Self-Care 101: Featuring 101 Self-Care Techniques for Trauma Survivors

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Self-Care


When you hear the term “self-care”, you may envision cozy blankets, warm mugs and a very Pinterest-y collection of activities fit for a #SelfCareSunday. In truth, self-care extends well beyond the simple comforts, yet for survivors of complex trauma, just achieving these moments of self-kindness can be a real challenge. It can even feel abrasive, anxiety-inducing or undeserved. We hope to be able to help you challenge those feelings while also offering a wide variety of options to explore at your own pace — from the most low-effort and temporary acts of self-care, to the most impactful, long-lasting, and self-honoring.

To start, let's define self-care:

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So, if self-care sounds so life-giving and healing, why is it so hard?

As with anything related to trauma, it’s complicated. The reasons can be extremely vast and layered. However, for most who have survived recurrent childhood trauma, they’re often left with both a negative self-concept and a negative-world view. After being made to feel worthless, “bad”, shameful, as if they’re the one to blame, or their sole purpose in this world is to be hurt, just trying to think gently toward one’s self can create profound dissonance. More self-loving actions, particularly those physical in nature, can inflict a kind of pain or friction that almost feels intolerable or just plain “wrong”. However, while difficult, it’s still imperative that we try to rewrite those scripts and retrain our brains to accept the nurture and compassion we crave. The longer we deepen the pathways of self-neglect, self-hate, obsessive care-taking, people-pleasing, overwork, isolation, or self-harm, the harder it is to break free and the more displeasing it feels to try. And, unfortunately, when self-care doesn’t immediately “feel good”, we’re no longer incentivized to try again. But we must.

We cannot run on empty and we cannot live always scraping the bottom; we must give from the overflow. We are more efficient, more vibrant, clearer-thinking, more energetic, more loving, more patient, and more connected to others and the world when we’re satiated and restored. Just a small shift in that equilibrium can make us cranky or irritable, so chronically running on empty starts to cause irreversible damage — even at the cellular level. But, when we’re taken care of and thoughtful to ourselves and our bodies, we are not only healthier, we’re better humans to those we love and care about. Taking care of yourself has a ripple effect of positive change and influence. It can also be a corrective experience. Treating your body, mind, and spirit with love and kindness gives you a chance to feel the very things you were denied or didn’t know you needed. YOU have a chance to be in control and to be the benefactor of that gift — what a remarkable shift in dynamics from what you’ve always known. Self-care is active defiance against all who hurt you or trained you to hurt yourself. With every positive affirmation, loving touch, and self-protective act, you strongly reject and defy everything they drilled into you and hoped you’d feel forever. Reclaim your worth. It’s YOURS, not theirs.

Self-care is in no way selfish. It is an absolute necessity for all living beings. We deserve to feel well, nourished, secure, and forgiven. And, meeting our needs helps more than just us. Our loved ones want to see us fulfilled, and they enjoy seeing when we carry ourselves with lightness. Those needs, however, are in no way limited to what can be resolved with an adult coloring book or Netflix series. They’re complex and meeting them may require larger tasks such as setting appropriate boundaries, changing jobs, paying bills on time, scheduling doctor's appointments, ending self-harming behaviors, and so much more. Below, you’ll find a wide variety of self-care options.  We cannot wait to hear about your journey with greater self-empathy and learning the positive impact that taking ownership of your life can create.
 

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101 Self Care Techniques

Here are 101 tools for practicing self-care! We’ve organized them by those that are somewhat more low-effort (things you can do from where you’re seated or while still fighting symptoms), to those that will require some planning, a trip outside, or considerable follow-through. They’re also loosely sorted by their impact as well. Some tools exist in short-lived bursts and just refuel the tank, others will prompt more significant, life-sustaining change over the course of years.

As always with trauma, not all of these suggestions will work for you. Some may be triggering or even exacerbate other mental health conditions. Use your discretion: take what you need and leave what you don’t. However, do keep in mind that just because something seems aversive or anxiety-inducing doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply needed or ultimately self-caring. This is especially true with the more involved actions. Not all will feel good as you complete them - in fact, few will. Despite this, the healing at completion is what’s worth the trial of pushing through the task.  So pace yourself, but also challenge yourself to not object outright just because something sounds scary or hard. The most difficult things can sometimes be the things you need most! Happy self-caring!



Low Effort / Impact

  1. Take a 10-minute break from whatever you’re doing - work, house-cleaning, scrolling social media, etc - to close your eyes and, just, be. Perhaps add some mindfulness, imagery or meditation as you recharge.

  2. Take a short nap. (Rest is often one of the primary things missing for survivors. Give yourself permission. It’s okay. You deserve a chance to turn off and feel less vigilant and tense.)

  3. Apply body lotions, face creams and/or essential oils. Appreciate the scent. Pay attention to the kindness and attention you’re giving your skin and senses.

  4. Listen to an audiobook.

  5. Listen to a podcast.

  6. Watch a light-hearted comedy show, stand-up routine, film or YouTube video.

  7. Allow yourself a binge-watch session on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon.

  8. Watch the live feed from the International Space Station (ISS).

  9. Catch your favorite sport or watch re-runs of one of the best matches/games/meets. You already know the outcome, so limited attention is required, you just get to relive the excitement that you likely haven’t felt for awhile.

  10. Enjoy your favorite snack or have one you rarely get to enjoy.

  11. Text a friend or safe family member. Reach out.

  12. Make a gratitude list or write in your gratitude journal. Express appreciation or thankfulness for some of the simplest things as well as the extremely significant things in your day/life.

  13. List 10 things that… you are good at, that you like about yourself (or are learning to like), or reasons you are a good person and deserve care.

  14. List 20 accomplishments you have made this year.

  15. Repeat a personal mantra. Examples: I am worthy, I am enough, There are people who love me even when I am unsure of myself, I am innocent, etc.

  16. Permission to not be perfect. Let the dishes stay in the sink, don’t make the bed, don’t vacuum, for just one night.

  17. Take your prescribed medications. They help your body function optimally and give it what it needs. You deserve them.

  18. Allow yourself to take PRN medications if you are in need.

  19. Hydrate. Try limiting from caffeines, energy drinks, sodas, etc and boost your water intake if needed.

  20. Spend some time with a pet: give them lots of snuggles, pets, walks, grooming, or play with them.

  21. Use a weighted blanket, weighted lap pad, or weighted vest. Apply deep pressure or compression with other items if you don’t have these. Soothe your overstimulated nervous system and feel more rooted and grounded in your body.

