by Teresia Smith
The way you respond in a relationship often mirrors the way you feel about yourself. People learn to take care of themselves, trust, forgive and respect others if they have experienced these things and have learned to treat themselves the same. Traumatic events can take a significant toll on one’s ability to manage life. One of the hardest parts to overcome is the effect it has on self-worth and our ability to have healthy relationships. Helping a survivor rebuild is vital to their ability to have healthy future relationships and be successful in coping with the ups and downs of life.
Trauma isn’t just what happened to you; it can also involve a disconnection from your feelings. This is a defense mechanism victims develop to cope as they tend to value what others think of them. This way of thinking usually results in self-sacrifice and self-doubt. There is often a sense of helplessness, loss of trust, guilt, shame, doubt, fear and a false perception of responsibility for the events that occurred. Because of these negative internalized feelings, a survivor can try to make relationships work by forfeiting everything they believe and want just to make the partner happy. They may doubt themselves so much they don’t trust their instincts and are easily manipulated.
Dr. Frank Ochberg, M.D. shares that after a trauma, we are vulnerable to voices from the past. If we were raised by harsh, demeaning parents, if we were bullied and belittled, if there was abuse and neglect, we may experience self-defeating thoughts later. It is very common to have a chorus in our head saying we are worthless, hopeless and deserve to suffer. The trauma makes us vulnerable and return with a vengeance. If we are aware, we can change the record and replace it with positive messages.
How does a survivor start to rebuild their self-worth and begin to rid themselves of negative internalized messages? Make sure basic needs are met. If someone is living in survival mode they may not be sleeping enough due to nightmares, or they may be sleeping too much as a way to escape. They may not be eating enough or binge eating too much. Physical safety and healthy boundaries are a must to rebuild a sense of security. Once basic needs are met, move on to meet emotional/mental health needs.
Working with a crisis counselor helps you see the events that happened to you and how you have responded were not your fault. Part of healing is realizing you are not responsible for your victimization. These things have shaped us into who we are but do not shape our future. Talking through feelings or being in a support group can help to realize your responses are similar to others’, and you are not alone. Often we find facing our traumas helps us learn how strong we are. Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist, and she suggests the following:
Think about the personal strength you showed to survive. Even if you made some mistakes, you did what you had to survive, and that is something to be proud of.
Think about the things you have put in your life that make it meaningful – be it relationships, your work, your faith or taking care of your family. Try to find everyday happiness in the life you have now. Don’t overlook the small things.
Think about what you have learned from these difficulties and how you might use this to help yourself and others. We have a local coalition that welcomes new members interested in working to help stop domestic violence.
Know that growth and hope can coexist with grief, and there will be ups and downs. Learn to anticipate and manage these. Be gentle with yourself on days when it is too difficult to see the positive. Crisis Services of North Alabama strives to create a community where we listen, show compassion, and encourage. If you have experienced intimate partner violence or sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services such as crisis counseling, referrals, safe shelter, court advocacy, and support groups. We may be reached locally at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.