Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or frightening event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. It is caused by events where a person feels frightened, under threat, humiliated, powerless, unsafe and abandoned. Such events could be a one-off event, an ongoing event where the victim is being directly harmed or it may involve witnessing someone else perhaps a loved one being harmed.
Trauma is often characterised by flashbacks, panic attacks, disassociation from everyone including friends and family, anxiety, sleep problems, low self-esteem, self-harm, alcohol and substance misuse and it may be as extreme as the feeling to take one’s life. However, we must know that everyone has a different and perhaps unique reaction to traumatic events and although two victims may have similar experiences, they may be affected differently. This is why when a person opens up to you about certain traumatic events they have experienced such as rape, sexual harassment or domestic violence you should never tell them they are lying or express disbelief just because their reaction to the traumatic event is not as you expected.
While such terrible memories might still be fresh in the minds of some victims, others might be in the healing process where memories begin to fade slightly, but wherever you are in your healing journey it is important that you move on completely from whatever the incident may have been. It is needless to say that this is an extremely difficult task and one may be asking questions like why do I need to move on? This is especially when it feels like the memories have been present for so long that it feels like a song stuck in your head that is continuously playing to the extent that you are starting to sing along and so you doubt that they can ever be erased. Well, it is important to know that asides from the emotional, mental and psychological effects trauma could have on a person, in a 2006 article published by Sonya B Norman et al. J in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, trauma history in men were associated with some physical health problems such as arthritis and diabetes while trauma in women was associated with digestive diseases and cancer. If you are experiencing any physical symptoms, it is important you see a doctor who would assist you with getting the treatment and support that you need.
Now, having done some reflection and made that tough decision to move on from that terrible event and no longer self-blame yourself in a bid to try to make sense of what happened, let’s give you six healthy tips that would be pivotal in your healing journey.
1. Be gentle with yourself.
Experiencing a traumatic event is tough and heart wrecking not to mention trying to forget and move past it. Therefore, you must remember that regardless of how ugly the situation was, you survived, and this at least deserves a pat on the back and a proclamation to oneself saying “well-done”. Also, remember that healing is a marathon, not a sprint and so you must take every day as it comes knowing that some days may be better than the others- but bad days do not mean you are not progressing in your healing journey. Moving on requires patience, time, endurance and a lot of stamina and you must resist the urge to quit and walk away from this beautiful journey. Like every good thing in life, that peace you want to feel within yourself may not come too easy.
2. Experience your negative emotions.
Psychologists have found that attempting to bottle up one’s emotions often leads to an eventual outburst and avoiding one’s negative emotions buys you a short-term gain in exchange for a long-term price. Dear readers, if I could paint a perfect image to explain this it would be that of a volcanic eruption or like the TikTok challenge where mentos sweets are placed in a bottle full of coke and enclosed. If you know the challenge well, you know what happens next is an outburst of the content of the bottle notwithstanding that the bottle was closed. This is literally what happens when we continue to suppress our emotions as opposed to allowing them to flow. As human beings, it is only normal that in the face of difficulty we tend to select the option of flight rather than fight. The reason is, avoiding our negative emotions makes us live in denial of the events that caused them and constant avoidance of our emotions begets an avoidance of situations, people, experiences and places that stir such negative emotions. At the end of the day, you start to feel like a prisoner. Not to mention that such attempts to avoid negative emotions are usually futile because like a cycle, it keeps coming back. I know your next question is what should I do to allow myself to feel these emotions? The way forward is to accept and acknowledge the negative emotion whether it is anger, sadness or fear. Acceptance in place of suppression allows you to learn more about such emotions and take steps to manage them effectively and the outcome is that such emotions lose their destructive power in your life.
3. Allow yourself to open up and talk about the event to people you feel comfortable around.
As cliché as it sounds, a problem shared is one that is half solved. However, we also recognise the level of pain a person goes through to revisit a traumatic memory while sharing it with others. Nevertheless, talking about terrible events that have negatively impacted us to the right people who are attentive, patient, and accepting takes away that element of shame and guilt and it also weakens the memory thereby making the memory lose its control over you. However, it is imperative that you carefully select who you decide to share your experience with, as to how people react to your trauma may play a role in whether you will recover or struggle from it.
4. Give yourself permission to forgive.
We know you must have heard this so many times but indeed forgiveness is one of the first and powerful steps to healing because not only does it help you let go of all of that anger, guilt, shame and sadness you may be feeling because of the actions of the perpetrator, forgiveness liberates the soul. According to author Tony Fahkry, while forgiveness would not erase the past, it enables you to look upon it with compassion. Here are 6 helpful steps to forgiveness:
Acknowledge the pain and its source.
Consider the impacts of the pain in your life since the traumatizing event occurred.
Accept that you cannot change the past and your anger towards the perpetrator would not reverse the events that occurred nor the pain.
Repair the relationship with the perpetrator such as an ex-partner if it would bring you peace. Notably, emphasis is on the word ‘repair’ as opposed to restore and be mindful of the difference between the two.
Learn what forgiveness means to you and identify how you would benefit from letting go of such pain.
Make a careful and well-reasoned decision to forgive.
5. Seek professional help.
If after trying to heal while implementing the above tips and you find yourself still struggling to let go of that painful experience or maybe you just need a little nudge from someone to help and guide you through the process, it may be worth seeking professional help from a therapist or an organisation to counsel you and accommodate your needs. Victims of domestic violence, rape or sexual violence in Nigeria seeking professional help can click on the links below to contact the listed helplines and support centres to assist you further in your journey.
o Resources for Domestic Violence Agencies in Nigeria – Nigerian Unicorn (onegeria.com)
o 5 Organisations Supporting the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Nigeria (globalcitizen.org)
6. Lastly and most importantly, you must accept and come to terms with the fact the perpetrator may never apologise. This is very important because waiting for the perpetrator to acknowledge their wrongdoings and apologise for what they did to you will delay your healing process. Remember that this is a personal journey and the focus is on YOU and so you must not let someone else steal the spotlight of peace and redemption in your life.
Dear reader while you process all this information and try to reflect on whether you have been a victim of any traumatic event while also making the decision to heal from it, it is worth also casting our minds on friends, colleagues and family members that you know is struggling to heal from ugly events that have since had a long-lasting effect on them. Let us ensure to help them with their respective journeys by implementing the tips you learnt today.