  22. Listen to music specifically with earbuds in. Allow yourself a chance to drown out the rest of the world entirely.

  23. Turn on a playlist you’ve made just for these self-care days/moments.

  24. Watch “Try Not to Laugh” or “Try Not to Sing/Dance” Challenge videos on YouTube. You’ll probably accidentally break at least once and that’s half the fun! ;)

  25. Our go-to favorite: try to laugh without smiling. If nothing else, this video of several trying to do so will bring immediate joy: CLICK!

  26. Watch oddly-satisfying compilations, ASMR videos (if they’re enjoyable/safe for you), or any other sensorily-comforting activities.

  27. Experiment with selfies. Learn to appreciate your self, your skin, your features. Start the journey of being more okay with you. OR! Just take a moment to rock it like you always do.

  28. Make pictures out of your freckles, drawings out of your scars, and beauty from your wrinkles. With intention, practice the act of loving the skin you’re in (in a very non-cheesy, Dove commercial kinda way :) ).

  29. Hold a stuffed animal, soft blanket, or other comfort item. Run your fingers over meaningful items from loved ones, necklaces/rings, coins, stones, or other special pieces. 

  30. Watch your favorite childhood movie - especially if younger parts of you are in need of those positive memories.

  31. Scroll through self-acceptance, body positive, or self-love tags online for uplifting encouragement to look after and love the you that you are today.

  32. Delete apps that are draining your time, energy, and/or focus. You can always add them back, but try ditching them for awhile to see how it feels.

  33. Mute/block folks on social media that are causing you stress or bringing you down.

  34. Put your phone on silent, including no vibrate (aside emergency contacts if necessary), for at least a couple of hours. Notice how it feels to be disconnected from that world and engaged with the one directly around you.

  35. Go through a folder of saved meaningful comments, emails or personal letters/cards. If you don’t have one of these, create one.
    Start by making a computer or phone folder just for screenshots of nice, uplifting comments/messages received from loved ones; cool moments, replies or follows from celebs or people you really admire; or any special moments that made you feel excited, encouraged or that really touched your heart. Revisiting this treasure trove can really help restore your faith in others but most importantly your love for YOU.




    Medium Effort / Impact

  36. Read a book, any book!

  37. Look ahead to your upcoming week/month and see if there are any obligations that you can remove or delegate to someone else.

  38. Reach out to a support group/group chat for some positive reinforcement.

  39. Wash your face, brush your teeth, take a shower, change your clothes. Sometimes that’s all you can do but it can make you feel SO much better.

  40. Take a bath (perhaps using oils, bath bombs, or creating a calming environment).

  41. Mild pampering. Do a face mask, paint your nails, shave your face or legs, or do any other caring act toward your body (Any gender! Face masks and nail polish are for everyone!)

  42. Stretch. Open up your body. Breathe deep and connect to yourself in your skin. Be present with yourself. (Kundalini yoga can be a style that’s quite pleasant to many survivors.)

  43. Wear something you absolutely love or have always wanted to wear, regardless of what others might think/say. This is your life, your body, your aesthetic. Wear it for you. It affects their life path 0%, and yours considerably.

  44. Do imagery exercises where you are able to fly, drift weightlessly atop clouds, swim without holding your breath, swing on a trapeze, or be wrapped up in hanging silks, etc. Let yourself feel floaty and breezy in the air or fully supported by something gentle beneath you. Feel the tension leave your body as you transport yourself to this place of suspended pain.

  45. Make your favorite meal — no guilt allowed!

  46. Go get some fro-yo, ice cream, or other dietary-friendly dessert. We all need a social treat from time to time!

  47. Play with bubbles, sparklers, sidewalk chalk, or something else silly-but-aesthetically-pleasing!

  48. Remind yourself that: Getting started is the hardest part. “I just have to start, then it’s so much simpler than I am imagining it to be.” The greatest obstacle that most all of us face is getting started. Things are almost never as hard, dreadful, boring, or unpleasant as we think they’ll be. And, after we’re in our groove, we wonder whyyyy we waited so long. Recall all the times you felt this way to motivate you to get started on whatever it is that you need to do!

  49. Write a letter to your body — one of love, compassion, thankfulness, respect.

  50. Write a personal letter of self-forgiveness.

  51. Play an instrument or sing with passion — it doesn’t matter if you’re any good or not, the only thing that matters is you let it come from deep down and just let it out.

  52. Do something creative (art, painting, a DIY project, wood-working, building).

  53. De-clutter to de-stress. (If this will trigger OCD thoughts/compulsions, perhaps try something else, or instead use the opportunity to specifically work on these thoughts and show yourself the mastery you can have over difficult tasks.)

  54. Change your sheets and linens to make a more relaxing space — one that is more fresh and cozy for you.

  55. Create the Pinterest dream: get in your most cozy PJs early, find the snuggliest blanket and just curl up for the evening doing something you like.

  56. Play your favorite video game.

  57. Pull out an old GameBoy, PC game, or childhood board game — dive into some positive nostalgia or let young parts of yourself enjoy a game they know so very well.

  58. Specifically listen to music or watch films that will stir deeper emotions. Just let yourself get them out without shame or fear. We all need a good cry and to feel safe enough to express what’s been stuck.

  59. Spend time in a bookstore or library, by yourself or with friends.

  60. Turn on some pumped up music and just dance, rock out, sing, let go — shame free.

  61. Go to a park to swing on swings, go down a slide, climb the monkey bars. Tap into younger you and give yourself the gift of carefree fun without any fear.

  62. Try various guided imagery scripts, progressive muscle relaxation, or do your own personal imagery routine. We even have some examples here to manage physical or emotional pain.

  63. Do children’s activities (for young alters or your inner child): read children books, watch cartoons, enjoy Disney movies, color with crayons, play with matchbox cars or dinosaurs, build a fort, get creative!

  64. Remove current triggers from your environment.

  65. List some new goals — both short term and long term. (Make ‘em SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)

  66. FaceTime/Skype with a loved one you haven’t seen for spoken to for awhile.

  67. Play a sport or do a physical activity you love (even if you’re no good at it anymore!). It’s all about reconnecting to that joy and sense of identity more than it is about having a successful endeavor.

  68. Work with your hands outside: gardening, re-potting plants, planting new ones, raking leaves, etc. Connect with the earth and your body. Reflect on the nurture you’re giving to these living things and remind yourself of the own vitality you deserve, and how it needs to be restored from time to time, too.

