Traumatic experiences and the trauma healing process can expose the shrapnel from what feels like perpetually open wounds. Time lost to history and recovery, missed opportunities, broken relationships, and a delay in building life’s foundation can be negative side effects of traumatic experiences.
Therapists and people who have experienced trauma are able to identify, with ease, what may seem like irreversible damage or pain. However, it is simple to overlook the pieces of people’s trauma stories that are peppered with traces of hope and with a certain innocence that runs counter to what many of them have survived. This article will reflect on what people in therapy have shared with me. Through their eyes, these are the gifts of trauma:
We can begin with the basics. Survivors regularly express gratitude, disbelief even, for the fact that they are still living. Operating from this premise provides a great deal of delight in each day received. While it may sound cliché, perhaps this is so because of the ordinariness of what is being conveyed; it seems natural that life would be lived with greater enthusiasm in the face of its uncertainty. However, near-death experiences do not appear to be a necessary condition for people to begin to appreciate each new day; rather, being confronted with suffering, fear, or an assault on one’s humanity appear to be more relevant to our ability to appreciate existence.
Enjoying Simple Pleasures
Despite the real struggle associated with trauma recovery, there is often a simultaneous increase in a person’s capacity to enjoy the mundane. A blue sky, a delicate fragrance, a small act of compassion, the subtleties of nature, and the innocence of children and animals are often noted as having significance. Perhaps the sweetness of normalcy is illuminated when confronted with certain kinds of darkness.
Enhanced Awareness and Intuition
Survivors of trauma regularly inform me of what they experience as something akin to having superpowers. The capacity to feel things other people can’t, to identify either the goodness or inherent evil in someone just by looking at them, or to “predict” interpersonal outcomes are some of the new-found abilities people have described. People who have experienced trauma often indicate that they are able to pick up on covert human behaviors, and there is a great deal of trust in their capacity to intuit. Oftentimes, these powers really do exist; survivors have developed a discriminating aptitude for picking up on environmental cues that may have significance to them. A clinical explanation could be hypervigilence; however, people do not necessarily experience this skill negatively and are often quite opposed to this capacity diminishing.
Sense of Surprise and Enchantment
Finally, survivors often work from the assumption that, at some point, things will go awry. There is a sense of something lurking, and they conclude that something will happen that will take them out emotionally (or physically). The consequence of being right is the devastation of experiencing their truth (i.e., the world is not safe, I will never be happy) as real. However, when things go well, even smoothly, a genuine sense of surprise and enchantment is rendered.
Identification of trauma gifts throughout one’s story provides a platform for discussing this in a nonpathologizing way. It may also allow therapists to assist people in letting go of vigilance while embracing intuition, releasing pain while maintaining gratitude, and experiencing safety while holding on to joy.
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Athena H. Phillips, MSW, LCSW, therapist in Portland, Oregon
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.