It’s the time of year when the entire world (seemingly) decides to get healthy. Talk shows cover all of the latest fads, weight loss commercials run rampant, and gyms can’t sign people up fast enough. Taking care of our physical bodies is an excellent plan; however, what we often overlook is the need to take care of our emotional selves as well.
Every day, Tennessee Voices for Victims has the privilege of walking beside people who have made the choice to deal with the trauma in their lives. These individuals resolve to move forward, and in doing so, they teach the rest of us what it means to not just survive, but to thrive.
Right now, you may be tempted to stop reading. You may think, “I’ve never been a victim of a robbery and I’ve never lost someone to homicide.” But here’s the secret. We don’t have to have one big trauma to have emotional impact. In fact, all of us, every single one of us, has emotional impact from our cumulative years of living. Even the best childhood involves hurts and disappointments. These mold us and leave marks. But then there are those of us who do have big trauma markers. We are victims of child abuse or domestic violence or bullying or, or, or…. and we have stuffed our hurts way down – so far down that the hurt now feels normal. And decisions get made, unknowingly, from this hurt place. And sometimes these decisions are not healthy and they result in feelings of shame, anger, depression, confusion, and frustration. We then resolve to do better and make better decisions but inevitably the cycle repeats itself and we get stuck in these feelings of not liking ourselves. It doesn’t have to be this way. If there is one thing we can learn from survivors it is that we ALWAYS have a choice.
Here are 5 steps to a more emotionally healthy 2016:
- AWARENESS: It is not possible to effectively address anything if we are not aware of its presence; therefore, we need to start by acknowledging the hurts in our lives. If we were told hurtful things about ourselves, we have to have the awareness to recognize we may have believed those lies. If we were victims of child sexual abuse, even one time, we have to have the awareness that what happened to us was victimization and that victimization hurts us long term.
- HONESTY: We have to stop pretending that we are “fine” and that everything is “ok.” Life isn’t perfect….for anyone. We are all, or at least should be, works in progress. As long as we are breathing, we should be willing to say to ourselves when negative emotions or poor decision making creeps in, “Where did that come from?” And then be honest enough with ourselves to search for the real answer.
- UNDERSTANDING: Negative emotions such as anger, shame, guilt, and depression are tied to something. Negative behaviors such as addiction, domestic violence, and bullying are tied to something. If we want to be healthier emotionally, we have to figure out the link. Often time this link can be traced back to childhood. These could be coping patterns or behaviors we learned from our parents or they could be the result of more significant trauma such as sexual assault.
- RESPONSIBILITY: It is our responsibility to break whatever cycles we find during this process. If our family’s legacy has repeatedly taught we should hide our emotions connected to difficult things like childhood cancers or divorce, we need to learn how to communicate in these vulnerable places. If our family’s legacy has been one of batterers and victims in domestic violence relationships, it is up to us to redefine what the legacy will be for the next generation. We need to do this without making excuses.
- THE POWER OF QUESTIONS: Some of our most important work will be done when we lose our fear of asking questions – either of ourselves or others. Asking “why” and “how” will be a critical part of the healing process. Were you raised by a parent who was a child in a domestic violence home? Though they may have broken the cycle of domestic violence by choosing a loving, respectful partner, they probably still had other things they brought to their parenting. Maybe they were very comfortable with anger and so your childhood has been colored by that emotion. Understanding “why” they were comfortable with anger gives you the ability to better understand the impact it had on you and will give you tools to further break the cycle for you and your children. And as you do this work, if you get stuck with the “how,” remember to contact us. We are available to help connect you with the services available to you as you walk this path of a new year and the resolution to be the healthiest you have ever been both physically and emotionally.
Written by Valerie Craig, Co-Founder and Director of Education at Tennessee Voices for Victims. Valerie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.