Three Ways To Accelerate Your PTSD Recovery
While PTSD recovery spans a slew of areas and requires many choices and actions; I’m always looking for ways to chunk down the work so that it’s more manageable. Recently, I spoke with trauma expert (and survivor of childhood sexual abuse) Bill O’Hanlon about his ideas for three simple ways to help you thrive after trauma.
While you will have your own unique healing timeline, O’Hanlon suggests powerful areas to develop that will both deepen your healing and strengthen your ability to move forward. In sharing the general concepts I’m adding my spin to their definitions so that you can conceptualize the ideas, imagine applying them to your healing process and have some simple steps to get you started.
How To Thrive After Trauma
Connection: A major problem after trauma is the disconnection that comes from yourself, others and the world. In an effort to feel safe and secure it’s natural to constrict (make yourself and your world small) so that you feel more in control. Healing, however, requires you do the opposite of your coping mechanisms in so many ways. Reconnection is one of the most critical because it ends your isolation. You are human, a social being. You are descended from tribes, which means your very DNA has inscribed on it the idea, desire and need to be connected to something.
In terms of yourself, that means connected to your mind (i.e. thoughts, emotions, feelings, desires, fears, interpretations) and your body (experiencing yourself in physical form versus having zero sense of yourself in a physical space). In terms of others, that means participating in a social way where you develop trust, a process of give and take and commitment to relationships. In terms of the world, this means finding your place in the larger context of the universe and the purpose and meaning of your existence here.
Compassion: Defined as having concern for the misfortune of others, compassion is exquisitely useful to shedding some light in the darkness of the PTSD mindset; it allows you to develop kindness and caring, two things that can get lost (toward yourself and others) as you juggle symptoms. It can also really help you in your steps toward reconnection. When you apply compassion to both yourself and others you offer empathy, sympathy, understanding, kindness, caring, deep-listening and even forgiveness in moments that are difficult; this also develops acceptance and softening. All of these results reduce stress, an outcome that can change you both psychologically and also biologically. In combination, the characteristics developed by compassion can give you more energy, more peace of mind and a renewed sense of purpose, all of which offer fuel for recovery.
Contribution: For years I looked and looked for some meaning in my trauma. “Why would such a horrific thing happen to an innocent child?”, I wondered. I never did find any satisfying answer, so I decided instead of looking for meaning in my trauma, I’d make meaning come out of it. As a matter of fact, that’s what inspired me to create the Heal My PTSD web site: I wanted what I learned through my suffering to help other people. Turning an experience into something that has a benefit in the context of the larger world transforms the negative energy of the past into positive energy of the present. It also plays into a sense of reconnection: as you help others you connect to what’s meaningful about yourself and then connect that to individuals and the world at large in ways that make a difference. In effect, you redevelop your identity as a person who matters, which is very significant in the post-trauma “I am less than” mindset.
Putting Theory Into Action
By now, perhaps you’re wondering how to put into practice any of these theories. Like everything in PTSD recovery, these could be approached slowly, individually and with a process of checking in with yourself to see how any changes feel. Since connection is at the base of all three steps you might try this in the upcoming week:
Connect to Yourself
Mind – Spend some time practicing thought-monitoring. What are you thinking? How do you talk to yourself? Listen to the chatter in your head – and then decide what to do about it. Being connected in this simple way can tune you into being more present, plus identify negative habits that need to be changed. For example, start saying, “Cancel!” to negative, self-defeating thoughts and then give yourself a big smile. This will 1) train your brain how to shift your attention from things that make you feel bad and 2) produce serotonin in your brain. Just the upward curve of your lips releases the mood enhancing hormone even when you don’t feel like smiling.
Body – Spend some time truly noticing different parts of your body. Focus, for example, on your left pinky. What does it feel like? Slowly bend and straighten it. What sensation does that produce? Or, stand with your feet and arms spread out and notice the space your body inhabits. Swing your arms; rock your feet. Stand taller; squat down. How big or small can you be? Getting in touch with your body in space begins a process of reconnecting to your body’s moment-to-moment presence in that space.
Connect to Others
When was the last time you were truly interested in what was happening in someone else’s life? I mean, really cared enough to deeply listen with your full brain (versus the half or more that’s so often devoted to monitoring your symptoms and environment)? Whether it’s a friend or stranger, spend two minutes of total focus in which you express genuine interest in what someone else has to say.
