During recover from severe trauma, the person must be able to reconnect the dreadful event with his or her life story. The injured person must understand the event as a chapter that has meaning to one’s life and connect it to the present and how to cultivate the future.
As one progresses in their treatment of processing the traumatic memories, one will need to create future chapters that are not defined by the evil of the trauma, but are defined by growth from it. The present and future need to find happiness, meaning and self esteem in order to self sustain any recovery and help the person integrate back into society.
Happiness can be subjective in regards to what makes one smile, but at the most inner most level, it is universal. Happiness when misplaced in material things can never lead to true happiness, but values and beliefs and love and family can all have more long lasting meaning to sustaining happiness and leading one to it. One who has suffered severe trauma may have difficulty defining oneself or finding love and connection with the world, so it is important to understand how again to be happy. Obviously placing one’s faith in the most elements of happiness is critical. Far too many who even suffer no trauma, still choose false idols of happiness. They place their love in things over people, self over family, and in ideas that die with time instead of live eternally.
Some common traits of those who experience some relevance of true happiness can be found in those who possess a healthy self esteem and peace of mind. These individuals cultivate virtue and love within themselves and with others. They have healthier experiences with social interactions and bonds that form from these interactions. Most hold a belief in something greater than than themselves. Most find this in faith and religion, but any type of objective code that binds one beyond oneself, gives a person purpose and meaning.
Happy individuals usually also possess a mastery of their life. They have believable goals, moderate ambitions, and mastery of their schedule and how things are accomplished. They are not in chaos but order. Furthermore, they possess an optimistic outlook on life that is not always defined by success but by self and self worth. Unfortunately, like a thief in the night, grief and loss can occur. Even the happiest person can be robbed of everything, even beyond family, virtue and love. Grief is the price of love in this temporal world. With that truly happy individuals will deal with pain and sorrow and trauma but they will ultimately have the meaning and self esteem to guide themselves through the journey of grief and adapt and adjust to the loss.
Happy individuals are not always happy or content but they are not constantly dragged down with hate, blame, bitterness and helplessness. They may deal with trauma but eventually again find the light at the end of the tunnel. Some may require help but ultimately, their spirit may be hurt, but never killed.
Individuals who experience trauma or PTSD may not be able to find happiness in their life. They may not have the skills or the trauma was so great, it paralyzed their spirit. As those who experienced trauma reawaken, they need to work towards re-involvement into society and hobbies. They need to form and organize a plan. They need to stop worrying as much and become more optimistic and find value in life itself.
This centers around having meaning. Without meaning, something is useless. So it is imperative for those recovering from trauma to again find meaning to life. What meaning or direction can they decipher from the horrific event they witnessed or were apart of? How can this event give them meaning forward? How can the person move forward from it and do new things? Victor Frankyl during his days in the Nazi concentration camp found meaning in survival and a deeper sense of justice that would one day come. He found meaning in the smaller things that reflected goodness that existed among the evil.
A deep core to meaning usually involves having a commitment to something higher than oneself. Whether it be a philosophy, or a faith, one can anchor oneself despite any waves of the ocean of life. No matter what occurs, even it temporarily numbs, one is able to find course due to meaning. This moral compass can find true north in the most terrific storms. Many individuals are stripped of meaning at a young age because of trauma. They are unable to again find meaning.
It is important then to create self esteem. This may be difficult for someone who has been stripped of all dignity, but through therapy and work on self, one again can start to find value in oneself and separate oneself from the trauma. In finding self esteem, one can find meaning and happiness again.
Self esteem looks at value in self. It correlates with the numerous qualities that happy people experience. At its core, one sees intrinsic value in self, unconditional worth, the experience of love and growth in life.
Self esteem is realistic in self. It is based in truth, even in imperfections. It is appreciative of one’s good qualities and ignites positivity in oneself. It does not create a false arrogance or deception but sees all as equally beautiful in different ways.
Furthermore, self esteem is able to separate the value of one’s core from externals. Bad things that happen or mistakes are not the core of one’s soul. One may have had bad things accidentally occur, but that does not make oneself a bad person. Instead of “BECAUSE” of that, I am “THEREFORE ” this or that, the mind sees that “EVEN THOUGH” this occurred, “NEVERTHELESS” I am still me. The EVEN THOUGH/NEVERTHELESS logic separates someone from the incident. It does not make the person a product of the incident. This slight change of words creates an entirely different person.
Individuals with good self esteem are able to see their core self absent of bad events. They are able to truthfully see the bad and good, but not define oneself by any bad, but only work on the good. They are able to put this optimistic energy into change.
Again, when things go astray, they do not see these things as permanent but temporary. They do not define lack of success as themselves. They do not look to be better or less than anyone and they are more likely to see someone different due to position not necessarily more or less innate worth.
Trauma can destroy self worth. It can make one feel horrible one self and equate oneself to the trauma. One cannot differentiate between core and accidentals. One hence is always feeling less and inadequate. This can lead to competition with others, or fear of being in the open due to fear of failure. It can cause mistrust and bitterness and envy. It can force one to deny any meaning in life but trauma and the product of that trauma.
Happiness, meaning and self esteem are key to functioning individuals. Trauma can take it temporarily or permanently for some. It is important to anchor oneself to something more than the event. To anchor oneself even to something more than this world can ever take. We live in a valley of tears and bad things happen to good people, but there is good too and light that can be found. Those who are able to find meaning and self esteem and value in something greater are better able to navigate and cope with trauma during life.
Counselors can help others learn these skills and cultivate these values.
Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Program, as well as AIHCP’s Stress Management Consulting Program and Crisis Intervention Program. The programs are online and self paced and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Stress Management Consulting, Grief Counseling or Crisis Counseling.
The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery and Growth by Glenn R. Schiraldi, PhD