A trauma is any harmful event or circumstance that overwhelms our typical coping capacity. Traumatic experiences can include, but are not limited to, sexual assault, natural disasters, human-caused accidents or disasters, severe illness or injury, death of a loved one, race-based harassment or discrimination, and personally experiencing or witnessing community violence. Research evidence suggests that traumas caused by other people (e.g., sexual abuse, physical assault) have the most negative mental health effects, especially when perpetrated by people we know and trust [1, 2]. Unfortunately traumatic experiences are all too common, affecting people of all ages, ability statuses, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and social classes. It is estimated that 6 out of every 10 men and 5 out of 10 women will experience a traumatic event during their lifetime .
Although many trauma survivors experience no long-term consequences, trauma can have lasting negative effects on individuals, families, and communities. Trauma can impact every area of survivors’ lives including their self-perceptions, relationships with others, emotions, thoughts, physical health, and sense of spiritual well-being. In the aftermath of trauma, daily activities such as getting out of bed, going to work, or caring for loved ones can become challenging and burdensome. One of the biggest challenges for trauma survivors face is reconciling who they were before trauma occurred with who they are as a trauma survivor. Traumatic experiences have a way of shattering previously held assumptions such that the world can feel unsafe and people are viewed as dangerous or unpredictable. As they attempt to make sense of what happened and why, many trauma survivors struggle with feelings of self-blame and guilt. Stressful thoughts and feelings can continue for a long time after a trauma, interfering with the survivors’ overall happiness and quality of life.
To mitigate the impact of trauma of one’s perceptions of themselves and the world around them, trauma survivors may benefit from engaging in therapy. To be maximally effective, in addition to addressing distressing mental health symptoms, therapy should explore the relational and cultural context of traumatic experiences using theory-driven and evidence-based strategies. There are also ways trauma survivors can support their healing outside of therapy.
Affirmations can be particularly effective in empowering survivors by helping them clearly articulate and acknowledge their values, strengths, and skills, and by inspiring them to engage in behaviors that reflect their values. Many survivors experience repetitive harsh self-judgements that create painful emotions and unhealthy habits. Affirmations can interrupt and challenge self-critical thoughts by placing the survivor in contact with an alternative, more encouraging thought. Affirmations can promote acceptance by helping the survivor recognize the validity of their emotions and experiences. Finally, affirmations can support self-compassion by encouraging survivors to be kind and understanding with themselves when they encounter obstacles, make mistakes, or fall short of their ideals. Affirmations are most beneficial when they are said aloud by the survivor, engaged with on a consistent basis, and individually tailored to address the trauma survivors’ unique challenges and experiences.
1. Edwards, V. J., Freyd, J. J., Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., & Felitti, V. J. (2012). Health outcomes by closeness of sexual abuse perpetrator: A test of betrayal trauma theory. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 21(2), 133-148.
2. Kessler, R. C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C. B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12), 1048-1060.