50 Positive Coping Skills

Coping Skills

Coping skills can be hard to remember in times of stress or crisis, but they can ground us, distract us, relieve anxiety, and so much more. They are an important part of learning to live with trauma and mental health symptoms. They are not the solution to all of our problems, but they help us get through each day between the times we are receiving help and doing the work to heal. I hope this list of coping skills finds you well when you are in need of ideas or reminders! 🙂

List of 50 Coping Skills

  1. 1. Journaling
  2. Find some tips for journaling at https://journaltherapy.com/journal-cafe-3/journal-course/.
  3. 2. Deep breathing
  4. Take deep breaths. Lock your fingers and put your hands behind your neck if that helps or rest your hands on your belly. Breathe in for five to ten seconds and out for five to ten seconds.
  5. 3. Tapping
  6. Learn more about tapping and how it can help at https://www.tappingsolutionfoundation.org/howdoesitwork/.
  7. 4. Progressive muscle relaxation
  8. Learn more about progressive muscle relaxation and how it can help at https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2225.
  9. 5. Take a walk
  10. Take a walk and really take in your surroundings (what are you seeing, smelling, hearing, feeling).
  11. 6. Listen to music
  12. Keep a running list of go-to songs that help you; put them on a playlist if you can.
  13. 7. Exercise
  14. Exercising releases natural endorphins that help make us happy.
  15. 8. Meditation
  16. Learn more about how to meditate at https://www.mindful.org/how-to-meditate/.
  17. 9. Gratitude journal
  18. Keep a daily journal of things you are grateful for; write down something new every day.
  1. 10. Call a supportive person in your life
  2. Call a friend, a loved one, a counselor, an advocate, anyone you feel comfortable talking to that is a safe and positive person in your life.
  3. 11. Watch a movie or TV show that makes you laugh, or that you know you like
  4. Laughing is scientifically proven to help us; it’s not just a cliche saying. I have also found that watching a movie or TV show that I know I like and that I have seen before, is comforting because I know what’s going to happen. It helps relieve my anxiety, even if I just have it on as background noise.
  5. 12. Draw or paint
  6. Drawing and painting can be a great way to express ourselves, especially if we have experienced trauma. Talking about our trauma can be difficult, so this provides an alternate way to let it out.
  7. 13. Read a book
  8. Read a self help book, a motivational book, or just a book you find interesting that allows you to escape for a little bit.
  9. 14. Make a list of 10 things you love about yourself
  10. This helps build self-esteem and is something we can look at when our trauma or mental health leads us to start thinking negatively about ourselves.
  11. 15. Make a list of 10 things you are proud of
  12. It’s easy to focus on our mistakes, all the things we want to do, or where we would like to be in our recovery. Writing down what we are proud of allows us to focus on our successes, big and small, and be proud of how far we have come.
  13. 16. Ground yourself using your senses
  14. This can be especially helpful if you are experiencing anxiety or PTSD symptoms. Look around at your surroundings and name five things you can see, four things you can touch or feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. This helps bring you back to the present moment.
  15. 17. Hold ice cubes or chew on ice
  16. This sounds super weird, but can actually work. Holding or chewing ice can help keep you in the present moment if you are reliving past trauma or experiencing severe anxiety.
  17. 18. Cleaning
  18. Cleaning is relaxing to some and allows us to focus on something we have control over.
  19. 19. Spend time with loved ones
  20. Spend time with the people in your life who love and care about you.
  21. 20. Cook or bake
  22. Find some new recipes you want to try or make some comfort food.
  23. 21. Write positive affirmations
  24. Write down some positive affirmations and put them some where you will see them every day.
  25. 22. Make a vision board
  26. Combine your creativity with your aspirations. Write down things you want to accomplish, things you want to do in the future, places you want to visit, etc.
  27. 23. Set a goal
  28. Set a goal for yourself, long or short-term, and make a plan for how you can reach it.
  29. 24. Color
  30. Coloring is a great coping skill. It is a way to practice mindfulness and allows the fear center of our brain, the amygdala, to relax.
  31. 25. Do something kind for someone else
  32. Helping someone else will always leave you feeling good.
  33. 26. Look at funny memes
  34. Again, laughter is truly some of the best medicine.
  35. 27. Play a game
  36. Play a board game, a video game, something on your phone or computer.
  37. 28. Visualize a positive memory, your happy place, or a positive future
  38. Learn more about visualization at https://www.happybrainlife.com/blog/2019/5/14/the-power-of-positive-visualization.
  39. 29. Squeeze a stress ball or spin a fidget spinner
  40. Always keep one near by, so that you can use it when you start to feel anxious.
  41. 30. Make a collage
  42. This can be another creative way to express yourself and who you are, or to express your feeling.
  43. 31. Take a bath or shower
  44. Taking a cold shower can be refreshing and pull us into the moment. Or, it can be nice to take a hot bath, light some candles, listen to music, and just relax.
  45. 32. Light a candle or inscent
  46. Using our senses, including our sense of smell, can help us remain present. I also just feel better and more relaxed when I have a candle or inscent lit.
  47. 33. Join a support group
  48. Getting support from other people who share similar experiences to us, can make us feel less alone and possibly give us new ideas of things we can do to help ourselves.
  49. 34. Find a hobby
  50. Find something that you enjoy doing, that makes you happy, and routinely make time for it.
  51. 35. Make a to-do list and check things off as you complete them
  52. Making a to-do list and checking off completed tasks can give us a sense of pride and accomplishment, even if those tasks may seem small, it can help.
  53. 36. Write a letter
  54. You can write letters to people who have hurt you, younger versions of yourself, or people you have lost. Write to them as many times as you need. Write to them when you have something to say, emotions or thoughts you need to release.
  55. 37. Do a craft
  56. You can find lots of good craft ideas on social media and the internet. Many of them can be done with everyday items you have around your house.
  57. 38. Dance around your house to some of your favorite music
  58. Let your body be free.
  59. 39. Take a drive
  60. Driving and listening to music is my happy place. Maybe it is yours too.
  61. 40. Play with a pet
  62. If you don’t have a pet, play with a friend’s pet. Or, go to a local shelter or pet store and look at all the cute animals.
  63. 41. Write a poem, rap, or song
  64. Yet another form of creative expression. 🙂
  65. 42. Start naming people and things you love out loud
  66. This can bring you back to the good things in your present life and take you away from the pain of your past or the mental health and trauma symptoms you are experiencing.
  67. 43. Do a word search or a puzzle
  68. Keep your mind busy and exercise your brain.
  69. 44. Draw or write on your skin
  70. This may sound strange to some, but can be extremely helpful for anyone who has used cutting as a coping skill in the past. It can be a release to draw or write on your skin in the places you used to cut.
  71. 45. Go some where public
  72. Sometimes, we just need to be around other people, even if we don’t directly interact with them. Go to the park, the library, a coffee shop, wherever you feel comfortable, and just focus on being in the moment.
  73. 46. Use your imagination
  74. Write a story or make up a game. Sometimes, it helps us to take a break from whatever is going on and just be child-like, have fun. It can also help us by creating a scenario where we control the outcome or the ending. And, it’s something fun if you have children, younger siblings, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, etc.
  75. 47. Build with legos, mold clay or play with play-dough
  76. This doesn’t only help because it distracts us and can be fun, but also because doing things with our hands uses our sense of touch and keeps us present.
  77. 48. Rearrange or organize
  78. Like cleaning, rearranging and organizing can make your space feel better, in turn making you feel better, and it is something you can control.
  79. 49. Write down ideas or make a plan of how you could help with an issue you are passionate about
  80. Focusing on our passions ignites a fire within us. It also gives us the ability to help others by using our own experiences and journeys.
  81. 50. Call or text a crisis line
  82. If you are in crisis, or even if you are just struggling and don’t know who else you can talk to, call or text a crisis line. If it is an emergency and you are suicidal or going to hurt yourself, call 911.

