Strategies to Support Trauma Survivors
There is no single treatment for complex trauma such as PTSD or Complex PTSD, but the cornerstone of treatment is building a collaborative working relationship with the survivor. They need to restore safety and trust in human connection.
However, the major drawback to healing from chronic trauma and C-PTSD is isolation. If individuals fear coming forward due to stigma, minimization of the events, delayed reporting, an oppressive society, self-shame or public shaming as well as feeling afraid of how they may react to their environment, they are left to figure things out on their own.
Many individuals that never receive formal treatment for PTSD and, instead, invest in their own methods by trial-and-error. I did because there was nothing out there. At the same time, I wasn’t about to come forward due to the stigma about mental health. I feared being a bad mom. I feared my children would be taken away. I feared that I would be targeted as a disgrace. Mental health disorders acquired from childhood trauma, sexual exploitation, or intimate partner violence was not, typically, something anyone would reveal because the experience of coming forward was usually never good.
Also, when I’d go to the doctors office regarding some of the symptoms, he’d say “It was all in my head.” Back in the 80’s and 90’s and early 2000’s, no one could see the enduring effects of chronic childhood abuse, repeated sexual assaults, and intimate partner violence. PTSD was left for the veterans. Much of society including health practitioners / professionals shrugged the effects of trauma off unless it was someone that came back from war.
Struggling in Silence
I struggled for many years trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I had so many unusual symptoms (e.g., extreme bouts of anger and sadness, flashbacks, dissociation/detachment from self and my surroundings, unaware of my emotions, flat affect, hyper-vigilance, freezing or numbing of my emotions). It was difficult living in this body and mind. I had to adjust my life according to how I was feeling or how I was reacting that day. Every day was a new thing. I never really knew what to expect with my psychological or physiological state.
More Symptoms of Trauma
C-PTSD has enduring psychological (e.g., guilt, shame, low self-worth, anger), physiological (e.g, hyper- and hypo-arousal), and social and interpersonal responses (e.g., problems with intimacy). Many, of which, never get resolved especially if one doesn’t seek support. I carried these enduring effects of trauma for decades because I kept myself in isolation hiding from the world. But I had to cope, and how do you cope with such strong symptoms of anxiety, irritation, anger, and overwhelm? I turned to to maladaptive coping mechanisms such as alcohol, drugs, reckless driving, and risk-taking. Science shows that if any form of PTSD is not resolved within a year that the individuals are likely to experience long-lasting symptoms. That was definitely my case, my life.
You can only imagine the many children that have experienced chronic childhood abuse (or women that have experience domestic violence and other forms of chronic abuse) and have never come forward. They’re most likely struggling with many symptoms on their own; they’ve just learned to adapt in their own ways.
Strategies to Support Trauma Survivors
Here are some strategies that create some change and that you can use to support yourself if you are struggling with life, in general. Emotional regulation and emotional awareness are a couple of symptoms that transpire from chronic childhood abuse. Strategies to work on emotional regulation and increase emotional awareness are mindfulness, writing in a journal, and therapy; all great forms of healing, but it’s all about consistency. Because the traumatic event was “jarred” into the bodily system, it’s extremely important to work through the somatic sensations that arise, as well. Thermodynamics indicates that energy is never destroyed, only transformed. As a result, individuals experiencing PTSD or C-PTSD need to move the emotions and bodily sensations out of the body and into another form by talking, writing, breath, and exercise (e.g., running, yoga), for example. In the end, it’s important to be gentle and sensitive with yourself. Although difficult, it can be learned.
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