told to create artwork based on a certain theme (i.e., nature, religion, colors). Through this form of art therapy, NCBI reported that most participants in the study “showed regression in their drawings of the trauma or the aftermath.” As a result, creating something can help you to express yourself in a transformative way, thus helping you release the trauma and its negative effects on you.
Here are some great activities that you can do as part of art therapy:
Playing and or writing music
Arts and crafts
By creating something, you have the option of sharing it with the world or saving it as a reminder that you can overcome anything in life.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
Finally, ask for help. It doesn’t make you helpless or powerless. It shows how brave you are to seek help and be open to receiving it. Find a validating mental health professional who specializes in trauma and understands the symptoms. You can also find a support group of fellow survivors who understand you. If you need more support you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll-free at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or chat live online at www.thehotline.org.
Although the road to recovery is rarely short or easy, it’s always worth the effort. Plus, there’s no time limit to learn and heal; just take one small step at a time.
Establishing A Support Network
Whenever possible, seek support from friends and family members. If you feel you cannot discuss your situation with friends or other family members, find a self-help or support group. These groups provide an opportunity for you to talk to other people who are experiencing the same type of problems. They can listen and offer valuable advice.
Therapy can be beneficial for both the individual with mental illness and other family members. A mental health professional at Wellmore can suggest ways to cope and better understand your loved one’s illness. We offer an array of outpatient and intensive in-home programs for children, teens, and adults to treat ADHD, depression, anxiety as well as other behavioral health issues.