  69. Take a hike, walk through the woods, stroll along a beach - somewhere away from the busyness of the world - to have some alone time with you, your thoughts and all of the nature.

  70. Go for a long drive. Blast music. Roll the windows down.

  71. Submit your rent or pay your electric/cable/phone/car insurance bills. Scratch them off the to-do list and get them off your mind.

  72. Make that doctors appointment, schedule the dentist, prepare to see the GYN, plan for that surgery — take that scary step of caring for your health and body. Make those calls. You’ve got this. Your body is counting on you.

  73. Buy yourself an item that isn’t a basic necessity. It’s so nice to have a few items just for joy or entertainment.

  74. Schedule body-healing appointments: a massage, fitness class, acupuncture session, beauty treatment, or other self-soothing service.

  75. Return the voicemails, emails or other correspondence that are presently overwhelming you.




    Higher Effort / Impact


  76. Say NO to something causing you distress. Feel the way you are taking control of your life and notice the strength in your voice.

  77. Consider a week-long social media detox.

  78. Try disallowing last-minute cancelling for a week or a month. Remind yourself how amazing you feel when you get home from something you so badly wanted to back-out from. Remind yourself that while the thought of cancelling can feel exhilarating, it almost NEVER feels as good as the pride and happiness you feel when you’ve conquered it or know the great memories you just created. 

  79. Plan to attend a concert, Broadway or theater show, comedian, TEDTalk, or author on a book tour. Pick something really important to you and carve out that time with intention.

  80. Join a painting, wood-working, photography, creative writing, graphic design, or other class. Connect with your community while trying something new.

  81. Rearrange your room or most-used living space. Shake things up and make it an environment that really honors what you need from a room you spend so much time in.

  82. Journal. Express what’s on your heart and mind. Honor that and give it a voice. Then contain it neatly within those pages so that you can walk away from it when you need.

  83. Write letters of gratitude to loved ones. Make this one that you would truly send to them. Make it an exercise in vulnerability, safe attachment and building lasting relationships.

  84. Plan future visits with friends and incentivize yourself to follow through.

  85. Spend quality time with your kids — pressure free, totally organic, just enjoying their company.

  86. Plan a mini-vacation, weekend getaway, staycation, or at-home break. You need and deserve to recharge.

  87. Experiment with fun, different hair colors and/or cuts. Try mixing up your clothing style. Really find yourself while also challenging yourself to see if there’s anything there you didn’t know was hiding inside.

  88. Plan out new tattoos, body modifications, etc. Embark in the act of self-love and identity-building. Take control of your body safely and in a way you’ve never possibly gotten to before.

  89. Complete a body map. Or several. (Examples: Here and plenty more in the book You Are Here.)

  90. Go swimming, float in the tub, try a float spa, etc. Go somewhere where you can truly feel more weightless, with no pressure on your body. Bask in that lightness and feel what a wonderful thing you’re doing for your body.

  91. Try kickboxing, martial arts, jujitsu, etc. Get out all the anxiety, fear and anger. Feel strong and empowered in your body and what it can do.

  92. Experiment with safe touch. Use feathers, cotton, string, fingertips, light scratching, something cool, something warm. Drag them across your skin in varying places. Connect with your body and appreciate its ability to distinguish such subtle changes. Notice how different areas of the body read that stimuli differently. Try to self-soothe with the kinds of touch that you discover feel nice.

  93. Similarly, experiment with safe sensuality. This can be a terrifying concept for so many survivors. Becoming more comfortable with your body in a controlled, empowered way - with agency and self-love - can start to dilute so many layers of conditioned fear-response or shame. Appreciate your body as your own, no one else’s; notice what it can do, feel, sense, desire - all at your direction. Recognize that it’s safe, healthy, secure, and all YOURS. In time, consider opening this exploration up with a trusted partner/spouse.

  94. Make a commitment to take care of your body in every way. Delineate a plan that includes exercise, proper nourishment, cessation of self-harming behaviors, therapy, a consistent medication regimen, healthy relationships, meaningful productivity, FUN, and so much more. Try to strive for balance and observe the areas you are lacking. List ways you can combat this.

  95. Research that new doctor, dentist, therapist, or clinician you’ve been needing to find. If you are currently with a provider you frequently cancel on, don’t feel listens to you, makes you feel bad about yourself, or isn’t helping you achieve your goals, make a plan to end care with them and have a replacement lined up. No longer accept sub-par or harmful treatment. You are hiring them. They are paid to work for you. If they are failing as your employee, let them go. You deserve more.

  96. Volunteer somewhere that really speaks to your heart. Whether that is an animal shelter, soup kitchen/food pantry, after-school program, services for low-income or homeless individuals, or a charity like ours, find what really stirs in your heart and makes you feel like you’re fulfilling a greater life purpose.

  97. Connect with a sense of spirituality if you have one or desire one. Take time to explore prayer, listen to spiritual/religious music, read books or articles, attend a service or group, etc. Carve out the time to make this possible in a meaningful way. If you have a very complicated relationship with anything spiritual or religion-based, just take the time to instead connect to the aspects of yourself that are bigger than just your thoughts/actions. Explore what makes you, you — whether that’s your soul, essence, energy, spirit, or some other nebulous idea. Spend time with yourself in a way that really takes into consideration your place in a more vast universe.

  98. Write a letter to your younger self (or selves). Express forgiveness, love, and understanding for young you. Give those parts of you comfort. Tell them the things you wished someone had told you at that age. When you are ready, be detailed and specific. Allow the most wounded parts of your being to feel the compassion, respect and understanding you have for them today. Give them love. Be the person you needed when you were younger.

  99. Learn a skill. Increase your sense of self-sufficiency. Learn to sew, change a tire, unclog a drain, repair electronics, change your own oil, do your own taxes, navigate public transit, photoshop, etc — you name it!

  100. List all of the things you’ve already gained or COULD gain from giving up self-harming, self-disrespecting or suicidal behaviors. Compare and contrast those to what engaging in them currently provides. If you have not created a safety plan or established a personal “triangle of choices”, create one of those.

  101. Set boundaries with those in your life who really need firmer boundaries — even those for whom it is very difficult to do so. Be firm, clear, specific and confident. You can also be kind and compassionate, but don’t allow that to cloud the non-negotiability of these terms. Whether this is done in the form of a letter, email, phone call, or face to face discussion, know your limits and then set them with others. You deserve it. You require it. And you can do this.