After trauma, and definitely in the midst of PTSD, you lose access to parts of yourself. Maybe you used to be compassionate but now you’re just angry. Or, you never had a chance to develop connection because from Day One you’ve been in survival mode. The recovery process offers ways for you to reduce symptoms and also opportunities for you to increase personal growth. In this case, posttraumatic growth that helps you move toward a full construction of your post-trauma identity and the sense that you are the person you would most choose to be—despite what life has thrown at you.
Rosenthal, M. (2014, February 5). Three Ways To Accelerate Your PTSD Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2014/02/three-ways-to-accelerate-your-ptsd-recovery
Author: Michele Rosenthal
I'm sorry but this sounds like the usual load of self serving bull feces.
If I was one of the humans, I would matter. I know, in your way, you're trying to be kind but refusing to see or deal with the gay blood on the hands of straight people, your own profession included, is more about your own needs than mine. Refusing to see the harm inflicted on gays is just the status quo...business as usual.
If I was one of the humans...wouldn't the rule of law also extend to me? Where are the courts when my rights are routinely put up to a popularlity vote? Humans enjoy the protection of the 14th amendment...I do not. My rights can be taken away or granted entirely by the whim of the mob. Humans have rights "inalienable...endowed by their creator..."...etc....I do not.
Do you have any idea what that might be like? If one or more of my rights can be granted or denied by mob action...what's the logical conclusion of that? What if most people also decided I shouldn't be allowed to live in their neighborhoods?...What if they wanted me rounded up and put into a ghetto of sorts? What if that wasn't good enough?....What if most people decided a more "final solution" was in order? That would be democracy in action too wouldn't it? What would stand in the way of firing up the ovens?...It's not like you didn't before. It's not like you won't again.
If I was one of the humans, the courts wouldn't pretend I'm not there. I would matter. I would be a citizen too. Laws would be there to protect me too...not to harm me. Voices would be raised loudly saying no to the injustice. Where have the voices of your own profession been? I know things are slowly getting better but if I was a human I wouldn't have to wait till it's popular to count on justice. If I was human, I wouldn't be alone, defenseless, afraid, abandoned...there would be someplace where I am safe...someplace where I didn't have to live in fear and despair.
It wasn't for another five years after I first entered therapy that you could even say mental health or well adjusted in the same sentence with homosexual. It was officially still a disease until then. But it was a curious kind of disease. I don't remember cancer patients ever being dragged out of their houses and beaten to death for having cancer. I don't remember anyone advocating violence or ridicule or worse for victims of polio. The members of your profession sheepishly declared I was no longer to be considered diseased but then you tucked your tails between your legs and slunk away. No one's heard a word from you since. That was 40 years ago. Even now, can you find a single syllable in your Diagnostic Manual that describes the harm inflicted on gays? What is the name of the condition your hatred, violence, ridicule, abandonment and indiffernece so efficiently creates? I don't think you'll find it mentioned in there. If I was human I'd matter. If I was human it would be in there. There would be help, there would be treatment. There would be care and concern and study devoted to it. I'm not, it isn't, and no one gives a shit.
Even here in good 'ol liberal America...homophobia is the third leading cause of premature death of people under thirty of all sexual orientations even though gays only account for 3-10% of the population. How many other lives are maimed and mutilated? How many will die today do you suppose? How many have died just since I started this letter? If any force on the planet was killing any other group on the planet as efficiently as homophobia is killing queers...it would be a national emergency,...it wouldn't be tolerated...the perpetrators would be punished, there would be treatment and support. But because it's just "damn queers" dying and having their lives destroyed...hey...not like it's somebody who matters...not like it isn't just business as usual. It wouldn't be such an unknown statistic. Somebody would care. How many dead queers does it take to matter?
It was the second therapist I ever saw who I was first able to tell what I am. I didn't think I was supposed to want to be dead all the time. I'd hoped there was something that could be done about that. I guess I was wrong. It took a forever of agonizing drowning in slow motion under a sea of molasses before I was able to force the words. She laughed at me. She totally dismissed my revealation as "...just part of your whole negative self-hating trip."...She went on to say: "No matter how badly you feel about yourself surely you aren't THAT bad."
