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Providing support for a survivor to heal

Updated: Sep 19, 2020

The survivors of severe and recurrent abuse and trauma are incredible human beings!  Each person learned to cope, often as young children, under extraordinary circumstances, enduring often unimaginable terrors.  The experiences for each person are different.  The coping and survival mechanisms acquired by each person were different.  The addictive and self-destructive behaviors each person developed were different.  Is it any wonder then that the tools and therapies best suited to each person are different?  Of course not!

Healing from the effects of trauma and abuse is about “what works.”  For many survivors, Twelve Step programs are important, but much more is involved and needed for most.  Recovery is not just about therapy or finding the right kind of therapy, it is also about finding the right therapist.  Fortunately, each survivor has an instinct for healing and in most cases, is intuitively drawn to the tools and therapies that will work for them.  The therapist’s most important function, or role, is often simply to assist the individual in learning about and exploring what has worked for others.

In the course of recovery, whether as part of a 12-Step program, working with a therapist, trying other modalities, or in time alone, the process can involve many different experiences and tools.  In no particular order, here are some of the other healing tools that have often worked.  Remember, though, what works for one person may not work for another.  These tools seem to particularly work for women who have been “trained” not to be angry or in their body when they are angry.

Anger Work.  At times this can be helpful if it moves a person through their feelings.  Venting the anger with a bat, tennis racket or pillows by oneself or with the help of a therapist releases the rage and frees up one’s energy, so that the rage does not turn inward or outward.  By doing this work i.e. by holding the bat over the head, inhaling and then screaming, grunting or whatever words come forth, the person can ultimately feel strong and powerful without anyone being hurt.

Grief Work.  Grief work is allowing the tears and grief to surface from the years of abuse, lack of love and a life never lived. The survivor can do this work by themselves or choose a therapist or caregiver with whom they feel safe and vulnerable to allow the grief to surface.  It can be helpful to visualize a Higher Power comforting and loving the person while grieving.  Releasing the grief allows the survivor to heal on a physical, emotional, spiritual, psychic level and frees up one’s energy.  Over a period of time, the survivor can then open up to love, being loved and loving others.

Bodywork.  Since the body stores repressed trauma memories which can materialize as various forms of illness, bodywork such as Rosenwork can bring these memories to the surface and be released. This work should be done with an experienced therapist who is familiar with dissociation and trauma, and who is also able to process the memories with the survivor in a safe and loving way.

Reparenting and Learning to Love One’s Inner Child/Parts.     Since survivors were never shown love growing up in an abusive home, it is important to establish a loving healthy relationship with one’s inner child/parts. Survivors treat themselves how they were treated in their family of origin.  They have no idea what unconditional family love is and nothing to compare it to.

Viewing good parenting tapes such as John Bradshaw’s family tapes can help with this, as well as reading good children’s literature such as the Ramona series. This gives a better perspective of a normal family upbringing. A survivor can learn to have fun in the playground, in the sand pit or on the swings which helps the little child/parts know they’re cared for and loved. Listening and supporting them establishes trust and lets them know they are not alone anymore and are loved.

Recognizing Triggers.  It is helpful to learn to recognize triggers and separate the current situation from the past abuse, and not transfer the feelings onto the situation or person. Speaking to one’s inner child/parts about the forthcoming event and reassuring them they are not alone, that this is not an abusive situation and telling them they are loved, will certainly help prepare them for the situation in advance.

Taking Care of Oneself.  Taking care of oneself means exercising, eating healthy foods, eliminating addictions, getting a good night’s sleep, staying present in one’s body and letting go of abuse and abusive people. This also includes learning to set healthy boundaries, saying no when needed, and not feeling responsible for another person’s feelings or actions. This is a process that begins with self-love.

Substituting Self-Harm with Self-Care.  For survivors in particular, self-injury can be a coping mechanism, a way to relieve stress and anxiety and a way of communicating when words are not available. The first step in eradicating self-harm is acknowledging the denial, becoming conscious of the self-harm and then removing the triggers. The next step is to substitute self-harm with self-care.  Once a survivor understands how and when this behavior occurs, it can then be talked about, drawn, sung or journal led, and then the pressure to act physically may well diminish.

Volunteer Work.  If a survivor is able, volunteer work can help one feel not so alone and take the focus off oneself.  Invariably, a better frame of mind results by knowing one has helped another person. Learning to Trust Oneself.  Because survivors are taught from an early age not to trust themselves or others, learning to be present, listen to their bodies and trust themselves are crucial tools for healing. It then follows that by trusting oneself and one’s judgment, the survivor can learn to trust others.

Supportive Groups Led by Therapists.  Learning to share in a supportive and non-threatening way in a group conducted by an experienced therapist who has worked with trauma, enables the survivor to learn trust, unconditional love, validation, and to know they are not alone.

Music.  Music can be very soothing and healing while working through the memories or grief.   In addition, holding stuffed animals while listening to music can reassure the inner child/parts they are not alone and are loved. Visualization Techniques.  Using visualization to vent feelings such as rage or anger can be therapeutic, because it is non-violent, non-threatening and safe. In one’s mind, the survivor can vent the rage and anger towards the abusers, which can then help the survivor take back their power and control.

Visualizing oneself on a daily basis as healthy, happy, content and free of abuse can give hope to the survivor and, more importantly, let them know that life will get better.  By using positive affirmations in place of the negative messages received as a child, e.g., “you are a loving, kind and wonderful person” can dispel the negative messages a survivor is given and eventually reprogram one’s attitude about oneself and the world.

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