Trauma Has Ruined My Life: How to Recover? Here Are Six Ways to Post-Traumatic Growth

Anonymous asked a question:

I went through a traumatic life experience about 3 years ago. As it played out over the last 2 years, I feel like I’ve lost my inner drive to do anything. What do I do?

Hey dear friend, I’m sorry to hear this and thank you for sharing about it with me.

While I’m not a doctor or therapist, I can speak just in my capacity as a trained hospital chaplain. Trauma is a serious issue that’s gotten a lot more attention in the last decade, which I’m really grateful for. I highly recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score. (Warning that it does contain some hard descriptions.)

– Therapy.
 I can’t recommend this enough. Self-disclosure is one of the absolutely best ways to get through trauma. Whether that’s with a therapist, friend, mentor, pastor: we need to talk it out. Jamie Pennebaker’s studies about self-disclosure reveal that it’s not just about venting, but sense-making. Even simply writing about your trauma (if you don’t like writing, then recording it by audio) for fifteen minutes a day for several days can have noticeable health benefits. Pennebaker suggests answering these two questions: Why did this happen? What good might I derive from it? (Quoted from The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.)

– Interoception.
 When trauma occurs, it not only leads to a loss of personal and spiritual control, but also physical control of our own bodies. We can experience fatigue, chronic pain, numbness, depersonalization, or dissociation. In other words, we can become detached from ourselves. So often this happens because our internal narrative says, “This bad thing happened to me, therefore I am bad.”

One of the ways to fight this is to “master” our own bodies again. That can be done through exercise, yoga, dance, martial arts, bike-riding, or any sensory experience that requires rehearsed and specific moves. To get to know your own body again is to own your body again. (Concept of interoception from The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.)

– 7 Types of Positive Experiences.
 A landmark study was recently published in September 2019, in which seven positive childhood experiences (PCEs) were found to create resiliency in those who suffered trauma. This is a really big deal. I’m also convinced that these positive experiences work for adults too. Please check out this article plus the original study. Here are the seven PCEs quoted from the article and study:

  1. Able to talk with my family about my feelings.
  2. Felt that my family stood by me during difficult times.
  3. Enjoyed participating in community traditions.
  4. Felt a sense of belonging in high school.
  5. Felt supported by friends.
  6. Had at least two non-parent adults who took a genuine interest in me.
  7. Felt safe and protected by an adult in my home.

– Medication.
 I will always recommend medication. Yes, it can be over-prescribed or too easily prescribed. But we need every resource we can get.

– A good community.
 This almost goes without saying. Friends, family, mentors, elders, a church, a club, a weekly hang-out: having a community is not just therapeutic, but perhaps also the point of living.

– Belief. I know this is controversial, but nearly every single study done about post-traumatic growth indicates that some kind of belief was needed to overcome trauma. From earthquakes to floods to losing loved ones, those who recovered showed sense-making, or belief in a higher power, or at least the belief that something good could be found in the midst of the bad. Belief is powerful and it can absolutely heal.

God bless, my friend, and much love and peace to you. Please message me again any time.

— J.S.

I have a whole chapter in my book about trauma.

Photo from Unsplash.

One thought on “Trauma Has Ruined My Life: How to Recover? Here Are Six Ways to Post-Traumatic Growth

  1. What do you do if you find yourself in a manipulative, abusive and controlling marital relationship because your spouse suffers from severe mental health issues due to unresolved childhood traumas? He does not see his issues and does not really want to get treatment of any kind. He has tried and failed to sustain medical treatment and has rejected psychotherapy because he says that he does it want to bring back the past as “he is a new creation”. I feel pity for him coz he is alone in the world, no family, no friends, no passion and his only goal is his family (me and our toddler). What do I do?


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