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Words of Wellness

Surviving Trauma

Surviving Trauma

David Sobel and Robert Ornstein

Traumas usually follow from loss, and any loss can disrupt our sense of self, identity and permanence. We easily recognize some losses, like that of a loved one, of health, of possessions or of affection. Some losses are more subtle, such as loss of an ideal, or one's sense of purpose, hopes or plans.

Several studies of traumatic losses have found a relationship between traumatic events and health risk, including a decrease in immune function. Physical and emotional symptoms may also be present, including heart palpitations, chest pain, headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, muscular pain, insomnia, inability to concentrate, irritability and fear of intimacy.

Some severe traumatic experiences require professional assistance. What follows is some bits of self-help advice that may be of benefit either alone or in conjunction with expert support.

Feel Your Feelings. Allow yourself to grieve. On the other hand, don't feel bad if you don't feel bad. Those around you are likely to send subtle messages about how you "should" feel. The most important thing is to allow yourself to feel whatever you feel.

Expect Ups and Downs. Many reactions to trauma are normal and natural healing responses; they're not signs of failure, weakness or "going crazy." For example, nightmares and flashbacks may have a value. They can be a signal you are working through the events, or they may be a sign you are searching for some new meanings. Even distress can help you mobilize ways of coping and healing.

Don't Do It Alone. A traumatic experience can disrupt your ties with others, leaving you feeling isolated. Seek out people who have gone through similar events. There are self-help groups for nearly every major trauma. If the thought of participating in a support group is not appealing to you, a one-on-one relationship with a friend or counselor is a good alternative.

Talk About It. There is mounting evidence it's healthy to confess and confide. One survey showed adults who experienced trauma as children and never talked about it were more likely to develop cancer, hypertension, ulcers and serious cases of the flu than those who talked about their experiences with others.

Writing Really Helps. Confiding our feelings in others or writing them down puts them into words and helps us sort them out. Words help us understand and absorb the traumatic event in order to eventually put it behind us. It gives us a sense of release and control.

Look For The Positive. Many victims of trauma find they reorder their life's priorities and appreciate life more. Some even work to change the conditions that led to their misfortune. Try to consider the trauma from a larger perspective. Finally, give yourself some credit for coping with all you've been through.

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2001.
Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

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