Watching bombs fall? Guns killing? Children murdered? A loved one dying? Betrayal by a loved one? The loss of all you held dear? How do you go on?
Traumas are events that change you forever. Such life blows can be something as personal as the death of a pet or as life threatening as living in a physical or emotional war zone; discovering you or a loved one has cancer; losing all you value including faith in a loving God or a caring world.
Traumas beat you into the ground, your whole being is bruised, you don’t know how you are able to keep breathing. Such events bring you to a stand still. Sometimes at first, the best you can do is to stand “Dead in the water.”
Hopefully, when life blows visit, others will be there tending you, keeping you safe, giving you time to recover to the point where you can move forward once more. And you will, for somehow, most keep breathing, move forward endure what seems unendurable.
If you are reading this you are moving forward; maybe painfully, maybe sobbing inwardly, but you are picking up the threads of what was, and creating your new life. You will never be the same; you will be a different you, but you will be and you might well be a better, wiser, more caring you.
WHAT HELPS AFTER A LIFE BLOW
When you can begin putting one foot ahead of the other, here are six step to take as you work to move ahead.
Step One: Get safe. If you are not safe physically or emotionally, you will continue to be traumatized. There might be pauses in the trauma – truces in war, reconciliation in domestic violence or emotional abuse, but pauses are not enough. That said, pauses can be used to strengthen you. The next steps also strengthen you.
Step Two: Seek comfort. This is what the very young do and the very young move forward the best. A bomb goes off, their house burns down, a parent dies, and quicker than an older child or adult, the young child can be seen playing with a favorite toy or laughing with friends.
Too often grownups seeing such play, think the child is not affected by the unendurable. Not so, but the very young are programmed to live in the now and to seek comfort when in pain.
Often a young child finds comfort in play. Why so many adults think a young child is not bothered by a life blow. Not true, he or she is enduring. When not distracted or comforted, the pain can be seen in the child’s eyes.
Adults and school aged children need more, but the lesson remains: as soon as pain and immediate danger are past, get back to the everyday things that comfort.
Step Three: Stay connected with those you care about and who care about you. Doing so is one of the things that comforts most. Why the young child flees to the arms of a loving parent when hurt. All of us need to be with those who care and want to help us through the horror we are enduring.
As the great philosopher Martin Buber noted: “Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other….sent forth from the natural domain of species into the hazard of solitary category surrounded by a chaos which came into being with him…secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another…that the heavenly bread of self being is passed. ”
At no time is it more important to connect or reconnect with caring others than when life blows strike. That is why the mental health professionals gather trauma victims for debriefings. Talking about the horror helps particularly when it first hits.
Warning – going over the bad, however, reinforces the pain. Current research finds constantly reviewing the trauma, which often happens in some talk therapy, is not useful.
Step Four: As soon as possible, establish a normal routine with an emphasis on maintaining what we know tends to our physical well-being – getting enough sleep, eating properly, and exercising.
This includes strengthening your self-soothing skills. Here are some Easy Emotional Fitness Exercises that build emotional strength.
Step Five: Examine what the unendurable has done to reaffirm or shatter your core beliefs about life and what it all means. Everyone needs to find comforting explanations for the whys of life.Don’t agree? Think about the universal cry of the traumatized “Why me?”
All beliefs need to be examined against the Golden Rule. Harvard researchers Jerome Kagan and Sheila Lamb looked into morality around the world. They found that every culture promoted two values:
- Caring for the weak
- Justice and fair treatment of its members
Why, if this is true, is the world so full of violence? Because, we apply those values to our own, but not to others. We put those seen as different, not in our family, clan, or tribe out of our caring circle.
The beliefs that work best for all of us are those embodied by the Golden Rule. To bring peace to this world, however, we must draw the circle of caring around all, not just our own. Those are the beliefs most eroded by a life blow. Guard against that.
Step Six: Strengthen your ability to forgive. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. At its healthiest it means not pursuing revenge. Here is an EFTI Poster Coach about Forgiveness.
Parenting Tip One: When a life blow strikes your child, concentrate on helping them self-soothe. A well-practiced self-soothing program provides what the experts call resilience. Consider buying my book Self-soothing to Create Calm in Your Life. You will find 30 exercises to boost yours and your child’s self-soothing skills.
Parenting Tip Two: At the same time, the child needs to be helped to name what is happening. The latest brain research as reported by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb in his book The Upward Spiral notes that “naming what is happening” reduces the hold of negative events.
EFTI calls this Name to Tame. Important for you but extremely important for your child. You don’t need to get too fancy, a few words will do. Here’s an example: Parents going through a divorce: don’t ignore the bad feelings that creates. “The family is going through “A Bad Time” will suffice.
Sometimes you might want to add, “Things change; bad times come, but so do good times.”
At other times, you might just want to sit silently and see what the child does. If the child cries, let the tears fall. When tears stop it is the time to ask,”What can we do right now to feel better?” If you child is able to read, then you can talk more directly about the pain.
The most important thing is to help your child name all his feelings. This takes time, but as Kolb points out naming, “… requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system.”
That means names increase control over negative feelings.
Parenting Tip Three: Another useful device to start teaching a child is to rate pain and hurt. This Parenting Post discusses rating scales in more detail.
If you’ve taught your child to rate pain, for the young child you can make a “A Bad Time” into a “Big, Big Bad Time.”
A word of warning. Your kids will want you to stop all bad things from happening. In the example of divorcing parents, most will want you to stay together. Some will ask you to do that, most will not. However the wish is there.
How to respond if asked? Hard, but being honest remains the best option. “You want us to stay together, but that is not possible.” No need to add more.
Parenting Tip Four: Successful Family Meetings ease the difficulty parents face in discussing painful times. If you have been holding them good for you. If not, start now.
If in the midst of the an almost unendurable event, start hold family meetings with professional help. Seek out a Family Counselor with the specific request to discuss the current pain, but also to use those discussions to start holding family meetings.
Read EFTI’s book How to Hold Successful Family Meetings as a start and ask the Family Counselor to read it also. It is available as an eBook or a paperback; both cost less than a movie ticket.
THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO
Remember sharing is caring and the easiest way to practice kindness is to share this post if you found it helpful. Share it even if it doesn’t speak to you, it will speak to some. Didn’t like it? Comment and tell me why and how to improve.
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST
These links are for those not familiar with Emotional Intelligence or the idea of Emotional Fitness.
This post was not inspired by this WordPress Daily Prompt Home Turf: Name five things in your house that make it a home.
However, surviving trauma involves surrounding yourself with things that comfort. This includes objects of that recall good memories, and speak to you of beauty, people who you care for, people who care for you.