As an abuse survivor, loss survivor, and illness survivor, I know first-hand how damaging it can be to go through trauma and how hard it can be to recover. For me personally, the healing journey has been one of the most trying and devastating things I’ve ever endured.
Just to give you some background regarding my history- I was sexually abused in my youth, I gave birth to a child that was declared a stillborn, I nearly died when I was pregnant with my daughter, and I recently experienced the passing of my grandmother (whom i was very close to, and lovingly shared the caregiving responsibilities for).
When we go through trauma, we’re often left wounded and may make decisions from a place of brokenness. When we’re hurt, the agony we endure from the incident can have an impact on everything that we do. In my opinion, healing from those traumatic wounds is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and for our children.
When we don’t deal with our past issues, we open the door to possibly allowing negative cycles to continue. When we, as mothers, carry the occurrence into our parenting, we risk putting our children in harm’s way by giving them exposure to bad behavior, and by potentially allowing future generational bondage to creep in. However, when we heal, we become healthier, we welcome peace, and have more room to be better parents.
My direct experience with pain has made me very passionate about the topic of trauma and healing. This is why it’s so important to me that I use my platform as a tool and resource to help others learn, grow, and heal. For this reason, I partnered with the team at Therapy Den to craft a meaningful blog post for you all, highlighting the importance of taking care of ourselves as we work to recover from our past traumatic experiences.
Shauna Larson, a blogger at Therapy Den, wrote a dynamic article that will educate you, motivate you to heal, and teach you how to better care for yourself while on your journey (in turn, making you a calmer, healthier, and more present mother).
If you are a survivor, or if you know a survivor, please take time to read and share this article. I’m sure it will be as eye opening for you as it was for me.
The Significance of Self-Care
Self-care, defined as intentional actions to support physical, emotional, and mental well-being, is extremely important for individuals who have gone through trauma, illness, or loss. These difficult experiences can have a drastic impact on an individual’s life and lead to emotional challenges like anxiety, guilt, and grief. However, research shows that incorporating self-care practices can help survivors build resilience and navigate the aftermath of challenging experiences.
Statistics indicate that a vast number of adults in the United States (70%, roughly 223.4 million individuals) have faced traumatic events. Nevertheless, there is growing evidence highlighting the power of self-care in these situations.
For survivors, prioritizing self-care is vital for adapting, recovering, and nurturing emotional strength. With this understanding in mind, it becomes essential to focus on well-being and resilience. This guide aims to empower survivors by acknowledging their strengths and encouraging growth through a pathway of selfcare. By prioritizing self-care practices, survivors can regain control over their lives and tap into their reservoirs of resilience. Ultimately, this approach leads them towards renewed hope and healing.
Understanding the Survivor Experience
Defining a Survivor in Context
Individuals who have gone through distressing situations that pose threats to their physical or emotional well-being are considered trauma survivors. Abuse, accidents, natural disasters, and violent acts are examples of such events.
Survivors of trauma frequently struggle with understanding and dealing with the emotions and memories associated with their experiences.
Survivors of illness are individuals who have endured severe health conditions (such as cancer, chronic illnesses, life threatening diseases, or major surgeries). These survivors may be concerned about the likelihood of the illness reoccurring and may struggle with adjusting to limitations. They may also suffer emotional distress because of their changed health status.
Loss survivors are people who have experienced the death of a loved one, gone through a divorce, or experienced another significant loss. Individuals who have lost someone are confronted with their own set of issues.
Grieving the end of a family member’s life, a friend’s departure, or the dissolution of a marriage may lead to various emotional challenges. As they go on with their lives following the loss, these survivors may endure feelings of denial, rejection, loneliness, and uncertainty.
Common Emotional Difficulties Faced by Survivor
- Fear: Survivors often face lingering fears associated with traumatic or distressing experiences. These fears may manifest as anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias that make it difficult for them to engage in activities without experiencing distress.
- Anxiety: Survivors often have heightened levels of anxiety that can interfere with their ability to function properly. They may regularly feel uneasy, especially when reminded of their experience or when faced with doubts about their health or future.
- Guilt: It’s common for survivors to carry a sense of guilt, believing that they could have somehow prevented the event or loss. This misplaced responsibility can lead to self-blame and create feelings of being unworthy.
- Anger: Survivors often experience anger that could be directed towards themselves, towards others involved in the event, or even towards the world at large. If left unresolved, this anger can affect relationships and overall emotional well-being.
- Grief: Those who have experienced loss go through a grieving process that involves a range of emotions, including sadness, emptiness, and longing. Grief can have an impact on all aspects of life and may require time and support to heal.
