Finding Hope When You Feel Hopeless: Recovery from Childhood Trauma, Abuse, and Neglect

Posted by on Aug 22, 2016 in Blog | 0 comments

Today’s post is by Kristen Henshaw, a counseling intern working at our sister practice, Counseling South Austin.  Kristen agreed to write a post for me about one of her areas of specialty:  trauma.  Learn more about Kristen and how to schedule a free consultation with her at the bottom of this post.  I’ll return next week to write more about mental health for mamas– stay tuned!

The Impact of Childhood Trauma and Abuse

sandcastleChildren who experience relational trauma in the forms of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, or witnessing family violence, often grow into adults with persistent, and at times, debilitating challenges.

They are more likely to develop mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders.

They are also at an increased risk of developing physical health issues like headaches, stomach problems, obesity, and high blood pressure.

These higher rates of health problems are self-perpetuating and feed into one another, usually exacerbating the problems and making them feel worse.

Are Your Strategies Working Against You?

As a child develops, they are taking in everything from their environment and the people around them.

They are learning, not only by watching how others act, but also by practicing behaviors that work to best meet their needs.

A primary need for all people is safety.

So you learned what worked best to keep you as safe as possible in an unsafe situation.

You practiced these behaviors and responses repeatedly until they became second nature, and seemingly automatic.

But do those same responses and behaviors still work best for you now?

If not, it may be time to build toward new and better strategies.

Meeting Needs

butterflyAs adults, we still have the basic need of safety.

If we are lucky enough to have found safety, and moved away from the abusive relationships of our childhoods, we might find that the same responses and actions that worked (or came as close to working as possible) as children, might not work so effectively for us as adults.

We might even start to feel like life is hopeless, and that things can never get better.

All of these additional challenges that survivors of childhood abuse, neglect, and trauma face – can create deep feelings of anxiety, sadness, helplessness, powerlessness, isolation, and hopelessness.

It can be difficult to imagine that life can be different.

And sometimes hope is scary because of what it meant for you to hope in the past – often more pain, more confusion, and a sense of being profoundly let down by the people who were supposed to love and protect you the most.

Hope Tips

If you are struggling with feelings of hopelessness, here on some tips on what you can do today to rekindle and foster hope:

  1. Start a gratitude journal.

Start small and keep it simple.  List at least 3 things that you can feel grateful for today.  For example, my gratitude list for today:

  • I am grateful for waking up this morning
  • I am thankful for my fingers so I can write and type
  • I am grateful for the muscles that make it possible for me to smile at others
  1. Actively practice self-compassion.

The trick is to non-judgmentally feel your feelings and accept that it is okay, even healthy, for you to feel your emotions.

You have a right to those feelings.  They are not bad, weak, or stupid.

You can say things to yourself like, “This really hurts,” or, “this is really hard.”

Then follow up that statement with something like, “I am here for you,” or, “I’ve got your back.”  To make the exercise more powerful, use your own name in the place of “you.”

  1. Do something you are good at.

If you are good at making a grilled-cheese sandwich, make one for yourself or for a friend.

Maybe you are good at making collages – get out your supplies and make one with hopeful images, or ways you wish you felt right now.

Perhaps you excel at ironing, or cartwheels, or drawing a heart.

By practicing things that you know you can already do well, over time you build confidence and create your own motivation to try out new things.

  1. Write a goal for yourself.

Again, start simple and small.  For instance, if need to check the mail, break the goal down into manageable steps. Don’t forget to congratulate yourself for each step you complete!

  • Step 1: Find the key (if applicable).
  • Step 2: Open the door.
  • Step 3: Walk to the mailbox.
  • Step 4: Get the mail.
  • Step 5: Walk back to the house.
  • Step 6: Pat yourself on the back for a job well done!
  1. Get help!

loving handsSometimes we need a little support.

Sometimes we need someone outside of ourselves to hold hope for us while we’re finding our footing again.

Due to the fact that you are alive and reading these words, I know you possess strength, perhaps greater strength than you believe you have.

I know this because you survived what many people would consider unimaginable, unthinkable cruelty and mistreatment.

Allow yourself to reach out for help in finding your way back to hope.

Look for a professional who is skilled in counseling trauma survivors, or specializes in trauma recovery.  Building hope for a balanced and healthy life, for something better, is the first step toward realizing a life that you always imagined and yearned for.

Kristen Henshaw, a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at Counseling South Austin under the supervision of Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, specializes in working with highly sensitive people on a variety of issues including self-esteem, trauma recovery, and social anxiety. Contact her for a free thirty-minute consultation.

Submit a Comment