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  • Writer's pictureTom Cowan

Life After Trauma



Post-traumatic growth (PTG) refers to the positive psychological changes that can occur as a result of experiencing trauma.

It is the process of finding meaning, purpose, and growth after a traumatic event. PTG can involve increased resilience, self-awareness, personal growth, and the development of new perspectives and priorities.


Trauma is a distressing event that overwhelms an individual's ability to cope. It can trigger the body's stress response, which is regulated by the nervous system. The nervous system has three main states of regulation: fight, flight, and freeze. These responses are designed to help the body respond to perceived threats and survive dangerous situations.


Systemic trauma

Trauma can be the result of a variety of societal and cultural forces, including oppression and discrimination, and marginalised groups are often disproportionately affected. Trauma resulting from these societal and cultural forces is known as systemic trauma.


Systemic trauma occurs when individuals experience trauma as a result of systems and structures of power that marginalise and oppress them. This can include experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination. Systemic trauma can also result from economic, political, and social inequalities, including poverty, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare and education.


Marginalised groups are particularly vulnerable to systemic trauma because they often face multiple forms of oppression and discrimination, which can compound the effects of trauma. For example, individuals who are both LGBTQ+ and people of color may face discrimination and marginalisation in both areas, leading to a greater risk of experiencing trauma.


The nervous system

Dan Siegel, a prominent psychiatrist and researcher in the field of neuroscience, has developed a framework for understanding the nervous system and how it relates to mental health. His concept of "the window of tolerance" describes a state in which an individual is able to regulate their emotions and remain within a healthy range of arousal. When an individual experiences trauma, their window of tolerance may narrow, making it more difficult to regulate their emotions and manage stress.


Person-centred therapy

One of the key benefits of person-centred therapy for trauma survivors is that it provides a safe and supportive environment for processing emotions and exploring difficult experiences. The therapist takes a non-directive approach, allowing the client to take the lead in the therapy session and encouraging them to express themselves in their own way and at their own pace. This can help trauma survivors feel more in control of their healing process and reduce feelings of helplessness or powerlessness.


Grounding techniques

Some grounding techniques that can be used to self-soothe and regulate the nervous system include deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques can help individuals feel more grounded and present in the moment, reducing feelings of anxiety and distress.


Grounding techniques:

  • 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. I use this one all the time when I'm feeling disconnected from my body and my environment and it helps me anchor in the present moment again.

  • Htation: Focus on different parts of your body and notice any sensationsHope. You can try the yoga nidras from my site or there are plenty of free ones here.

  • Deep breathing is a simple and effective technique that can help regulate the nervous system and promote relaxation after a stressful event. Here are some steps for practicing deep breathing:

  1. Find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lie down.

  2. Close your eyes, or keep them open if that feels safer for you and focus on your breath. Take a slow, deep breath through your nose, filling your lungs with air.

  3. Hold the breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth, letting the air out completely.

  4. Pause for a moment before taking another deep breath in through your nose.

  5. Repeat this cycle of slow, deep breathing for several minutes.

As you practice this technique, try to focus on your breath and let go of any distracting thoughts or worries. You may find it helpful to count the length of your inhales and exhales to help you maintain a steady pace.


Deep breathing can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and calmness. It is a simple and accessible tool for self-regulation that can be used anytime, anywhere.


Hope

There is hope and healing in the process of recovering from trauma. It's important to practice self-care, engage with therapy, if it feels like the right time for you, and connect with your support networks to help heal and move forward. Sharing about your experiences can help to release anger and resentment and create pathways for experiencing more peace in your life. Finding ways to listen to the feelings in your body that can be done in a safe supported environment will help support positive changes and growth, over time, at your pace.


References:

  • Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of traumatic stress, 9(3), 455-471.

  • Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. Guilford Press.

  • Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications, and theory. Houghton Mifflin.

  • Bessel van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.

  • Courtois, C. A., & Ford, J. D. (Eds.). (2013). Treating complex traumatic stress disorders: An evidence-based guide. Guilford Press.

  • Herman, J. L. (2015). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror. Hachette UK.

  • Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. North Atlantic Books.


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