Bonus acts of self care:

⤞ If you’re currently in a job that’s harming your mental health, a home that’s causing health issues, a relationship that’s breaking down your self-esteem or worth, a location that’s not safe for you or doesn’t have what you need, or you’re in a place where you don’t have access to the resources you need to not only survive but thrive — strongly consider all of your options to change these circumstances. Explore services that could help you find solutions if you don’t even know what those might look like. You don’t have to do this on your own. 

⤞ Get a brand new pet or look into training a service animal.

⤞ Send us an email, fill out an application, reach out in the comments. Feel our support, care and love. We are here for you!


Don’t forget to share your go-to acts of self-care with us and other survivors below!
You may unlock the answer to a specific ache in someone else!

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  ✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
  ✧  Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  ✧  Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
  ❖  
Article Index  ❖

 


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101 Distraction Techniques: Tools for Intrusive Trauma Symptoms

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101 Distraction Techniques


     When it comes to complex trauma, survivors may face any number of debilitating symptoms — from flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive/overwhelming emotions, to unsafe impulses, unmanaged dissociation, and all the challenges of daily living that become magnified as you wrestle your mental health. Many skills and therapeutic tools can be vital to getting through, but sometimes they just don't feel like enough. You may've been successful at putting memories away, but are still left in a funky headspace you can't seem to shake off. Or, maybe you've gotten grounded, but are too flooded with emotions to even begin looking at what got you so off-kilter. Sometimes you just need a middle step before you can get to your other skills. Distraction can be a surprisingly helpful tool, and is often under-appreciated.

     One thing to keep in mind when using distraction is that it's not a long-term solution. Relying on it too heavily - or in place of other therapeutic tools - can actually lead to "stuffing", avoidance, and increasing the dissociation of what's causing you distress. This only makes it more likely to revisit you intrusively or when you're least prepared. But, when you're really struggling in the short-term, switching gears and doing something completely unrelated can give you the footing you need. Even neurologically speaking, it's very common for those with PTSD to recycle through thoughts, memories and feelings circularly. Getting off that feedback loop can sometimes offer a greater reprieve than if you'd stayed on it, repeatedly trying to put things away. Activating different parts of the brain that aren't overtired can bolster your resources and give you access to the circuitry vital to thinking with clarity and reason again. Then, when you return, you're much more equipped to tackle things head-on instead of just going along for the ride.

     We've divided our list of 101 Distraction Techniques into three categories based on how much mental and physical effort they require. We know that sometimes all you can manage is what's doable from where you're sitting and/or involving very little mental energy. Other times you need to get moving a bit or start an activity. Then are the occasions where a really complex, elaborate and intricate task is needed to bring you out of the place you've been trapped for so long.

      As with all of our lists, there will be tools listed that are not helpful for everyone. There may even be some that are triggering, upsetting, or would antagonize some of your specific symptoms. You know yourself and your symptoms best, so use your best judgment, trust yourself, and just pass on the tools that aren't for you. There are a hundred others to choose from — literally!

 

Low-Effort

  1. Watch a TV show. If you don't have cable or a subscription service, many television networks offer free access, without a log-in, until you get closer to the most recent episodes.

  2. Watch a movie. Light-hearted comedy, drama to suck you in, or an old favorite - there are countless films to whisk you away for a bit.

  3. Sing. It doesn't matter if you're a professional vocalist or can't to carry a tune, singing engages a completely different part of your brain. Plus, the vibrations in your chest give great sensory feedback and the vocalization reminds you of your voice.

  4. Watch cute videos on YouTube. About as low-effort as it gets: puppy/kitty videos, laugh challenges, or Vine compilations - take your pick.

  5. Mindless doodles/finger painting/playing with clay. This may be especially helpful to those with child parts (DID/OSDD) who need an activity of their own.

  6. Grab a snack.

  7. Drum on a surface. Like singing, the vibrations and bilateral stimulation of your hands thumping will engage different parts of your mind and bring your attention away from what's intruding on you.

  8. Play a game or use a fun app on your phone. Even if you aren't a gamer, search the app store. You might find one that speaks to you. It can be a great escape to get lost in for a bit.

  9. Video games. Any console, any game!

  10. Tear out words/photos/etc for a collage. Ask a local doctor's office or hairdresser for their spare magazines. Mindlessly rip out photos and words that speak to you. (Bonus: you may get to put tabloids to good use for once! They often have the scathing, overdramatic words that happen to be great for a therapeutic collages. Shocking! Betrayal! You Won't Believe It!).

  11. Discover new music. YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, so many ways to find new gems!

  12. Wash your face/hands or brush your teeth. A quick refresher can help you restart your day on a brand new page.

  13. Re-watch highlights from your favorite sport. It's easy to forget just how many epic, captivating moments there were once some time has passed. Relive your excitement. Plus, you already know how it ends, so you don't have to pay super close attention!

  14. Gratitude list. When your mind only wants to remind you of distressing things, focusing on 10+ things you're grateful for can really take you to a whole new atmosphere in your mind and heart.

  15. Imagery exercises. Containment exercises, healing pool/healing light, guided meditation, so many options!

  16. Play a board game with a friend. Something simple like Sorry!, challenging like chess, or silly like Cards Against Humanity, there are lots of options to distract you in the company of friends.

  17. Card games. Solo works, too, if there's no one around.

  18. Play with a pet. Pets (when they aren't being rotten) are the best distraction!

  19. Listen to a podcast/audiobook.

  20. Try to laugh without smiling. Trust me, this is something you need in your life.

  21. Color-breathing / breathing techniques. An example of color-breathing here.

  22. Untangle cords/necklaces/strings in a drawer. If this is something that won't aggravate potential OCD behaviors or anxieties, this can be a perfect chore when you need a distraction.

  23. Clean out social media friends lists. Aaaah, just imagine the relief!

  24. Read a children’s book to parts inside (OCD/OSDD). If you're struggling to stay focused, maybe young parts are who need the attention and care most. Even if you don’t have DID parts, we all have a younger us inside that needs some comfort, joy and attention, too.

  25. Play with a tangle, fidget cube, pin art, sand tray, etc. You can do this right where you're sitting, without needing to think -- a perfect option when you're still heavily in symptoms but trying to come out.

  26. Count by 7’s, list all the prime numbers, divide. Okay, this may be more medium-effort if math isn't your jam, but at least you don't have to go anywhere! ;)

  27. Browse art sites for images you love. Whether it's DeviantArt, flickr, Pinterest or somewhere else, sometimes soothing, fun or beautiful images can bring your mind to a brand new place.

