Having a history of trauma leads to some predictable difficulties in life. This post is to help you understand some of the thought processes you may be experiencing and give some tips on how to move forward.
Thoughts and Beliefs
All humans make sense of their experience. Sometimes we know that we are doing it, but sometimes it happens without us realizing it, especially when we are young.
Trauma impacts what we think about our self and what we think about the world. These beliefs are common among survivors of trauma:
- The world is dangerous.
- All people are untrustworthy.
- I am bad, or this would not have happened to me. *
- I am dangerous. *
- I am totally inept (to keep myself safe and/or to get better).
- I am unable to cope with stress and with my symptoms.
- I am vulnerable and helpless.
- I have to be in control at all times.
Then, if we are victimized again, the trauma becomes proofthat these beliefs are true. Sometimes even memories convince survivors that their beliefs are true.
* This common belief (I am bad) is related to feeling responsible or to blame for what happened. This belief develops because we are attached to the person who hurt us. We need to love and be loved, but we also need to be safe – so when the person we love hurts us, we make sense of this conflict by saying that we are the bad one. It’s a psychological trick our brain does to make it possible to stay attached to the person she loves.
Unfortunately, these beliefs keep you stuck in the memories of the trauma. They are hurting you. They also make you vulnerable to being revictimized. These beliefs have to change.
- Notice the beliefs – these are thoughts and interpretations that make you feel worse.
- Challenge them – Look for evidence that contradicts the thoughts.
- Understand the trauma you experienced as specific to the trauma you experienced. Work hard to not generalizeyour understanding to all people, to all situations, or to who you are as a person.
- Develop more realistic beliefs about your ability to cope, and about the safety of the world.
When you are ruminating, obsessing, scaring yourself needlessly, or when you think about the traumatic event at an inconvenient time (e.g. work), use a thought-stopping technique.
- Shout stop and clap your hands once. This will distract your mind momentarily.
- OR instead of shouting stop, you can practice shouting stop silently, picturing a big red stop sign, or snapping a rubber band on your wrist.
- Once your mind is distracted, meditate about a truth to distract your mind. This truth could be from the Bible or from something you are learning.
When the “I am bad” or “I am responsible” beliefs happen –
- Reverse the thoughts by attributing responsibility to the person who hurt you. Say it out loud or write it down to emphasize the truth of it.
- Consider what it would be like if you believed – really believed – that the person/people who abused you were the ones in the wrong.
- Grieve that the person/people did not protect you or love you how you needed to be loved.
Ultimately, you’ll need to make sense of the trauma (the memories) in new ways – ways that take into consideration all of your life experience, all the people you’ve met, all the times you were safe. You’ll need to see the trauma as events that happened in the past, and had nothing to do with who you are as a person. The events are a part of your life, but not the only part of your life.
Survivors of sexual trauma – remember:
- You aren’t the only one. About 25% of women experience sexual trauma in their lifetime.
- The person who abused you is wrong for hurting you.
- Your suffering was a terrible event or many terrible events. And the events are now over.
- You did not have any choice at the time. There was no way to escape.
- You made it through the trauma, which means the memories are bearable.
- You are responsible for taking hold of your mind now and making life worthwhile.