In talking about trauma and trauma therapy, do we forget to focus on strengths? Conversations generated by some of my recent posts prompted me to think about this. In the conversations about self-care a commenter pointed out that it is crucially important to acknowledge what the client is already doing to take care of her/himself (including coming to therapy!) rather than only focusing on deficits. Another commenter pointed out how the sensational nature of shows like Oprah’s 200 men fail to acknowledge and give equal time to trauma survivors’ skills, creativity and strengths.
All very true! It has certainly been my experience that each trauma survivor, no matter what their past and current struggles, has strengths very worth acknowledging. I hope that I see those strengths comes through in the tone and content of this blog. It is the sort of thing that is worth repeating often!
I’d like to use the space right here in this post to honor the strengths of trauma survivors. I was thinking about what it would be like if we more overtly honored the survivors among us, in fact, on Veteran’s Day. I was thinking about how trauma survivors are veterans of a whole different kind of war. I came across this comment on Veteran’s Day and it just seemed to fit:
There are more Veterans among us than we know and more still who’ve never been enlisted but still fight on some kind of front line…thank you to all the warriors, past and present.
If you are reading this, I want to honor the warrior in you. I want you to know that you do have strengths. Even if you cannot see them, you do.
By the very fact that you are here, still alive, you demonstrate tremendous courage, perseverance and a drive towards something better. You are proof that humans have such a tremendous capacity for growth, positive change and movement towards health even in the face of adversity. You have a creative and resilient mind.
Even if you engage in coping strategies that are considered self-destructive, you are coping. You have done what it took to keep yourself alive one more day. You are choosing life.
Often the work of therapy is quite demanding! It can feel like a full-time job in itself. On top of that, many survivors work, go to school, care for family and friends.
In addition, many survivors engage in some form of activism. Whether through volunteer work, blogging, participating in support groups or simply speaking your truth to those who know you, you are doing the work that paves the way for others who need help.
By knowing the unknowable, the facts of abuse that so many in our culture want to deny, you are making a profound difference.
When you trust and try again after so much betrayal, when you work on your own healing, you are committing to the cycle of abuse stopping with you.
I think the following article by Kali Munro, M.Ed. is a great reminder to focus on strengths. How do you feel reading it? Does it resonate? Make you uncomfortable? Do you think it applies to other survivors but not you? Maybe it would be good to save to read again as needed.
Being a survivor of abuse means feeling all kinds of painful feelings. It gets overwhelming at times, and many survivors forget how much they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve come. It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like nothing is ever going to get better or that you have not accomplished anything. But the truth is you have accomplished a lot. Here are some of the accomplishments that you can be proud of:
- Focusing on your healing when it felt like there’d be no end or point to feeling so much pain;
- Hanging in there and keeping yourself alive when living felt unbearable;
- Holding on to hope when you felt lost and hopeless;
- Reaching out for support when there was no support for you as a child;
- Calling someone for help when you were scared;
- Speaking your truth when only a few people or no one would listen;
- Protecting yourself from abusers and getting yourself safe;
- Never giving up on yourself, even when others did;
- Reaching out a hand to a friend in need when you were in a lot of pain yourself;
- Accepting an extended hand when you felt like no one could ever care about you;
- Daring to trust when no one in your life was trustworthy;
- Loving your friends and partner when your childhood taught you betrayal and hatred;
- Being yourself when you were trained to deny yourself;
- Believing in a better world when you know full well the suffering human beings are capable of inflicting on others.
It takes great courage and determination to face abuse, to keep yourself safe, and to heal.
© Kali Munro, 2003
If you read this post and feel inclined, would you share a trauma survivor strength in the comments? It could be general or specific. It could be about a friend, loved one, someone you read online. It could be about you!