  28. Sit outside and pay attention to all the things in nature. A change of scenery and a chance to connect with the earth can sometimes be all we need.

  29. Apply lotion. If this isn't a personal or sensory trigger, this can be grounding, an act of self-care and a distraction all in one!

  30. Allow yourself a nap. Sometimes that's just the only functional distraction we can muster.



Medium Effort

   31. Puzzle books. Sudoku, crosswords, word finds, variety puzzles, logic problems, take your pick!
   32. Read a book. Any book!
   33. Play music. On your phone, computer, radio, iPod, anywhere! You just might start singing along ;)
   34. Dance party. Let's be honest, this could solve most things in life ;) And, if you think you're too cool for that, turn this on and tell me you don't wanna move. If those don't get you groovin' and you're more modern, give. these. a. go. And, if all else fails: BAM.
   35. Watch videos on a topic you’re unfamiliar with. It's much easier to have your attention captured when you're learning something brand new.
   36. Draw/use an adult coloring book.
   37. Make an Amazon wishlist or Pinterest board of things you want. If you can't escape your current circumstances, envisioning a future time can be a nice way out.
   38. Send texts/messages to friends to check in with them. Concentrating on someone else can be a great way to step out of our own mind and its symptoms. Caring for others also helps us reconnect to the world at large.
   39. Organize all the files on your computer. Most of our workspaces could use a good cleaning up anyway!
   40. Wash your makeup brushes, paint brushes or other work tools. Yeah, this one probably needed done awhile ago, too! 
   41. Bullet journaling. You can start any time of year, and the structure-combined-with-creativity format can provide a great detailed distraction. There are wonderful YouTube videos on how to get started or sharing ideas to help you get creative with it!
   42. Create a new playlist. One for sleep/relaxation, one to pump you up, a good one for when you're driving or doing chores, or just one for ambient background noise -- put together something you'll love and thank yourself for later.
   43. Take a shower/bath. Concentrate on all the scents and textures for extra grounding, too.
   44. Clean all your electronics. Your phone, your keyboard, laptop screen, earbuds -- they could all use your attention too (if cleaning won't engage OCD loops).
   45. Schedule appointments you’ve been putting off. Call the dentist, women/men's health doctors, insurance company, landlord, whoever you need to see. Make those appointments!
   46. Stretch/do yoga. It's not the answer to all of a body's ails like many often suggest, but it is a phenomenal resource for trauma survivors to get into their bodies, recalibrate their autonomic nervous system through steady breathing, and get out tensions or trapped anxieties that have been buzzing inside.
   47. Write an email or letter to someone. Send some heartfelt kindness to someone who made a huge impact on you, someone you've been thinking about, or those you've been worried about.
   48. Call up a safe friend/family member. Just to talk about anything and nothing at all.
   49. Write reviews for things you’ve purchased online. Do others a great service while offering yourself a distraction by letting them know what you thought of an item.
   50. Take photos and edit them in really unique ways. Use filters you never use, effects you'd normally never choose, and heck, even take photos of things you'd never bother to capture! Have fun with it! Discover something new and creative. 
   51. Try new ways to style your hair. You never know what new aesthetic you'll fall in love with.
   52. Test out a totally new makeup look or facial hair style. You just might love it!
   53. Follow a DIY tutorial (even if just to laugh at yourself). Hey, we aren't all cut out to be on HGTV!
   54. Research new homes/cars/phones/assistance programs/accessibility devices you may need. These important, highly detail-oriented tasks can really grab your focus and reign you in because it matters.
   55. Paint your nails. Any gender, any age, with any color!
   56. Fold laundry. A slightly mindless task, but one that still requires your attention and coordination.
   57. List your recent accomplishments.  You'll be amazed at just how many things you've done recently that you so easily forget without writing them down. It can be easy to recall the challenges, but the impressive and/or proud memories sometimes fall to the wayside. These can also be incredible to review at the end of a year!
   58. Write a poem/alpha-poem/etc. It doesn't have to be a good poem. ..but, it just might turn out to be anyway!
   59. Watch a documentary. There are some phenomenal free ones on YouTube for free if you don't have Netflix/cable -- and they span the range of just about any subject matter!
   60. Creative/expressive writing. There are excellent creative writing prompts online if you're stuck.
   61. Do something childlike. Sidewalk chalk, hopscotch, color with crayons, skip rope. Or, just enjoy this video if you're nervous about letting little you step up.
   62. Buy yourself a small gift. You deserve it.
   63. Do a jigsaw puzzle. There are so many unique kinds out there, too, not just a traditional 500-piece.
   64. Make a handmade gift for someone.
   65. Take a walk. Down the driveway, out in your neighborhood, through a park, on a nature trail - just go anywhere.
   66. Make your own containment box/journal.
   67. Go to the grocery store and buy new foods. Look for things you always wanted to try!
   68. Send positive comments to friends/strangers. Fill up friend's and stranger's social media with kind, helpful, supportive, encouraging and/or complimentary things. We could all use it, but it also makes you feel good, too. You don't have to be fake or forced about it, just say the things you often think but maybe don't always say.
   69. Organize a drawer/closet. This can even leave you feeling as though you've decluttered your mind a bit, too.
   70. Self-care. Look up ASMR videos (if that's okay for you), oddly-satisfying compilations, or other visually/sensorily appealing content that will calm your senses.



