Friday, February 12, 2016

Trauma: Where it Begins and Where it Can End

Every few months, I read an online discussion that argues that when a person gets out of a traumatic relationship (especially a religious one), there are no guidelines on how to recover. While on one hand, that's true – because we all recover on our on timetable and in our own ways – trauma symptoms that cause problems in your life beyond about six months following the event aren't healthy.

Unfortunately, though we may be reasonably healthy, the dynamics of a high demand relationship, religion, or group take a toll on us and cause us to loose the healthy perspective we once had. If we grew up in such a relationship or family, we may never have learned a healthy perspective. The statistics vary, but my exit counselor told me many years ago that with cultic religious groups, most people have difficulty and don't return to church for about two years. I've seen online documentaries discussing two different well-known cults cults, and because of the stringent lifestyles that were required of members who grew up in their respective groups, both cited a figure of twelve years to recover. The each made a point to say that this figure applies to people who were actively working on recovery.

It's now widely accepted that there are three primary stages of recovery from trauma, and I thought it would be helpful to create a diagram to help people understand the process. I hope that in weeks to come to explore these stages, drawing on experiences that I've had that either fit or don't fit. I found understanding these stages to be very helpful, mostly because I could see a way out of the overwhelming amount of work that I needed to do (and that which I still continue to pursue).

Because emotional healing is not linear (in a straight line from Point A to Point B), I chose a circular maze to describe what it's like to find one's way out of a traumatic relationship and into the stages that we people tend to fall into as we grow beyond and through our experience or experiences – as well as learning to cope with the collateral damage. I find that the toll that my traumas took and how I was affected by them are more problematic and long-lasting than individual experiences.

So here are the basic stages, and I gave trauma itself and the time before seeking help it's own stage. In days to come, we can take a look at each stage and what goes along with it. And for those who might read this and question whether they should seek some kind of help (be it self-help or professional counseling), those who do need additional help tend to have struggles with:
  • Loss of control / helplessness
  • Shame and guilt
  • Problems with trust and boundaries
  • Repeating bad dynamics that were learned while living through trauma

Again, there's much here to think about, but here is a picture that I found to be encouraging. I didn't feel so lost and overwhelmed if others had walked through the maze of recovery and came through it to life on the other side. At different times in my healing which I believe took a good thirty years, different aspects of the process caught my attention and brought me special comfort. I could look at the stages and could remind myself that I had hope. And it's my hope that I can share some of that with people who might stumble on this online. :)

For further reading until the next post:

(Late Edit:  FYI I'm claiming the rights to this image with gratitude and laud for the those who gave me the ideas to illustrate.)