December 23, 2017
Recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder requires one to rebuild their sense of self in connection to the world. Despite the impulse to isolate, it is socializing (on your own terms) that is critical to healing a core identity. Recovery is not something that can occur in isolation.
Social connections are a factor in both the likelihood of developing PTSD and in recovery from it. Being able to make and maintain social connections is part of how stress-resistant individuals cope with adverse circumstances. It contributes to something called resiliency, which is the ability of someone to recovery from challenges. Resiliency is kind of like elasticity, describing how something once twisted out of shape can return to its original form. A supportive social network helps strengthen a person's resiliency.
When experiencing trauma, going it alone can increase our traumatic experiences. The ideal solo badass hero we see so often in movies is mere fantasy. In reality, a person who plays the hero alone can become highly symptomatic after a traumatic event. They’re just as likely to develop post traumatic symptoms as someone who panics during the same traumatic event. Cooperation and camaraderie in the face of danger can reduce symptoms later on (aka, increase resiliency).
Trauma, itself, is experienced differently by different people. Two individuals can go through the same event, and it is possible for one of them to experience it as traumatic while the other does not. Both experiences are authentic. Trauma can be correlated with the overall severity of an event and how an individual perceives and processes the severity of the event. Perception is everything. Every single thing we experience is affected and altered by our perceptions and how we process what we perceive.
Studies have found that people who are more resistant to stress are those who, among other characteristics, believe that they can control their destiny. Their sense of self is resilient to begin with, and this ability to cope proves to be effective in mitigating the negative long-term consequences of traumatic experience.
The good news is, resilience is not something you do or don’t have. It’s not innate and it isn’t quantifiable. Resilience is about adapting to stressors. Resiliency is about going through a challenging thing and moving past it. Anyone can learn to be more resilient.
First, survivors must become empowered. Empowerment looks different in different spaces. Someone may appear helpless, broken, and despondent in a hospital. The same person might also be an empowered and strong beacon of hope in a space like a support group where “her experience is validated and her strengths are recognized and encouraged” (Herman, Trauma and Recovery).
It isn’t just any social connection, and that is important to point out. The social structure needs to be built by the survivor, they have to have an active role in creating connections that are authentic and supportive. It’s a process, and not one we can rush.
Sometimes, just knowing there are other people out there who have felt the way you feel can help ease the pain in post-trauma.
apa.org. (2017). The road to resilience. [online] Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx [Accessed 23 Dec. 2017].
Harlow, K. (2017). The Internet Can Help Trauma Survivors— But It Can Harm Them, Too. [online] The Establishment. Available at: https://theestablishment.co/the-internet-can-help-trauma-survivors-but-it-can-harm-them-too-97eb5cf129c [Accessed 23 Dec. 2017].
Herman, Judith L. Trauma and Recovery. New York: BasicBooks, 1997.
Maria, K. (2016). How People Learn to Become Resilient. The New Yorker, [online] (newyorker.com). Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/the-secret-formula-for-resilience [Accessed 23 Dec. 2017].
Mindtools.com. (2017). Developing Resilience: Overcoming and Growing from Setbacks. [online] Available at: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/resilience.htm [Accessed 23 Dec. 2017].
Snyder, Joel S. et al. “How Previous Experience Shapes Perception in Different Sensory Modalities.” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9 (2015): 594. PMC. Web. 23 Dec. 2017.doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00594
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