Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breaking the Chains of Trauma Pt 1


Traumas can be seeds for more pain – or for growth.

The suggestions in this section, once again, are not substitutes for professional psychiatric care. However, many people have found self-help effective for relieving the stress of trauma and taking control of themselves. Whether you choose to seek professional help or embark on a healing path yourself, know that you can break free and begin to live again when tragedy touches you. You don’t have to let trauma keep you from achieving what you want out of life.

You can choose just one, or any combination of these techniques to work on freeing yourself from trauma. If you are uncomfortable with an approach, move on to another selection.


“It Could Be Worse”: Dramatization and Awareness

For mild trauma, sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. If you are able to look at the situation objectively, you may be able to “laugh it off,” or at least arm yourself with enough knowledge to realize you had it easy.

There are two ways to approach this method. The first is to simply use your imagination. Picture the trauma, and then imagine all the ways in which it could have been worse. For example, if you have a cheque account, you may have bounced a cheque, ended up having to pay a fee to the bank and had to postpone paying one of your bills or go without something you planned to purchase. Now, imagine what might have happened if you bounced multiple cheques. You might have had to put off several payments. The snowball effect could have caused you to lose your car, or have your power shut off. Your bills could have spiralled out of control, eventually leaving you homeless.* When you imagine the worst, it’s easier to put setbacks into perspective.



Traumas can be seeds for more pain – or for growth.

*NOTE: Bouncing multiple cheques and losing your power, your car, or your house qualifies as major trauma, for which dramatization is not always effective.

The second approach to dramatization and awareness of minor trauma is to research actual cases where the situations of other people turned out worse than yours. You can search online for news stories, or browse the periodicals archive at your local library. Generally, you will always be able to find cases concerning people who had more difficulty than you, yet they survived- and you will too. After all, you’re still alive. If you want to take this method a step further, you can do something to help others in your situation. Make a donation to a specific case or a related charity, or start a support program or fund drive in your community. Taking action, no matter how small, often helps to alleviate the feelings of loss and helplessness associated with trauma.

For Your Eyes Only: Journaling to Release

Keeping a journal or diary is one of humankind’s oldest traditions. The thoughts, feelings and emotions of generations have been preserved through countless pages inscribed with words that are often kept private throughout the life of the writer, and revealed only in the interests of adding to historical record.

For therapeutic purposes, sometimes the act itself of writing down past trauma allows you to face it more fully and release the negative feelings associated with the event. The journaling process can be a short-term program used solely for working on a specific trauma. If you keep a short-term journal, you may wish to burn or destroy it at the end of the process as a symbolic realization of your freedom from trauma. If you enjoy journaling, you may wish to continue keeping a written record of your thoughts and feelings. Many people keep daily or weekly journals their entire lives. Journaling is an excellent form of self-communication that can benefit you whether or not you’ve experienced trauma in your life.

There are many different formats your journal can take. Following are some of the most common, but feel free to come up with your own journaling style to suit your specific needs:
• Freeform thought. Freeform writing is a technique used by many authors and aspiring authors to jumpstart creativity. Keeping a freeform journal is a good way to uncover thoughts you may be hiding even from yourself, and for beginners it’s an excellent starting point. The instructions for writing freeform are simple: just sit down with your journal and writing implement of choice, and start writing. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or even coherence. Simply write down whatever comes to mind. Try to do this for at least five minutes to give your mental engines time to warm up. If you don’t feel like stopping after five minutes, just keep writing. Daily freeform writing is one of the most therapeutic practices available.
• Memory release. This technique is most beneficial for short-term journaling, particularly if you intend to destroy the journal in a symbolic manner when you’re finished. Memory release journaling is exactly what it sounds like: you merely write down your memories of trauma and any feelings associated with them, and then release those negative feelings. Imagine that they are now on paper, and therefore no longer in your heart or mind. For this reason, it is more effective to destroy the journal when you are finished with it.
• Dear Jerk letters. If a specific person or group of people, living or dead was responsible for the trauma in your life, writing a letter or series of letters to them can be helpful in transcending your trauma. You will probably never send them the letters, but putting down in physical form what you would say to them if you could is immensely satisfying on a personal level. You can address the letters to their names, or give them creative nicknames (Dear Jerk, Dear Friend-Stealer, Dear Scum of the Earth) to protect your privacy and add more kick to your scathing monologues.
• Story-form therapy. Some traumas are too fresh or too painful to relive fully. In these cases, writing a fictionalized account of the experience can be helpful in releasing negative emotions. You can change the names, locations, ages, or even genders of the participants in your personal trauma to give yourself a more objective view of the situation and assist you in coping or finding closure. Creating alternate versions of the situation helps to displace bad feelings. You can even write yourself a happy ending, or give your fictional self victory over your oppressor.
• Pictorial journals. You may feel words are inadequate to convey your traumatic emotions. If this is the case, you might consider drawing a journal instead. Just as you don’t have to be a good writer to keep a journal, you don’t have to be a good artist to draw one. Use whatever form you feel comfortable with, whether it is stick figures, abstract scribbling, or fully detailed rendering. The only important step in journaling is to get something concrete down on paper, and no one but you will ever have to look at it.

Choosing the right journal can be just as important as what you place inside it. The human mind is a powerful thing, and our thoughts and perceptions have an incredible influence on our actions. Here are a few tips on choosing an appropriate journal for your self-guided therapy:

• The size, layout, look and feel of your journal should be symbolic, either of your intentions or your personality. Take your time in picking out a journal you enjoy looking at and holding. Give yourself permission to spend a little more than you usually would, and avoid bargains or sales (unless the one on sale is exactly what you’re looking for). Attaching a slightly higher dollar value to your journal than what you might pay for something like a typical school-grade spiral notebook gives the importance of your journal a mental boost, and helps remind you that what you put inside it is important to you. If you don’t want anyone else to read your journal, no matter what, invest in one with a lock.
• Choose a writing implement that you will use specifically for your journal. With the exception of a pictorial journal, pencil is the poorest medium to use, as it conveys the sense of a temporary state that can be changed with a pass of the eraser. Pen or markers are the best choices. You should write with the medium you feel most comfortable in, that benefits you in a symbolic or significant way. You can choose an ink color you like, buy a set of glitter pens, pick up a novelty pen, or even get an old-fashioned quill pen- they are available in ballpoint versions or traditional chisel-point and inkwell styles. Be sure to only use the writing implement you choose for your journal, and not for grocery lists or jotting down phone numbers.
• Find a home for your journal and keep it there unless you’re writing in it. Establishing a permanent place for your journal- under the bed, on the top shelf in the closet, in a dresser drawer, on your nightstand- is an important step in your journaling routine. This helps to reinforce permanence and form new habits (and eliminates the possibility of losing your journal).

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Copyright 2007 Mark J Holland.
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