HIGHER EFFORT

   71. Go to a movie. Watching at home is great, too, but sometimes getting out of the house, being in the company of others and experiencing a film larger than life can capture your attention in a way that watching at home can't manage.
   72. Make an elaborate meal. Choose something that requires prep, organization, many steps, and the confidence you’ve followed the recipe correctly -- a good kind of complicated.
   73. Begin learning a new language. We're definitely into the higher-effort category now, but sometimes high levels of concentration and detail are needed to get someone out of the places they've been trapped in for days. A new language is a great way to shift gears entirely.
   74. Begin learning sign language, Braille or another communication skill. Help make life more accessible for others and earn a skill of your own to feel proud of accomplishing.
   75. Learn an instrument. Piano, guitar, ukulele, violin, flute, drums -- what speaks to you?
   76. Build/do construction. Whether you're a beginner or this is your forté, working with your hands and with a variety of pieces/elements can be an excellent distraction.
   77. Go for a drive. Definitely make sure you're grounded enough for a task like this, but if that's in-check and you just need to carve out some fresh space in your mind, hit the road!
   78. Volunteer. Pick a charity, shelter, trash pick-up, soup kitchen, or even just a friend in need. Lend a hand, your heart and your time. Focusing on others is a great way to escape your own trials for a moment.
   79. Play a sport. Soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, bowling, so many options!
   80. Work out. Whether you hit the gym, or get moving in your home, a workout (especially with great tunes) can be a great distraction.
   81. Build a house of cards, stack dominoes, etc. Pick your favorite tedious, high-concentration task that demands your full attention!
   82. Garage/shed tasks. Work on your car, clean up a tool or tackle box, stain a shelf, complete other tasks that are waiting for you outside the house.
   83. Repair things around the house. Fix a sink, a broken chair, squeaky door, bent light post.
   84. Organize an event/party/vacation. Fewer things more detailed and task oriented than that!
   85. Go through your clothes/closets and donate what you don't need. Focusing on keep, trash, and donate piles can keep your mind focused in many places and present/future tenses at once, leaving room for little else.
   86. Rearrange/redecorate a bedroom or other room in the house. Change of scenery can keep you from falling back into the same spaces of your mind.
   87. Do gardening/landscaping/outdoor work. If you don't have a yard of your own, pot plants for inside your home or offer to help someone else with theirs.
   88. Update your internal world. Many with DID or OSDD have an internal world, and some can add new elements with enough concentration and effort. New rooms, parks, pets, gardens, landscapes, and so much more. Give it an update! If you don’t have this, developing highly-detailed imagery locations for your “safe place” or mental escape is perfect!
   89. Go out to eat. Peruse the menu and pick something you don't normally get.
   90. Go out for a treat. Grab some fro-yo, dessert, or something enjoyable -- bonus if you do so with others!
   91. Try a Rubix cube or other impossible puzzles. Learn how to solve 'em!
   92. Information deep dives. Learn about a social, political, historical topic you always wished you’d known more about.
   93. Head out to a coffee shoppe/bookstore. Do the same work, projects, reading, self-care, etc., you’d be doing at home, but in the company of other people.
   94. Go to or look for new public places. Check out local libraries, parks, bookstores, or other small shops you never even knew existed around you.
   95. Clean out your car/gym bag/purse/wheelchair/wallet/etc.
   96. Finish work you've been putting off. Whether it's schoolwork, take-home tasks for your job, or volunteer projects, get 'em done and cross 'em off your list!
   97. Meet up with a safe group of friends or family.
   98. Visit a barn or farm. Ride horses, learn more about agriculture or animals, experience a different way of living.
   99. Go to an art, space, or historical museum. Learn all there is to know; transport yourself into another time and place.
   100. Money stuffs. Start filing your taxes, collect receipts, balance your accounts, apply for assistance, pay bills, do all those yucky things no one wants to do but has to. It'll demand all of your focus, but then feel like a huge relief to be done and off your mind. 
   101. Learn a new physical skill. Kickboxing, martial arts, jujitsu, self-defense -- get all the anxiety, fear and anger out of your whole system and begin to feel strong and empowered in your body and what it can do!


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     We sincerely hope this is helpful to you! Feel free to bookmark it for the future, particularly for those times when it feels too hard to even think or remember what you may need. Also, share your go-to distraction techniques below and help us keep this list going! You may have the perfect solution for someone else's distress!

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  ✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  ✧  Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
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Article Index  ❖

 


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Dissociation and Survival vs. Living: A Survivor's Story

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A CSA Survivor's Relationship with Dissociation, Survival and Living:

     
    "There are many things I wish I could help people understand about childhood trauma; this just happens to be one I hear very little about. Like many survivors, I struggle to hear sentiments like, "Oh my! I'm so so glad that's over now and you got through it!", "I can't believe you got out of that alive. I couldn't even do that now! I'd give up," or "At least you know your worst days are behind you. You know you can conquer anything!". Even resources and groups for trauma survivors, as well as therapists and clinicians, can share quips like "You survived the abuse, you're going to survive the recovery!". While these things intend to uplift or highlight our strength, they all categorically deny the fundamental mechanism that allowed us to survive in the first place, and why adulthood is the real hard part: dissociation.

    Make no mistake, those of us who endured trauma as children are courageously strong. We were forced to be tougher than most; and, by nature or necessity, we became resilient, creative and sharp. But Little Me didn't even experience the bulk of the trauma back then. I wasn't connected to the physical pain or sheer terror; I wasn't incapacitated by shame, disgust or uncleanliness; I wasn't aware of the immorality, nor was I having a crisis of conscience. I also didn't even know who was hurting me for much of my childhood - parts of my mind did, but not me. Little Me wasn't facing the anger or the blistering sting of betrayal from those I loved most hurting me in such inhumane ways. I wasn't yet aware this was abnormal or something that could make me feel alien or 'different' from my peers. I was numb, I was hyperfocused on the things I could control, and I was even made to feel special or self-confident in certain areas very early on. While some of that confidence dwindled over time and I became more aware of my unhappiness and "irrational" fears, none of that compares to what you imagine a tortured child feels — let alone what I was about to feel later in life.

    That suffering is here now. Adulthood is when all of it breaks through and confronts you with a vengeance. No, the abuse is not "over", it is not "behind me", it is not "something I got through". As far as my mind and body are concerned, it is NOW. It is very alive and in full-effect. Each excruciating detail of physical pain, disgust, and revulsion; every tidal wave of anger at those who knew and did nothing; each immobilizing shockwave of new material that re-writes my entire life story from how I once knew it. THIS is when my survival is tested. I am hypervigiliant, terrified, exhausted, unsure if I'm even real. I exist in hollowing spaces of grief for Little Me and the life I should have had. ...lost in an endless state of confusion, horror, disbelief and dismay. It is all day. THIS is live trauma in my brain and body. THIS is my battleground, and I am fighting for my life NOW. As an adult, not as a child.

     Furthermore, the dissociative process not only contorts the timeline of when we experience our trauma, but dissociation as an independent symptom challenges life as an adult, too. (..even beyond the forgetfulness, memory gaps, driving troubles, safety, maintaining a job, etc.) One of the most critical elements in trauma recovery is establishing healthy relationships and improving our overall worldview. It's very hard to want to carry on when all you've known is the absolute worst of mankind. Being able to look around, connect, and believe the world is still good is vital to our sanity, safety and healing. But, dissociation challenges this. It can dull your senses, leave you numb to positive feelings, keep you at an emotional distance from love or affections shown to you. It can keep you trapped in a surreal in-between state of both the past and the present -- where you respond to what's happening today with the same emotional maturity you had as a child. Emotional flashbacks, unexpected triggers, and other sudden symptoms that crop up - particularly in intimate relationships or the more meaningful aspects of life - can complicate joy and frustrate those in your life. But most of all, no one wants to just "be alive", we want to LIVE. Fully and authentically, with all the vibrance and richness available to us. But, dissociation has a way of diluting and blurring the world - stripping it of its color and beauty. How do you hold onto a light that you can barely see, feel or trust is even there?

