New Years has passed and that comes along with it extra added pressures and obligations from ourselves, our friends and families, and even our church or workplace. A lot of time we use this word resolutions to set goals for ourselves. Resolutions feel a lot like burdens when you’re a survivor of trauma. They serve to make us feel guilty. Many people find that resolutions are to keep and can be triggering. In resolutions we should, ought, must, and have to. Those are often coupled with shame, guilt, fear, failure. Those of us who are processing our trauma, who are living through our grief, are already surrounded by these messages enough.
I would like to offer a different sort of resolutions list. Let’s call it The Hope List.
Sometimes we need the opportunity to set goals, to renew our year, to choose what we would like to do in the new year, or at least hope for. Hope can bring resilience and reassurance. Hope has a different tone than resolution: It says I am not here to burden you; I am here to inspire you. Resolutions are rooted in negativity and punishment, The Hope List is rooted in self-love, self-care, and as can be guessed - hope.
The Hope List: give yourself permission this year.
1. Give yourself permission to struggle
I have an anxiety attack, feel particularly paranoid and hyper-vigilant, become triggered and upset over the big or small, or just have bad day – so I become frustrated in my struggle and think that because I am still struggling, because I fluctuate with feeling anxious and sad and angry and triggered, I feel like or just am a big failure. I feel like I did something to reverse my progress I’ve had in healing. Sometimes I punish myself because I’m not where I think I should be or would like to be with my healing. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.
Have you ever felt this struggle/frustration?
I am a survivor of sexual trauma from multiple, repeated incidents. And it started at age 3 for me. That’s almost two decades of still figuring this out. Sometimes day to day I don’t feel like I’ve gotten “better.” And that’s okay. I don’t have to have gotten over anything. We often think we’re on a path to this final destination of healing. But the truth is this:
Healing isn’t linear. We never arrive at a final destination; we just have our landmarks. Landmarks mean that it’s going to get better or it’s going to get different. Some of my landmarks have been remembering the trauma, speaking my silence, finding trust to marry my husband, joining a support group, starting to advocate for myself and others, having dinner with someone new, fighting for myself, getting a counselor… Landmarks show us that healing doesn’t mean a final destination or a one and done healing. Landmarks renew our strength and help us remember the hope and the courage we’ve had already even when we don’t have it now.
Give yourself permission to struggle and to feel the effects of your trauma. Don’t forget to reflect on your landmarks, too.
2. Give yourself permissiont to trust yourself
One message we’re given as survivors of trauma is that we can’t trust ourselves. We were the ones who got or put ourselves in our situations; we should have done x, y, z; we don’t ever know who to trust, so we shouldn’t trust at all. We misplace distrust on our actions, our thoughts, our feelings. We distrust ourselves in our perceiving and experiencing.
If you were drugged or under the influence of alcohol – you couldn’t have predicted what would happen to you, and in fact you were groomed for that moment.
If your perpetrator was someone you knew – you couldn’t have predicted what would happen, and in fact you were groomed for that moment.
If you didn’t know your perpetrator – you couldn’t have predicted what would happen, trust didn’t play a factor at all.
No matter the scenario, sexual trauma is complicated and involves one person taking advantage of the other. No matter the scenario, you couldn’t have controlled or predicted what would happen. Perpetrators are very good at what they do and in victim-blaming. It was not your fault. You are not to blame.
When I told my family about my sexual trauma, it was hard to trust if I could tell them and hard to trust my decision. What I realized was it wasn’t about them and my trust towards them. Instead, it was that I knew it was what I needed to do for me. I was really putting trust in myself, not them. I was trusting this was what I needed – and I knew at my core it was.
When I first remembered spliced pieces of sexual trauma from my dad, it was hard for me to trust my feelings and memories. But when I was around my dad, I couldn’t ignore how I felt. I was uncomfortable and on-edge. In my gut, I knew something was off. Call it intuition if you must.
Once I gave myself permission to do so, I could trust myself again. I know better than anyone else when someone or something makes me uncomfortable and unsafe. Yes, sometimes emotions are irrationally – but I can trust I’m feeling that way for a reason. So can you.
You can have confidence in your decisions and reactions, your emotions, your thoughts and memories, your relationships – your life. Give yourself permission to trust yourself.
3. Give yourself permission to be yourself
Healing requires the authentic, raw you. You don’t have to live up to anybody’s expectations or conform to how someone else thinks you should be.
You’ll hear me say this over and over again: the two greatest miseries you’ll ever face are bearing an untold story inside of you and allowing that silence to keep you pretending and disguised as something you’re not.
It’s hard to connect with other people after trauma. And even harder to feel like yourself. People who haven’t been through trauma just don’t get it. As supporting and amazing as my husband is, it’s just not the same as talking with a friend from support group. Those friends acknowledge and validate who I am after trauma in ways that no one else could. Don’t apologize for how you feel or who you are. Your life after trauma begs of you to be exactly who you are. You matter, as you are. Be yourself and be free.
4. Give yourself permission to choose no or yes
Trauma can be isolating. It’s easy to wave off friends or loved ones and to want to be alone in your grief. During her trauma, a character on a movie I was watching wanted to stay in. She was wearing pajamas and sadness was written on her face. Her two friends were getting ready, asking her to go with them. They tried to encourage that it could be good for the friend. I resonate with the person who stays in. I want to wallow in my grief and sometimes that’s good. But other times I have to give myself permission to say yes to things – such as going out with friends. I am a home-body and prefer staying in. I also have some issues I need to work through with friendships. When a person from support group actually decided to get together, my immediate reaction was that I wanted to stay in. And then I gave myself permission to say yes. Just like the person in the movie, I ended up going out with a friend. I’m really glad I chose to because it was what was best for me.
Give yourself permission to say yes to things you might avoid during your trauma – friendships, self-care practices, pampering. Don’t do it because you’re pressured or feel obligated, but because it’s something you haven’t done in a while or because you’d like the opportunity to try.
I’ve also kept really busy to distract myself from my trauma (and also because that’s just how life is sometimes). I am an obliger, so I love to fill unmet needs. The problem with that is my immediate reaction is yes. I want to help; I want to do more. Sometimes I hate the thing I’ve said yes to and didn’t really want to say yes, sometimes I’m just too overloaded and burdened, and sometimes I thought it was great. Give yourself permission to say no to things. You don’t need extra stress and anxiety if you can control it. Say no to what you can, when you can.
Give yourself permission to choose when to say yes or no; do what’s best for you.
5. Give yourself permission to choose your relationships
I wrote a great post about finding support in the sexual trauma community – a community no one wants to be part of because in order to belong you have to have been through a devastation – but that once you do belong, it’s crucial to find for healing. You can read that at weareunquiet.org/blog/you-find-support-in-the-community-no-one-wants-to-be-a-part-of
You deserve to be surrounded by people who support you. You are allowed to cut out people who victim-blame or add to your anxiety, who make you uncomfortable, who disrespect your boundaries and decisions, and who support your perpetrators. They don’t belong in your life.
I’ve done this and it hasn’t been easy – but I have found freedom through it. It goes along with not pretending anymore, with being yourself. In the blog I mentioned above, I write “I don’t feel the need to pretend, minimize, hide, explain, or cower when I’m surrounded by others who are in the community of sexual trauma. I am able to accept myself as I am.”
I don’t need people in my life who don’t believe me or accept me. Who won’t support me in meaningful ways. I don’t want superficial relationships with people who choose not to understand or at least to try.
You have control over who you do and do not accept or keep in your life. So allow yourself permission to choose your relationships and let go if needed. It's something I wish I would've done much sooner.