Imagine for a second you cut yourself while cooking. A deep cut, with a cold sharp blade. After about a week, you look at the wound and you begin to tell yourself how careless you were, how pathetic you were for letting yourself get cut. You tried to treat the wound yourself only to find out that you’ve made it worse. Then, you try to go up to a stranger in desperation who tells you to go away because it’s disgusting. At that point you feel like a victim to your own lack of awareness dealing with the trauma of a deep wound and you purposely throw out all the kitchen knives so that you’re not reminded.
In trauma, there are some similar concepts.
Victim. Something bad happened to you.
Trauma. Something bad.
Survivor. Something bad happened to you but you somehow got through it.
There is plenty of information and topics about trauma. I will cover only the surface by talking about the narrative, safety, and guilt.
When working with survivors of trauma it can be difficult, yet critical, for the survivor to tell their story. Trust and the feeling of safety are key within the therapeutic relationship in order for trauma work to begin. When trust and safety are established the elephant in the room can be taken off the wall and discussed.
Working through the narrative of the trauma can be a difficult subject. There are clinicians who struggle in this work because of the severity of the stories and the amount of empathy it can take to help someone who discusses the horror stories of their lives. As important as it is for the survivors to feel the space to communicate, it is important for the clinician to work through their own narrative and reflect. Telling the story is key to healing
While we (clinicians) know and understand the symptoms of trauma, there is a symptom that is rarely discussed and that is the symptom of guilt. There is a lot of self-blame from the survivor. The hindsight in domestic violence is an example:
“Why didn’t I leave? Why did I stay?” Are two very difficult questions that seem to be asked when looking back, and if they are not processed, the individual can lead to more guilt, blaming themselves for both questions.
Like I said, trauma it is hard work. Telling your story, whether you are a survivor in therapy or a clinician in supervision, working through the story, the narrative, and the guilt is important in allowing the space for the work to begin.