Effects on Emotional Well-being and Resilience
- Psychological Issues: A survivor’s past experience can cause problems like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety disorders. These conditions can significantly affect a person’s ability to function and cope with life.
- Challenges with Emotional Regulation: Survivors often find it difficult to regulate their emotions due to the intensity of their experiences. This can manifest as mood swings, emotional outbursts, or even feeling emotionally numb at times.
- Struggles in Relationships: Survivors may face challenges when it comes to building and maintaining relationships because their experiences have impacted their ability to trust and form close bonds.
- Reduced Resilience: A survivor’s past experiences can weaken their ability to bounce back, making it harder to overcome obstacles.
- Impact on Identity and Beliefs: Survivors may undergo transformations in their sense of self, their beliefs, and their perspective as a result of the traumas, illnesses, or losses they have endured.
The Foundations of Self Care for Survivors
Establishing personal awareness, fostering acceptance, creating realistic expectations, and setting boundaries can help lay the groundwork for self-care practices. By approaching their self-care journey with understanding and compassion, survivors can nurture their well-being and foster resilience as they navigate their challenges.
Self-Awareness and Acceptance
Reflecting on the Survivor Experience:
Survivors are encouraged to take time for self-reflection, explore their emotions, and process their thoughts in relation to their experiences. This process allows them to gain insight into their needs and assess how their traumatic event, illness, or loss has impacted their well-being.
Creating a space for reflection allows survivors to process feelings, memories, and reactions, helping them learn about their emotional triggers and coping mechanisms. Self-exploration also empowers survivors to make informed decisions about their self-care practices and healing journey.
Accepting Emotions Without Judgment:
To support the well-being of survivors, it is important to focus on the validation of one’s emotions. Survivors may go through a range of emotions (such as fear, anger, guilt, or sadness) in response to their experiences, illnesses, or losses. Encouraging survivors to accept these emotions without blaming themselves or criticizing themselves is essential for their healing process.
By validating their feelings, survivors can acknowledge that their emotional responses are natural and understandable, given their circumstances. This validation helps them cultivate self-compassion, frees them from the weight of judgment, and creates an inner dialogue that nurtures emotional resilience.
Setting Realistic Expectations
By discussing the negative impact of setting unrealistic standards, survivors can ease self-imposed pressures. Perfectionism often arises from a desire to regain control after overcoming something difficult. However, striving for perfection is unrealistic and can result in feelings of failure and inadequacy.
Embracing imperfections and viewing setbacks as opportunities for growth fosters self-compassion and reduces the burden caused by unrealistic expectations. Recognizing that it is normal to fall and make mistakes empowers survivors and encourages a kinder inner dialogue.
Recognizing Limitations and Boundaries:
Helping survivors recognize their capacity and establish healthy boundaries in various aspects of life is crucial for maintaining emotional well-being.
Sometimes, survivors may feel the need to take on more than they can handle due to a desire to prove their resilience. However, it is crucial for them to establish boundaries and prioritize self-care to avoid exhaustion and burnout. By understanding their limitations, survivors can develop a self-care routine that caters to their needs and fosters long term emotional resilience.
Cultivating Emotional Well Being
Seeking Support from Others
Identifying a Support Network:
Survivors can find value in having a reliable support network during challenging times. This network may consist of understanding individuals such as friends, family members, or support groups. Connecting with people who can offer support (and provide a nonjudgmental space for sharing experiences) can be extremely beneficial for survivors. Additionally, online support groups can create a sense of community and anonymity for those who are more comfortable connecting virtually.
Communication and Open Dialogue:
Effective communication plays a large role in survivors expressing their emotions and seeking support. They can practice listening when engaging in conversations about their experiences by being fully present and attentive to the speaker’s feelings and needs. Survivors can also openly express their emotions with honesty, using “I” statements that assert their feelings and experiences without placing blame on others.
Practicing Self Compassion
Developing Kindness Towards Oneself:
Learning to cultivate self-compassion is critical for the emotional well-being of survivors. This action involves treating oneself with kindness, empathy, and patience during challenging moments. Engaging in activities like writing letters to oneself or practicing self-care rituals can assist survivors in nurturing kindness towards themselves.
Overcoming Self Criticism:
Many survivors face difficulties with self-criticism and negative self-talk. However, they can recognize these patterns and understand their impact on well-being. By questioning the validity of negative thoughts and replacing them with supportive affirmations, survivors can challenge these destructive tendencies.
Engaging in Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques
Practicing Mindfulness Meditation:
Mindfulness meditation is a tool that focuses concentration. It can be used to help survivors reduce stress, anxiety, and emotional reactivity. By being fully present in the moment (without judgment), and trying guided mindfulness exercises, survivors can develop this practice and enhance their self-awareness. Regularly practicing mindfulness can help survivors develop emotional regulation, foster a sense of calmness, and bring inner peace.
