This article is the third installment of a three-part series. The first two articles are Healing from Trauma: Why Can’t I Just Forget About It? and Healing from Trauma: Now that I’m Safe, What Do I Do?
Once you have grown through the first two phases of healing, you are able to work more fully on creating a life that you desire and a future that you wish to strive towards. The shackles of the traumatic experience begin to fall off and you enter a space where you can define your life in and on your terms.
At the heart of this work is rediscovering old or creating new relationships, such as family ties (either with your biological or self-created family), friendships, acquaintances, professional relationships, and last, though not least, romantic relationships. Due to the healing work that you have done, you are ready to trust again and allow yourself to love others and accept the love of others. Since the suffering of others no longer threatens to unravel or overwhelm you, you have an increased degree of compassion for those who suffer. You can connect with others who are in pain; you can accept the imperfections of humanity and reach out to others. People and relationships are no longer sources of trepidation or fear. The ability to have deep relationships not only rests in your ability to trust others, but also in your ability to trust yourself.
Your sense of self has also transformed through the phases of healing, allowing you to cherish and nurture yourself. Just as a butterfly exits out of stages of transformation, your new sense of self has gone through phases of growth and exits the healing process as a beautiful entity. You view yourself with love, and not as just a victim. You have moved beyond and through a traumatic occurrence(s). You have a deep, unshakeable knowledge that you have grown, despite the traumatic experience.
You have come out the other side and are living well. A sense that you are strong, empowered, determined, and resilient, as well as compassionate towards self and others, accompanies you more days than not. Laughter has returned to your life and your sense of humor is less morbid or macabre. Emotions such as joy, pleasure, contentment, and pure, simple fun also begin to make regular appearances. You can and do actively plan for the future, embracing the possibilities that life has to offer. Despite the emotional or physical scars, there is a hard-won sense of realistic optimism. In general you are satisfied with life and find ordinary life both interesting and enjoyable.
This increased personal growth also impacts your sense of meaning and purpose. It is in the final stage of healing that you are able to develop or reconnect with your spiritual beliefs and sources of meaning and purpose. Having grown through the stages of healing from trauma, you begin the vital process of creating and rooting yourself in meaning and purpose. Keep in mind that there are many avenues through which to create meaning and purpose (for example fighting for a cause, volunteering, or pursuing a hobby or passion) and that spirituality encompasses both organized religion and individual systems of belief or faith.
These three overlapping areas of healing—relationships, self, and meaning or purpose—are bound together by a commitment to move forward; “ever onward” is the refrain of this phase. As you grow into the last parts of this phase, your energy is focused on the ordinary tasks of living, not on surviving or on recovering. To quote Dr. Judith Herman, “She has become more interested in the present and the future than in the past, more apt to approach the world with praise and awe than with fear.” In many ways this phase of healing is never finished, as it is the perpetual quest of becoming immersed in the process of creating a vital, meaningful, and enjoyed life.
As with all of my articles, the information in this article is intended to educate and is not meant as a substitution for individual therapy. Take care and ever onwards!
Herman, Judith Lewis. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror. Jackson, TN: Basic Books.
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