4. Channel your pain into creativity.
Art therapy is especially helpful to survivors of PTSD because it enables survivors to find modes of expression that allows them to create and integrate rather than self-destruct. According to van der Kolk, trauma can affect the Broca’s area of the brain which deals with language. It can shut this area of the brain down, disabling us from expressing what is occurring.
Allowing ourselves to express the trauma in a somatic way is important because trauma and the dissociation that comes with it can be difficult to process into words. When we are dissociated from the trauma, our brain protects itself from the traumatic event by giving us an outsider perspective to the trauma, disconnecting us from our identity, thoughts, feelings, and memories related to the trauma.
The brain tends to “split” a traumatic event to make it easier to digest. Since trauma can disconnect us from both our minds and bodies through processes of depersonalization, derealization and even amnesia, art can help us reintegrate the trauma where we were previously disconnected from the experience.
As Andrea Schneider, LCSW, puts it, expressive arts can be a way of “mastering the trauma” that we’ve experienced. Whether it’s writing, painting, drawing, making music, doing arts and crafts – it’s important to release the trauma in alternative ways that engage both our mind and body.
When we create something, we can also have the option of sharing our art with the world – whether it’s a beautiful painting or a book, harnessing our pain into creativity can be a life-changing experience – both for ourselves and for others.
5. Asking for help
Contrary to popular opinion, asking for help does not make you helpless or powerless. It is in fact, a strong recognition of your own power to be able to seek help and be open to receiving it. If you are struggling with the effects of trauma, I highly recommend finding a validating mental health professional who specializes in trauma and understands its symptoms.
It is important that you are supported in a safe space with a trauma-informed counselor who can meet your needs and gently guide you with the appropriate therapy that addresses. Some survivors benefit from EMDR therapy, which is a therapy that enables them to process their trauma without being re-traumatized in the process. Be sure to discuss with your mental health professional what the right type of therapy is for you.
As a supplement to therapy, you may wish to also consult the resources on this excellent list, which includes free or low-cost mental health resources.
Throughout this journey of healing from trauma and abuse, make sure that you are being self-compassionate towards yourself. A great deal of trauma survivors suffer from toxic shame and self-blame. It’s important that we are gentle towards ourselves during this journey, that we acknowledge that we are doing our very best, and that we ask ourselves every day, “What would be the most loving thing I can do for myself in this moment?” in any circumstance. There is no time limit to learning and healing, there is only the power of transforming our adversity into victory.
Copyright © 2016 by Shahida Arabi. All rights reserved. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from my upcoming book, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author. This includes adaptations in all forms of media.