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“The Other Side of Healing is Bravery” Dr. P. Miller, 2024

Updated: May 10

Understanding Healing from Trauma: The Role of Self-Determination

Trauma is a complex experience that can profoundly affect individuals from diverse backgrounds. Each person’s journey toward healing is unique and shaped by personal choices and circumstances. Recent research has shed light on the pivotal role of self-determination in this healing process, highlighting how individuals can actively shape their recovery and find meaning in their trauma experiences (Miller, 2023). In her research, Miller (2023) identifies three main questions for investigation, for this blog, we will focus on the first, “What are the unique healing experiences that people who come from diverse backgrounds engage in as they live with the impact of traumatic experience”.

Unique Healing Experiences: Insights from Diverse Backgrounds

The healing experiences of individuals living with the impact of trauma are multifaceted. Miller (2023) identifies 6 main themes, illustrating various ways individuals navigate their healing.

The Healing Power of Social Connection

Social connection is a fundamental aspect of navigating healing from trauma, offering profound support and understanding to individuals on their journey toward recovery (Miller, 2023). The importance of social connection in this context cannot be overstated, as it plays a pivotal role in shaping an individual’s sense of safety, belonging, and resilience.

Emotional Support. Meaningful social connections provide a safe space for individuals to express their emotions and share their experiences without fear of judgment. This emotional support is crucial for validating feelings and reducing the sense of isolation often associated with trauma (Osher et al., 2021).

Sense of Belonging. Building connections with others who share similar experiences or can empathize with the challenges of trauma fosters a profound sense of belonging (Slavich et al., 2021). This sense of belonging can counteract feelings of alienation and help individuals realize they’re not alone in their struggles.

Validation and Understanding: Social connections offer validation and understanding, which are essential for validating one’s experiences and feelings (Slavich et al., 2021). Being seen, heard, and understood by others can validate the reality of one’s trauma and provide reassurance that their emotions are valid.

Building Trust: Trust is foundational to healing, and meaningful social connections contribute to rebuilding trust in oneself and others. Developing trustful relationships can counteract the mistrust often stemming from traumatic experiences (Lawon et al., 2020).

Practical Support: Social connections can also provide practical support, such as assistance with daily tasks or access to resources like therapy or support groups. This tangible support can facilitate the healing process and alleviate practical burdens.

The Desire of Being Alone & Importance of Solitude in Healing

Wanting to be alone, or seeking solitude, can also play a significant role in navigating individual healing from traumatic experiences (Miller, 2023). While social connection is essential for many in healing, the desire for solitude is a valid and important aspect of self-care and recovery. Here’s how wanting to be alone can contribute to navigating one’s healing journey:

  1. Self-Reflection and Processing: Solitude provides a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and processing of emotions (Thomas, 2023). Being alone allows in individuals to explore their thoughts and feelings without external distractions or influences, facilitating introspection and inner growth.

  2. Recharging and Restoring Energy: Trauma can be emotionally and mentally draining. Wanting to be alone can be a way to recharge and restore depleted energy reserves (Thomas, 2023). It allows individuals to prioritize self-care and focus on their own needs without external demands.

  3. Setting Boundaries: Seeking solitude can be an assertion of personal boundaries (Thomas, 2023). It allows individuals to create a safe and protected space where they have control over their environment and interactions. This sense of control is crucial for individuals recovering from trauma.

  4. Avoiding Triggers: Being alone can help individuals avoid triggers that may exacerbate their trauma symptoms (Husna & Kuswoyo, 2022). It provides a sense of safety by minimizing external stimuli that could retraumatize or overwhelm them.

  5. Developing Self-Sufficiency: Solitude encourages self-sufficiency and independence (Batchelor, 2020). It enables individuals to rely on themselves for emotional regulation and coping strategies, fostering self-reliance in their healing journey.

The Transformative Role of Therapy

Engaging in therapy can be a transformative and essential factor in navigating individual healing from traumatic experiences (Miller, 2023). Therapy provides a structured, supportive, and professional environment that facilitates healing and growth.

Safe and Supportive Space: Therapy offers a confidential and non-judgemental space where individuals can explore and express their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, without fear or rejection or criticism. This safe environment encourages openness and vulnerability, fostering emotional healing.

Professional Guidance: Therapists are trained professionals who specialize in trauma-informed care. They provide guidance, insights, and evidence-based techniques tailored to each individual’s unique needs, helping them navigate through challenging emotions and experiences.

Emotional Processing: Therapy helps individuals process and make sense of their traumatic experiences. Through techniques like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), or narrative therapy, therapists can assist clients in reframing negative thought patterns and resolving emotional triggers.

Validation and Empowerment: Therapists validate individual’s experiences and empower them to reclaim their sense of agency and control. This validation is crucial for overcoming feelings of shame, guilt, or self-blame associated with trauma.

Skill Building: Therapy equips individuals with coping skills and strategies to manage distressing symptoms and promote emotional resilience. Techniques such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and communication skills empower individuals to navigate challenges effectively.

