Recovering From a Traumatic Experience

Have you ever been faced with the challenge of finding emotional healing and recovery after some kind of traumatic event? If so, you’re not alone.

This type of experience has become increasingly common of late, not simply in the lives of military personnel and first responders, but also among the general populace. Time and time again our twenty-four-hour news services have been overwhelmed with reports of senseless tragedies (school shootings) and devastating disasters (hurricanes, floods, fires, and even volcanic eruptions). Every time an event of this nature takes place it throws entire communities and countless individuals into a state of emotional chaos and confusion – a frame of mind in which it’s easy to feel that nothing will ever be “okay” again.

If you fall into that category, remember that there’s no quick or simplistic way to get past the wounds and losses associated with a genuine disaster. The very meaning of the word trauma can be summed up as “too much too quick.” So keep your head on straight and be patient with yourself. Meanwhile, there are four simple things you can do to get the ball rolling in a positive direction:

1)     Get in touch with your feelings and make a conscious decision to embrace your pain. Moving beyond mere “survival mode” means facing the implications of your loss. If you’ve been through some kind of devastating experience, give yourself permission to grieve. You won’t be able to help others – your spouse and children, for example – until you’ve begun to experience the healing process for yourself.

2)     Express honest emotion by journaling as well as talking with someone you can trust. Be open about your emotions but don’t obsess over them. In some cases too much over-focused talk can revive unwanted memories and retrigger the trauma. Feel the freedom to back off for a while if you need to. Simply being present with understanding, patient friends who will visit and spend low-key time with you can be soothing and helpful.

3)     Take time for prayer by yourself and with family and friends. Don’t be afraid to take your hard questions to God. Don’t get discouraged if answers don’t come quickly. The Lord hasn’t guaranteed that all of our doubts will be resolved, but He does promise to stand beside us through thick and thin (Hebrews 13:5). 

4)      Get help from a professional counselor. It’s vital to consider this option if three months have gone by and you still find yourself struggling with intrusive memories, nightmares, disrupted sleep, increased levels of stress, a tendency to withdraw, or a numbing of the emotions. These are all classic symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department if you think it might be helpful to discuss your situation with someone over the phone (see the number provided below). In the meantime, we highly recommend that you take a look at Kay Arthur’s book Lord, Where Are You When Bad Things Happen? It’s available through Focus on the Family’s Online Store which can be accessed via the home page of the ministry’s website.