Deep Breathing Exercises:
Deep breathing exercises are simple, effective tools for emotional regulation.
People who have experienced trauma can utilize techniques such as box breathing to calm their nervous system. The practice of slowing down their breathing can effectively assist survivors with better handling intense emotions. It’s beneficial for survivors to incorporate breathing exercises during stressful moments and in moments of tranquility, during their daily lives. A regular breathing practice can help survivors gradually build resilience over time.
Exploring Creative Outlets for Emotional Expression
Art therapy offers survivors a non-verbal way to express complex emotions and experiences. Engaging in activities like painting, drawing, or sculpting can facilitate release, and helps an individual to process things. Survivors can find solace and healing through art as a means of self-expression.
Journaling lets survivors express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a private setting. By maintaining a journal, they can delve into their emotions, track progress, and gain insights into their journey. Journaling serves as a tool for self-reflection, personal growth, and emotional healing.
Developing Coping Mechanisms
1. Problem Solving Skills:
Survivors can improve their coping skills by practicing problem solving. This involves breaking down challenges into smaller steps, brainstorming solutions, and evaluating the pros and cons of each approach. By mastering problem solving techniques, survivors gain a sense of empowerment and become more effective when facing hard situations.
2. Stress Management Techniques:
It is crucial for individuals who have experienced difficult situations to manage stress and navigate their emotional well-being. Engaging in activities like walking, practicing yoga, or swimming can significantly reduce stress levels and contribute to overall wellness. Additionally, incorporating relaxation exercises (such as breathing and mindfulness practices) can help one cope with stress and anxiety.
Promoting Adaptability and Flexibility
1. Embracing Change:
Survivors encounter many changes in their lives due to their experiences. Encouraging them to embrace change as a part of life empowers them to seize opportunities for personal growth. Developing an outlook towards change helps survivors navigate transitions smoothly, minimizing feelings of fear or resistance.
2. Building Resilience Through Adversity:
Witnessing inspiring stories of resilience can serve as examples for survivors, demonstrating that overcoming adversity is possible. By highlighting their own experiences (and hearing the experiences of other individuals who have faced and conquered challenges), survivors feel less alone, learn valuable lessons, and develop hope. These stories help remind them of their strength and instill confidence in their ability to persevere through future difficulties.
Cultivating a Positive Mindset
1. Practicing Gratitude:
Fostering a positive mindset involves practicing gratitude. Survivors can benefit from acknowledging and appreciating the good aspects of their lives. Keeping a gratitude journal (or regularly expressing thanks for things) is one method to improve their perspective and put their focus on the positive parts of life.
2. Reframing Negative Thoughts:
When dealing with trauma, illness, or loss, it is common to experience intense thoughts and emotions. Teaching survivors techniques for restructuring their thoughts can help them challenge and reframe their negative thinking. By replacing harmful thoughts with realistic and compassionate ones, individuals can improve their self-esteem and emotional well-being.
Learning from the Survivor Experience
1. Identifying Personal Growth Opportunities:
Discovering ways to evolve is an important aspect of survivor recovery. To begin this growth process, these individuals can attempt to find meaning and learn lessons from their experiences.
By reflecting on the lessons learned throughout their journey, survivors can identify the strengths and resilience they have developed due to their challenges. Recognizing growth opportunities allows survivors to make adjustments, further develop, and approach life with a renewed sense of purpose and direction.
2. Harnessing Resilience from Past Challenges:
Past resilience is a valuable resource for survivors when facing future adversities. Reminding them of their triumphs (and how they navigated through tough times) can boost their confidence. It can also provide reassurance that they have the strength to overcome future hurdles. Reflecting on accomplishments allows survivors to appreciate their own resilience and competence.
Developing a Sustainable Self-Care Routine
Creating a Self-Care Strategy
Crafting a personalized strategy of care is essential for individuals who have experienced difficult situations (as it allows them to tend to their specific needs and desires). The plan should encompass a variety of self-care practices that cater to all aspects of their wellness, including the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions.
Individuals can begin planning by contemplating activities that bring them happiness, peace, and emotional rejuvenation. This could involve enjoying hobbies, spending quality time with loved ones, participating in physical activities, practicing mindfulness, keeping a journal, or seeking counseling if necessary. It’s important for the self-care plan to be adaptable, allowing survivors to make changes and adjustments based on their evolving needs and circumstances.
Identifying Self-Care Activities that Resonate
Providing survivors with a diverse list of self-care activities is essential to help them discover what works best for them. Some examples of self-care include exercising, doing yoga, or enjoying a stroll outside.