    Like most all means of sheer survival, dissociation has its pros and cons. Just like chemotherapy and emergency surgery, they can keep you alive, but there are risks. They're also unpleasant in the moment and, separate from the conditions that necessitate these interventions, they alone carry longterm consequences. But, without them, you wouldn't be here -- so it's a constant tug of war with perspective and gratitude. Dissociation is no different. It got me through. It saved my life. It gave Little Me a fighting chance. But it also made life after abuse so darn difficult. Because, I should feel free. The abuse has ended, I am safe. I should be dancing and singing and holding everything I love dear to my chest. But instead, now is when I fight. Now is when I stare down my trauma, my innocence, my perpetrators - all with adult intellect and understanding - and try to decide if this life is worth living and if I'm up for the task.

    It is worth it. And, I am up for the fight. I'm going to do this and will do it with grace and strength. But then, and only then, can you say I survived the impossible or that 'it's over now'. This is the battle. ..and not for just survival, but for life. To make this existence meaningful now. I am going to conquer this. ..the trauma, the feelings, the defeat, the difficult relationships, the dissociation. I will also remain appreciative of what dissociation made possible for me, despite its thorns. I want Young Me to get credit for surviving the horror. But I want Adult Me to be credited for not only surviving more anguish, but for learning to LIVE, too."

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller

 

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An In-Depth Conversation with Elizabeth Vermilyea

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   If you've worked in the field of trauma and dissociation for any amount of time, the name Elizabeth Vermilyea will likely be very familiar to you. For survivors new to their healing, you may not know her by name, but you've most certainly been using her tools and symptom management skills! In part due to her own humility and unassuming disposition, it's quite possible to be unaware of the impact of Elizabeth's work, despite having benefitted from it for years and years. If learning the detailed process of containment, modulation, healing pool/healing light imagery, or the more welcoming takes on internal communication, sounds familiar to you -- you have her to thank for that!

   Elizabeth's workbook, "Growing Beyond Survival: A Self-Help Toolkit for Managing Traumatic Stress" truly revolutionized the way that trauma survivors could not only learn about their conditions, but explore a variety of tools to alleviate their suffering at the same time. An unintimidating and easy to understand look at complex trauma, it allowed survivors to really work at their own pace. Clinicians were also given a new language with which to explain coping skills to their clients, and most importantly, a chance to work on them together.  Elizabeth's message of educating with compassion and warmth, and always including survivors in the process, has remained steadfast throughout the years and is a lasting legacy on the community. Through her continued work in the field, she keeps the momentum of trauma education and care headed in the right direction -- always focused but empathic.

    It is our absolute honor and privilege to bring to you an in-depth interview with someone we admire and value so deeply. You'll get a chance to learn more about Elizabeth's personal journey, her experience weeding through the at-times tepid and contentious world of trauma, and also explore the past, present and future of trauma care! We sincerely hope you enjoy!


❧     ❧     ❧

 

Let’s start with some background for those who are being introduced to you for the first time.

・Where are you from/currently residing? Where did you attend school and what did you earn your degree in?
How long have you been practicing and in what capacity do you currently work with trauma survivors?

     I was born in Raleigh, NC, and I currently live in Napa, CA. I don’t like to focus on schools and degrees because I don’t think they tell us anything about who someone is. Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a great deal of time on my education, but I really learned the most from the people I’ve worked with over the years both as clients and colleagues. Currently I do not treat survivors, but I do train and consult with professionals and survivors alike. My consultation with survivors focuses on managing traumatic stress symptoms.

 

・What made you interested in pursuing trauma disorders? Did you always know you wanted to focus here, or was it something that found you?

     I like to say that I tripped and fell into this work, and then fell in love with it. I had intended to become an experimental psychologist. My first job out of college was at the Masters & Johnson Sexual Trauma program at River Oaks in Louisiana, and I got that job after sending out resumes everywhere I could. They were the ones who called back! It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to make a career in the trauma field.

 

・When did you come to understand the full impact of complex childhood trauma vs. trauma as an adult? What was your introduction to dissociative disorders like?

     My work at River Oaks was my introduction to all of this. I remember going home one night in tears after having heard some horrific stories of abuse at the hands of a man’s parents. I found my mom and said, “Thank you for not abusing your power over me.” I realized how much that relationship means, how it can be twisted, how it can torment a child. Most of the clients in that program were diagnosed with a dissociative disorder, so I learned a great deal there. The program took a relational approach to the work, and I appreciated that. It wasn’t so hierarchical or tied to the strict medical model.

 

You began your work in this field over 25 years ago — a time where dissociative disorders were even more heavily stigmatized, disbelieved and could even be used to question the integrity of the very clinicians who supported their existence.

・What would you say the climate was like when you were first starting out? Did you face any particular challenges — clinically, interpersonally or even within yourself? 

     I started this work at the beginnings of what would become known as the recovered memory debate era, but I didn’t encounter much of that controversy until I moved to Baltimore and began working at Sheppard Pratt in their Trauma Disorders Program. Across town was Johns Hopkins and Paul McHugh who staunchly denied that recovered memories could be valid and that dissociation was real. The climate among those of us at Sheppard Pratt was one of dedication to the cause and to believing people. When I was starting out, the challenges I faced were related to understanding that horrible things are done to people, but that doesn’t mean the world is horrible. Holding those truths together is an important part of the work for all of us. More challenges came later when I began to chafe against the medical model and hierarchy in the treatment arena, and especially the “once a patient always a patient” mentality.

 

・When did you decide you wanted to write a book? And not just an informational or educational book but specifically a workbook for survivors?

     For several years I ran a PTSD Symptom Management group at Sheppard Pratt. I used to create worksheets because there weren’t any around that met the needs of the clients and my needs as a helper. Over time, I had a rather large portfolio of these worksheets. My colleagues and the clients started telling me I should write a book. So I began.

 

・Were there any unique obstacles to getting it published? Did you ever have any reluctance or hesitation, particularly given the atmosphere back then?

