How Do You Survive Trauma

17 Dec 2019

How do you survive trauma? That is a question that I have been asking myself a lot over the past few months.  Because the past few months have provided me with what has felt like a constant, overwhelming supply of trauma. That is why I have been so uncharacteristically silent on my blog and newsletter, of late.  This has been the first time, in all the years that I have been writing about emotional abuse, that I have struggled to find my writing voice and the energy to even think clearly.

Despite all the personal experience  (thanks, difficult people who were once in my life) and professional experience in surviving  trauma, I have struggled – and am still reeling.  And, since you, too, have struggled with trauma, or else you would not be here, I wanted to share what I know – in the hopes that it will be of some help to you, too.

So, how do you survive trauma?

1. Honor the fact that what you have been through is seismic.

Repeated trauma is like a series of earthquakes.  The first one may damage you without razing you to the ground.  Repeated trauma can reduce a person to feeling like a pile of rubble. As someone who has felt like a pile of rubble for the past couple of months, I can report that that is not my favorite feeling. Still, sometimes, you just have to accept that you are at Ground Zero – for a number of good reasons. Nobody has ever said, “This individual or that individual should have coped better with the earthquake that overtook them”.  The same goes for you.  After an earthquake, you end up where you end up.  Absolutely no blame attaches to you for that – unless you are talking to a smartass.

2. Avoid smartasses. 

Nobody ever really needs smartasses in their life. But, as a nice person, you have likely routinely put up with a lot more covert brickbats from smartasses than you should.  Now is the time when you need to conserve what little strength you have.  If people are not sincerely focused on helping  you rebuild, you need to eliminate them from your life. Better to be alone than be under attack from people you could have wished were trustworthy.

3. Do what you can to keep from drowning.

 Take all received wisdom with a healthy pinch of salt  – especially received wisdom that you didn’t ask for. People who are in love with the sound of their own voice can be very damaging.  However, even wisdom that would well work when you are a little further down the road, may not work right now  Over the years, I have become much, much more resilient than I ever was. However, there are limits and over the past few months, things have gone so far beyond mine it is just not true.

What did I find that I could do to keep from drowning? Relatively little.  Plus, those things that I have found are pretty primitive.  For weeks, even reading a book was beyond me.  Affirmations and prayer felt out of the question.  Staring into the middle distance, scrolling through social media and fixating on online shopping portals have been about the limit of it.  I have even watched my little dog chewing on a cuddly toy for ages, with obvious pleasure and thought, “Maybe that’s what I need to do!” My guess is that a deeply wounded psyche needs to anesthetize itself for a while, in order to create the space to start the healing process. That is all perfectly legitimate but not much fun when you are in that place.

4. Get appopriate help if possible.

When you are struggling to cope with trauma, getting appropriate, professional help is highly desirable. But the key word has to be “appropriate”.  Unfortunately, when you are most in need of help, you run a high risk of settling for working with someone who is not a great match.  You have to select someone who listens, understands, validates and supports you. That should not be a lot to ask.  Unfortunately, it can be.

At the beginning of my recent trauma journey, I saw someone – allegedly highly qualified – who kept asking me where I felt the trauma in my body  However, my reaction to sudden life and death trauma is that I go straight out of my body into my head. So, for me, that approach did not work.  I told the therapist, repeatedly.  She responded by asking the same question, over and over again.  She clearly wasn’t deaf.  That meant that she either wasn’t listening or didn’t know how else to approach a trauma beyond her level of understanding. Either way, I swiftly decided that there was no benefit to me in seeing her.

5. Watch for internal shifts but don’t demand them of yourself.

It strikes me that all Life is based on tectonic plates that are in constant movement. What is certain is that you will experience internal shifts – in time. Sadly, there is no foolproof equation for establishing how long it will be before you experience an internal shift.  You need to be conscious of that and go with it, as and when it happens.  But don’t try to force it or become discouraged with yourself if you are not feeling it.  Your primary job is to keep yourself from drowning, as much as possible. That means not asking too much – read, “much” – of yourself.

6. Start doing the things that make you feel good – once you have the strength to do them.

Last week, my lovely partner and I attended our local bookclub.  I will admit that I went absurdly overdressed for the occasion.  I did it because, for the first time in a LONG time, I had enough energy to bother.  It felt great.  More to the point, every day I am checking in with myself, doing what I feel able to do and celebrating every last achievement, however small.  Am I anywhere near the top of my world? I don’t think so.  But every step that I put between myself and the bottom is an advance.

7. Keep checking in with yourself.

You and I were trained to selflessness.  We were led to believe that thinking about yourself was selfish and meant that we were denying Other People what they were entitled to – from us.  How crazy is that, when you stop to think about it?  Checking in with yourself is vital.  I don’t suppose that you would argue with me about needing air, food, water and sleep in order to survive.  Only, it doesn’t stop there.  As a child, you needed nurture – which you may, or may not, have received.  As an adult, with or without a loving partner, you still need self-nurture.  You cannot nurture yourself if you do not first check in with yourself to find out how you feel and how you can support your own wellbeing.  That has absolutely nothing o do with feeling sorry for yourself – perish the thought!!!. 

8. Be patient – with YOURSELF. 

As a child, I was often told that, “Patience is a virtue.” I objected to that little saying then and I still do, now.  The kind of “patience” that the adults in my life advocated was the patience to put up with other people’s bad behavior.  That does not serve the “patient” individual well – although it serves admirably the people who try your “patience”.  Being patient with yourself is a whole different issues. It requires you to show kindness – and empathy, no less – towards yourself.  That should not be a big deal for anyone.  But, let’s face it, for most of us it really is.

In the end, how to deal with trauma is a vast topic.  What is certain is that you do not come out of trauma exactly the same as you went in.  Trauma will shape a person to some degree.  But trauma can  teach you self-compassion and a better way to relate to yourself for the rest of your life.  While I would not wish the level of trauma that you and I have endured on anyone, I can only hope that it will be the springboard to launch you into a more self-compassionate and nurturing life.


Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

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