- Physical self-care: Regular exercise, yoga, or relaxing walks in nature.
- Emotional self-care: Journaling to express feelings, practicing mindfulness, utilizing meditation techniques to reduce stress levels, or engaging in creative activities (like painting or writing).
- Social self-care: Connecting with friends or family members, joining support groups, or seeking counseling (or therapy) for additional guidance.
- Spiritual self-care: Practicing gratitude, spending time in reflection or prayer, or engaging in activities that align with one’s beliefs and values.
By trying out different activities, survivors are empowered to find what brings them joy, relaxation, and emotional restoration.
Setting Realistic Goals and Priorities
When assisting survivors in setting self-care goals, one should consider their capacity and responsibilities. It’s important to be realistic about the amount of time and energy they have available to take care of themselves (especially when managing responsibilities like work, family, or caregiving).
Prioritizing self-care doesn’t mean neglecting other duties, but rather recognizing the importance of their well-being in managing everything effectively. By setting attainable goals, individuals can avoid feeling overwhelmed and ensure that self-care remains a manageable part of their daily routine.
Incorporating Self-Care into Daily Life
To aid in recovery, those around survivors can offer suggestions and strategies for integrating self-care practices into their daily schedules. Recommend starting with small steps that can gradually become habits. For instance:
- Allocate time for engaging in self-care activities, even if it’s only for a few minutes each day.
- Integrate self-care into existing routines (such as incorporating deep breathing exercises during work breaks or practicing mindfulness while performing daily tasks).
- Take advantage of technology (by setting reminders or using meditation apps to support the integration of self-care).
Overcoming Barriers to Self-Care
Addressing Guilt and Self-Neglect
Survivors often face inner conflict when it comes to prioritizing self-care. Feelings of guilt and a sense of unworthiness can hinder their ability to take care of themselves. It’s crucial to support survivors in overcoming these challenges by:
- Reminding them that self-care is not selfish, but necessary for their well-being (which, in turn, better equips them to support others).
- Encouraging them to question their negative beliefs, replacing them with positive and caring thoughts.
- Emphasizing that self-care doesn’t mean ignoring their responsibility to others; rather, it means striking a balance between their own needs and the needs of others around them.
- Cultivating self-compassion and helping survivors understand that they deserve care and attention, just like anyone else.
- Starting with self-care activities that feel manageable, and gradually building up from there (as this empowers them to take larger steps towards nurturing their well-being and resilience).
- Highlighting the importance of self-care as a way to heal and build resilience, enabling them to cope better with challenges.
Time Management and Prioritization
Finding time for self-care can be challenging for survivors with busy schedules and multiple responsibilities. To address this, survivors can benefit from:
- Identifying time consuming activities or non-essential tasks that can be minimized or eliminated (to create space for self-care).
- Making time for self-care on a regular basis and treating it as a commitment to oneself that cannot be compromised.
- Setting realistic expectations and understanding that dedicating a little bit of time to self-care each day can have a great impact on overall well-being.
Seeking Professional Help When Needed
Self-care can be an essential part of healing, but it may not be enough to address all emotional challenges. This is why it is vital to encourage survivors to seek support when they encounter difficulties. This can be done by:
- Normalizing assistance, and treating it as a sign of strength and self-awareness.
- Providing information about health resources (such as therapists, counselors, and support groups).
- Acknowledging that professional assistance can enhance their self-care efforts, offering guidance and support throughout their healing journey.
Self-care plays a large role in the journey towards well-being and resilience for survivors. It goes beyond being seen as indulgence; it is a foundation for healing and personal growth.
Engaging in self-care demonstrates strength and unwavering determination to regain control over one’s life after facing adversity. By fostering self-awareness, practicing mindfulness, and embracing self-compassion, survivors can gradually heal wounds and develop the resilience needed to face life’s challenges with bravery.
If you identify as a survivor, make sure to invest in yourself and focus on being self-aware, practicing mindfulness, and showing yourself compassion. It’s important to remember that asking for help when you need it is actually a sign of strength. Your ability to bounce back from challenges will inspire those around you.
Always keep in mind that every step you take towards caring for yourself emotionally builds a foundation (making you better equipped to tackle life’s obstacles with renewed optimism and determination). Remember that you have the ability to shape your story, and by prioritizing self-care, your journey towards well-being and resilience will be successful.
Shauna Larson is a strong advocate for mental health. For the past five years, she has used her own experience and profound understanding of mental health to shed light on the intricacies and obstacles that many people encounter on a daily basis. Her profound observations and accessible storytelling have appeared in a number of outlets, developing a dedicated fanbase that appreciates her real voice and practical guidance.