Distraction as a Coping Mechanism  

Distraction can be a common coping mechanism used by individuals to navigate their healing process after experiencing trauma (Miller, 2023). This can manifest in behaviors like excessive phone use, binge-watching videos, consuming alcohol, or isolating oneself. While distraction may provide temporary relief from traumatic thoughts and emotions, it comes with both pros and cons:

Pros of Distraction as a Coping Mechanism.

  1. Immediate Relief: Engaging in distracting activities can provide immediate relief from distressing thoughts and emotions associated with trauma. It offers a temporary escape from overwhelming feelings.

  2. Avoidance of Overwhelm: Distraction allows individuals to temporarily avoid facing painful memories or triggers that may be difficult to process (Husna & Kuswoyo, 2022). This can be helpful in situations where emotional overwhelm needs to be managed.

  3. Recharge and Recovery: Distracting activities can serve as a way to recharge and regain energy after emotionally draining experiences. It can provide a break from intense emotional processing.

  4. Restoration of Normalcy: By engaging in familiar or enjoyable activities like watching movies or socializing online, individuals may regain a sense of normalcy and routine in their lives.

Cons of Distraction as a Coping Mechanism

  1. Temporary Relief, Long-Term Avoidance: While distraction offers immediate relief, it does not address the underlying trauma or its long-term effects (Husna & Kuswoyo, 2022). Avoidance through distraction can perpetuate unresolved emotions and hinder true healing.

  2. Escalation of Unhealthy Behaviors: Depending on the coping strategy, distraction can lead to unhealthy behaviors like excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse, or isolation tendencies. These behaviors can exacerbate mental health issues.

  3. Interference with Healing Process: Continuous distraction may interfere with the natural healing process by delaying or avoiding necessary emotional processing. This can prolong the impact of trauma on an individual’s mental health.

  4. Potential Addiction or Dependence: Some distraction methods, such as excessive phone or substance abuse, can develop into addictive behaviors that further complicate an individual’s ability to cope and heal.

  5. Masking Underlying Issues: Distraction masks underlying emotional pain and trauma symptoms, making it challenging to identify and address core issues that require therapeutic intervention.

Denial as a Psychological Coping Mechanism

Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that some individuals may use to cope with traumatic experiences (Miller, 2023). It involves refusing to acknowledge or accept the reality of the trauma and its associated emotions. While denial can provide a sense of control over the impact of trauma, it also comes with pros and cons:

Pros of Denial as a Coping Mechanism.

  1. Immediate Reduction of Distress: Denial can provide immediate relief from overwhelming emotions associated with trauma. By refusing to acknowledge the reality of the experience, individuals may temporarily avoid intense feelings of fear, anxiety, or sadness.

  2. Sense of Control: Denial gives individuals a perceived sense of control over the impact of trauma (Miller, 2023). It allows them to create a protective barrier between themselves and the distressing memories or emotions associated with the traumatic event.

  3. Maintaining Normalcy: Engaging in denial can help individuals maintain a sense of normalcy and continuity in their lives. By avoiding the acknowledgment of trauma, they may continue with daily routines and responsibilities without disruption.

  4. Protection from Re-traumatization: Denial can serve as a defense mechanism to protect individuals from re-traumatization. It acts as a psychological shield against reliving the traumatic experience and its associated pain.

Cons of Denial as a Coping Mechanism

  1. Delayed Healing and Resolution: Denial prevents individuals from processing and addressing the underlying emotions and impact of trauma. It hinders the natural healing process and can lead to unresolved psychological issues.

  2. Escalation of Symptoms: Continued denial may exacerbate symptoms of trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ore depression. Suppressing emotions can intensify distress over time.

  3. Interference with Relationships: Denial can strain interpersonal relationships, as others may struggle to understand or support individuals who deny the reality of their trauma. It may create barriers to open communication and connection.

  4. Risk of Maladaptive Coping Behaviors: Individuals in denial may turn to maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as substance use or avoidance behaviors, to manage underlying distress. These behaviors can further complicate mental health issues.

  5. Impact of Self-Awareness and Growth: Denial limits self-awareness and personal growth by avoiding introspection and emotional exploration. It inhibits opportunities for learning and resilience-building.

In conclusion, Miller’s (2023) research on healing from trauma underscores the pivotal role of self-determination in an individual’s recovery processes. The multifaceted healing experiences of diverse individuals reveal the importance of social connection for support and understanding, as well as the value of solitude for self-reflection and boundary-setting. Therapy emerges as a transformative tool, providing a safe and professional environment for emotional processing and skill development. While coping mechanisms like distraction and denial offer immediate relief and perceived control, they can impede long-term healing by avoiding necessary emotional processing. Ultimately, self-determination empowers individuals to navigate their trauma journeys, fostering resilience and personal growth despite the profound challenges posed by trauma. Miller’s research (2023) underscores the importance of personalized, self-directed approaches in addressing the impacts of trauma in individuals’ lives.


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