If I was human I would matter. The members of your profession wouldn't continue to sit there remaining silent while the carnage continues. You would loudly, clearly and often raise your voices about the harm homophobia causes. The notion that homophobia is moral or a religious tenet or a political philosophy would not be tolerated or allowed to go unchallenged. It's very convenient for you to point your finger at what you assume to be my "inadequate parental support." What about the inadequate response to lives being destroyed that is the hallmark of your own profession's response to this? Homophobia maims, mutilates, kills. If I was human...somebody would care and that concern would go just a bit deeper than merely trying to make sure your own hands aren't showing all the blood.
I've never known what it might be to feel welcome or safe. I've been here all along...I saw everything...I heard everything. You don't have any secrets from me. I who you are. I know what you think. I know what you feel. I know what you say. I know what you do.
I suggest you re-read, more carefully, what I wrote. It still applies.
Yeah right!...connection is all well and good if you're one of the humans. What if your PTSD is from growing up queer in a faggot hating world? When connecting to people is one of you biggest triggers how's that supposed to help? Who the hell is a faggot supposed to connect to?
Thug - first of all, you ARE one of the humans. Don't allow anyone else to tell you otherwise. When someone behaves badly in relation to you, it's about THEM, not YOU, OK?
You raise a vitally important question - about what to do when "connecting to people is one of your biggest triggers". Non-professionals and even many mental health professionals will not understand what you're saying, but those of us who have worked with Complex-PTSD certainly will. I've had a number of clients with just such issues, and for some of them it's been a problem that's been especially disrupting and hard to get around. This invariably has to do with inadequate parental support - either parents never saw and corrected the problem or they WERE the problem. Either way, great damage can happen when such stress impacts childhood development.
So, what do you do? First, understand that your response has a good reason for being there: Your brain learned that too often other people are just not safe for you. Second, even if you can only grasp this intellectually at this point (and for some folks, even this isn't easy), understand that not all people are necessarily, out-of-the-box hostile and harmful to you. I, for example, see no reason whatsoever to be anything but supportive and helpful to you. There are others out there, I assure you, who can and will react the same way. I hope this isn't a hard notion to wrap your mind around.
Second, realize that you aren't going to solve this problem on your own. In every case I've seen, it's profound and deeply rooted. That requires serious psychotherapy, usually over a number of months or even a few years, with someone who has proper training and experience. Basically, you need to find someone who specializes in psychological trauma and is familiar with early childhood neglect and abuse issues. You should absolutely quiz any therapist prospects you are talking to about this, and reject any who do not convince you they have this training and experience.
Third - do the work, and keep the faith. Research literature and my own clinical experience strongly indicate that great progress and even complete healing is very much "on the menu". That it isn't likely to be quick and simple does NOT mean that it is not possible. (Hence my urging you to "keep the faith".)
A key part of this psychotherapy work has to do with your experiencing a new kind of human relationship - one that is safe and supportive and accepting. From there, the experience needs to be gradually generalized to selected other people. The result of this is that you learn to discriminate - to tell the sheep from the goats, as it were, and to have safe relationships with the "goats". This is very definitely a kind of learning that you can accomplish, and at that point it will NOT be true that all people will be triggers for you. In addition, a key part of your therapy will be finding traumatic memories of being rejected, and doing the essential work needed to make those memories non-traumatic - this is the work that a trauma psychotherapist in particular can do for you.
Find support, hunker down, and go to work. Commit to creating a better world for yourself. It's very possible.
There's nothing wrong with you. There's a lot wrong with your personal history, it appears. The effects of that are something you can escape from, if you do the work.
I wish you all the best.
This is great advice. I've been struggling with a "stuck" phase in my recovery lately and my therapist is even having a hard time helping me move on. I really appreciate the tips here and knowing that they've helped someone who has been through it. Thank you!
@Alison -- Yuck, getting stuck is the worst! I remember those places, and how often the people supposed to be helping me got stuck themselves. Good for you to be looking around for fresh input! This post is based on an interview I did with Bill O'Hanlon on my radio show. You might enjoy listening to the expanded version of his thoughts: http://www.changeyouchoose.com/trauma-and-tragedy-3-ways-to-thrive/
Onward toward freedom!