     Getting the book published was an incredibly serendipitous series of events. I was meeting with Esther Giller, the President and CEO of Sidran Institute, a publication company specializing in traumatic stress education and advocacy. Let me see if I can remember it the right way. She was looking for someone to come on board as a trainer for a Federal Grant project she was involved in. At the same time, she was looking for someone to produce a self-help symptom management book for a project being underwritten by the States of Maine and New York who were embarking on a massive training effort in their public mental health systems. This is a long story, but a good one.
     Survivors in the State of Maine had sued the state saying not only was the mental health treatment they received not helpful, but worse, it was hurtful. So the State handed down a consent decree that all state mental health personnel be trained in what is now called Trauma-Informed Care. This was the beginning! Esther had located professionals to create the material for training personnel (the good folks at TSI CAAP – Karen Saakvitne, Laurie Ann Pearlman, Beth Tabor-Lev, and Sarah Gamble – who wrote the Risking Connection Curriculum), and they also wanted material for the clients. That’s where I came in. I left Sheppard Pratt to take the training job at Sidran, and Sidran published the book, which was then distributed to survivors in the Maine and New York public health systems for free. I’m really proud of that.

 

Your workbook, whether you know it or not, truly revolutionized trauma care on the patient level. Worksheets were printed out on trauma units, weekly inpatient groups were held to teach your skills, your techniques and scripts became the go-to standard for coping with specific symptoms, and survivors in countries across the globe use your tools by name (sometimes not even knowing where they came from or having read your book)!

・Did you ever anticipate that your work would have such a profound impact or global reach, let alone become the foundational launchpad for which survivors worldwide would begin their trauma healing? 

     I am humbled beyond words by what you’re saying. I can tell you when I did the second edition I felt really good that there was still an interest in the book and that it was still useful thirteen years after the original publication. It’s mind boggling to think it has the impact you describe. I guess I have to take your word for it! I really felt I had arrived on the day a friend told me her book had been stolen! I replaced it for her, but for someone to steal it… it must be valuable!

 

・What has it meant to you seeing your work, and not just your book but your advocacy and education in all forms, fill such a massive void in the trauma community?

How does it feel knowing most has stood the test of time?

     Like most people dedicated to this work, I feel good about being able to educate, support, help, advocate, and hopefully change for the better the process of healing for trauma survivors. I know that every professional I am able to help will spread that exponentially outward, and that’s why I do it. I think it has stood the test of time because the material I focus on is universal and not subject to treatment trends. I want to offer something that can help everyone every time.

 

・What would you say is the biggest change you’ve noticed in the field of trauma since beginning your studies (ex. education, the approach to care, general attitudes toward trauma/dissociative disorders, etc)?

     The biggest change I’ve seen is the mainstreaming of trauma-informed care. There used to be a handful of treatment centers providing good treatment, and now, thanks to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (A.C.E.) study, there’s a deeper understanding of trauma as a public health issue. Even Oprah has got on board recently! I’ll be working with the Oregon Commission for the Blind next month because they want to better serve traumatized persons in their vocational rehabilitation programs. That’s huge! If you Google “Trauma Certificate Programs” you can find them all over the country. That’s amazing!

 

・What areas do you feel still need significant improvement? Is there anything you feel is almost missing entirely? What changes would you like to see be made in those areas?

     We need to improve the awareness, understanding, and addressing of the intersections of trauma with addiction and the criminal justice system. These intersections are at the heart of recidivism in both arenas. We have to keep showing agencies and organizations what’s in it for them and how trauma-informed practice can support and enhance their existing work. Essentially, we have to sell it.

 

・Do you have any colleagues or mentors that you really look up to or admire?

     Oh gosh, too many to name. I can tell you one person who had tremendous influence on me professionally. Her name was Andrea Karfgin, and she was a psychologist. She died several years ago, but she lives on in me. She taught me how to think about this work, how to understand really important dynamics in the work, and she guided me through tough lessons as a professional. I hesitate to mention other names for fear I’d forget someone. I worked with a number of survivors who were brave and trusting enough to let me into their inner worlds and allow me to walk with them into the wider world with more confidence, faith in themselves, and stronger boundaries toward life beyond survival. I’ve had many colleagues who were instrumental in shaping my professional development. I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most respected people in the field and to have worked with the amazingly skillful lesser-known warriors for survivors. What I love is that I keep meeting people in the field who continue to inspire me and who keep me on track. I am so grateful that I get to do this work.

 

・What keeps you going after sitting face-to-face with some of the darkest, heaviest tragedies this world has had to know? What keeps you focused, rejuvenated or inspired?

     In the beginning I wrote a lot of songs to process what I was seeing, feeling, and understanding. I would play music for the clients in the evenings, sometimes songs about them and their struggles and strengths. That helped a lot. I keep a guitar in my office in case any of my staff need to sing the blues. Laughter is important and has always been a way for me to rejuvenate. We have to be able to laugh in the midst of awareness of such pain. I’m fortunate that people put up with my goofy humor. What helps most though is that with every workshop I do, I encounter people who believe, who want to help, and who are eager to learn how to be more effective in the work. It gives me such hope!

 

・·Do you have any advice to new, or even veteran, clinicians who are seeking to work with trauma patients?

     Do your own work. Get a good clinical supervisor. Make friends with countertransference. It will help you through so many confusing moments, and being able to notice it, understand it and use it to strengthen the relationship will be helpful and a huge protection when facing ethical dilemmas. Cultivate a good support system. Pay attention to and address signs of vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. TAKE VACATIONS!

 

・What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from your patients, or other survivors, over the years? What have they taught you that books could not?

     I’ve learned that I can never give up on a person, never write them off, because people are more resilient that we imagine, and we never know when the moment of hope will come - the moment of immersive transformation that gives someone a reason and the will to continue. I’ve learned to trust people’s judgment about themselves. I’ve learned to be kinder. 

 

・If there was one thing you wish the world could understand about trauma survivors, or the clinicians that help them, what would it be?

   There is no “them.” There is only us.


 

❧     ❧     ❧

 

     Thank you, Elizabeth for your sincerity, your thoughtfulness, and your humble dedication to survivors everywhere.

    You can find more information about Elizabeth here on her website. You can also order the "Growing Beyond Survival" workbook here (or here). [Note: While the blue cover edition is still available on Amazon, the Second Edition (green cover) is the most up-to-date and has the most current perspective on trauma, so we of course recommend that one. The first is also no longer in print, but Amazon has held onto some copies.]  We cannot recommend this workbook highly enough. It has been the first recommendation on our Resource page, since the day it was made, for a reason!
 

 

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MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative Identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller

 

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