Amy Menna, Ph.D., LMHC CAP
How does one discuss Spirituality in the same breath as Trauma? Can they both coincide? The answer to these questions cannot be revealed in an article or by anyone else but the survivor. This article is about Spirituality and how the survivor can reclaim it in his or her life. It is often said that “if there was a God, why did _ happen?” This article is not about philosophical answers and does not wish to push any religious agenda. It is not about God unless the survivor called his or her Higher Power God. It is about defining what spirituality in one’s life and being able to draw strength from it.
As we grow up, we are constantly learning about ourselves and the world. We are brought up with the notion that the world is a safe place. But what happens when it is not? What do we do then? How do we draw from a Spiritual Presence when we have felt so alone in the past?
Trauma can cause a disconnection from various parts of a person’s being. This disconnect happens as a defense mechanism again feeling the effects of the trauma. Unfortunately, this disconnect can also be prolonged and present itself in survivor’s relationships with family, friends, and a Higher Power. In this complex world, it is best to have full access to all of them to survive.
Many survivors of trauma become angry at God or the Entity they believe in. There are questions such as; “Where were you?” “Why didn’t you protect me?” or simply, “Why me?” Survivors may feel as if they are broken or not worthy of love. It seems like having a connection is for those who are able to have faith and trust.
For many survivors, it is important to recapture their spirituality in order to aid their healing. It is essential that they be given permission to create a Higher Power of their understanding. It is possible to create a new connection, one that is based on love, acceptance, and safety. These qualities are often shaken when an individual experiences trauma. They are replaced with feelings of judgment and shame.
Here are some suggestions on reclaiming one’s spirituality. It is not meant to be exhaustive nor will it feel right for every individual. It is suggested that you do this with a friend, counselor, or spiritual advisor. It may help to confront one’s trauma with someone else’s help. It may be a place too scary to go alone.
Step One: Validate the effects the trauma has had on your life.
Trauma affects lives in so many different ways. It is important to honor how it has affected yours. It may have had an impact on your relationships, self-esteem, feelings of safety, and the list could go on ad nauseam. These are scars that only you know about and it’s time to share them with others and lessen the shame associated with them.
Journal Exercise: Write a list of the effects the trauma has had on you in the following areas;
Step Two: Write a list of characteristics you want in a Higher Power or Spiritual practice.
There are no boundaries here. You have the right and permission to create a Higher Power of your understanding who you always wanted and needed. One suggestion is to think of characteristics you want in a best friend or a parent.
Write a list of characteristics of a friend or someone you know whom you admire or feel safe with.
Write out a list of characteristics of your new Higher Power.
Step Three: Surround yourself with a loving and understanding person with whom you can share your spiritual journey.
This is a delicate matter, you want to choose someone you see practicing spirituality themselves. You want someone you can be honest with about your experience and how you are feeling. You may want a survivor him or herself.
Tell someone you trust that you need his or her help.
Share some of your journaling exercises with this individual.
Initiate a conversation on how they found spirituality.
Journal what it felt like to tell someone about what had happened and discuss the concept of spirituality and what you may have learned from this conversation.
Step Four: Recognize your Spirituality or Higher Power.
Try and envision your Higher Power. Next, recognize where you see your Higher Power or witness Spirituality in the world. Make a list of characteristics that you see in daily life that is evidence of a spiritual presence. An example of this is seeing the concept of “peace” within the ocean or witnessing “strength” in the eyes of a child. Make your Spirituality or Higher Power something you can see in your daily life.
Write out what your Higher Power looks like, feels like and smells like.
Write down some things that your Higher Power would say to you.
Recognize in the world where you see evidence of the characteristics of your Higher Power. There are an infinite number of answers to this question.
Step Five: Communicate with your Higher Power.
Have a dialogue with this new Higher Power on a regular basis. Write letters if it best suits you. Remember, there is not wrong way to have a dialogue.
Write out a few things you say on a daily basis. These can be “prayers” or take the form of affirmations. Type them up and put them in places where you will see them daily. Be specific. If there is something that you are struggling with, write a prayer or affirmation about it.
Note where you see your Higher Power work in your life. If you are able to get through something that was difficult and feel as if a Presence got you through it or may have contributed to your strength then write it down. Perhaps you felt an instance of peace where you used to have none. Put it on paper. Feel the presence in your life.
This is not an easy journey. It may take time for you to develop this relationship. As with any relationship, it takes time and effort. I have witnessed strength in survivors where they thought there were none. I have seen them capture spirituality that they thought was beyond them. It starts with a willingness to believe in Something. Remember this is a journey, not a destination.
Amy Menna has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and Certified Addictions Professional. She is in private practice and lives in Tampa, Florida. She is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.