Trauma Survivor Strengths

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.

Abuse Survivors: Remembering Your Strengths

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!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

This entry was posted in Abuse, Activism, Childhood Abuse, Health, Mental Health, Psychologist, Self-care, Therapy, Trauma and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Trauma Survivor Strengths

  1. tp says:

    This site has some very helpful info and is very much appreciated by me and surely many others. Thank you for useing your time to benefit the many people that are reaching out for help. Sincerily Tom

  2. Shimc says:

    Thank you- I’m slowly coming to grips with my childhood near suicide attempt and the year and a half of horror that preceded it- I saw myself in much of the article and for the first time I know I’m not crazy to try to work out this very old and until recently surpressed and denied pain. Reaching out- using my experience to give help to other people is very much what I want to do , but I don’t know where to start- but I haven’t given up trying to find a way.

    • Hi Shimc-

      You are very welcome. I am glad this was helpful to you.

      I think it is fantastic that you want to be of help to others! For some, the hardest part is focusing on themselves and making sure they get themselves the help they need!

      I think for may therapy is a really good place to start.

  3. onesurvivor says:

    Thank you so much for this reminder of our strengths. It is so easy to focus on our perceived weaknesses…especially when struggling. We need to remember that our weaknesses are not the whole picture. They are only part of a bigger picture…one that includes strength and beauty, too.

  4. Jenni says:

    This is beautifully written and incredibly thoughtful (and thought provoking). As a survivor of child abuse I really resonate with these words and love your focus on how strong survivors are called to be. As a survivor of cancer, I have found that both experiences share similar kinds of ‘side effects’ and call forward the same kinds of strengths in order to move through. It’s always such an inspiration to hear or see someone who has fought their battles and refused to give up…I wish I could pinpoint the word describes that kind of resilience, but I am constantly amazed by it. Thank you for posting this…I’d like to provide a link to this on my website for cancer survivors – do you mind?

  5. Dear Dr. Young,
    Thank you for such a moving post. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I survived early traumas that occurred between the ages of 17 and 19, with minimal support. I am now writing a blog where I am, amongst other things, looking at resilience and trauma. I used to think I was weak and damaged because of my PTSD symptoms; now I realize that I must have been very resilient and brave to have survived at all. I credit much of my survival to having had loving grandparents, sang and listened to music, and read. Sometimes, however, it is truly hard to know why one person “survives” and another becomes a drug addict or commits suicide. I know, too, that I also survived because my brain helped me not think about things that were too overwhelming at the time. Today, in my 50s, I am still processing trauma and grief that I stuffed for so many years.

    Thank you again for your inspiring post. I would like to link to it on my blog. I am doing a series of posts on combat trauma now, but when I return to the subject of how I survived and how I am healing from trauma, this would be a great piece to link to.

  6. Hi again,
    I forgot to mention that I’m adding your blog to my blogroll. You have so much good stuff here. It helps me and I hope it helps anyone who visits my site.

  7. Pingback: First Steps for a Man Who’s Ready to Talk About His Abuse | Dr. Kathleen Young: Treating Trauma

  8. Reblogged this on Picking Up the Pieces and commented:
    It’s so strange how at times when I’m obsessed in thought over something for days on end and decide to write a post, I seem to bump into other posts that mirror my thinking. I am in the middle of writing my own post about things I admire about survivors of abuse, and in my multi-tasking, I came across this post originally published in 2010 and wanted to share it with you all. We all need reminders of our strengths sometimes to help give us that extra push to keep moving forward, so here’s part one by a clinical psychologist who wanted to “honor the warrior in you.” So if you’re feeling exhausted, depleted, and emotionally spent, if you feel like you’re on the edge and need someone to help pull you back, take some time to read this post and mediate on why you’re stronger than iron and wonderfully amazing. As imperfect humans, we so readily spotlight our failures, weaknesses, mistakes, flaws, and bad points in our lives yet shy away from our successes, strengths, and achievements as though they are expected and therefore common and unremarkable.

    Bask in your determination and resilience. You’ve earned it. ❤

    (Thank you Dr. Young)

  9. caroline abbott says:

    Thanks for pointing out how difficult healing from trauma can be, and how often those who are healing do it while carrying on with their other responsibilities…against all odds. Bless you!

  10. Very good post, thought provoking and so very true. none of us know how strong we are until we make it through something we didn’t think we could survive. it is not strength if you know you can do it. I went 2 years thinking I can not survive this one day. Every single day. then someone called me strong and an inspiration and I thought, “Strong? inspiration? but every day I think I can’t do it, how can that be strong?” Then I thought about it and realized I had been doing it one day at a time for 2 years, I WAS strong. and when I realized I was strong, I stopped saying I can not do it one more day, I just did it, one more day.

  11. Anonymous says:

    One of the greatest strengths a survivor has is their cloak of armor they carry around with them. Enduring such pain could never make a person weaker like society and others try to make it. People feel your energies and they know how strong you are because you know how strong you are. You’ve accomplished so much when all people were trying to destroy you. Now, give yourself a pat on the back and don’t you ever and i mean ever let another person tell you who they think you are or what your like because of your past.

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