Redefining Sex Trafficking

“We have to expand our definition of sex trafficking to include the ways of how it most often occurs.”

Redefining Sex Trafficking

While I was getting my blood drawn, a friend was listening to the testimony I gave on behalf of Senate Bill 13, the Protect Trafficked Minors Act. The kind technician drawing my blood suddenly asked, “Oh my gosh, that happened to you?”. She was asking me if I had been trafficked. I nervously nodded my head yes and told her I had been. She responded with something along the lines of, “Oh my gosh, you are like the real life Taken”.

If you have not seen the movie Taken, it is about a young woman who is kidnapped in a another country. Then, her captors exploit her and her dad sets out to save her.

When the technician drawing my blood made the comparison, I had to pause. I told her, “It wasn’t like that”. However, her comment stuck with me, even after I left the doctor’s office. I understood why she quickly associated the words ‘sex trafficking’ with the movie Taken. That is the concept of sex trafficking that many have and how society often chooses to portray it. Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t represent the experiences of the majority of sex trafficking victims in our country.

Common Misconceptions About Sex Trafficking

After my experience at the doctor’s office, it was obvious that misconceptions about sex trafficking are common. This has become even more apparent throughout the past year with the recent spike in social media posts that came along with widespread concern and outrage for sex trafficking. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of those common misconceptions. I got my information using The Polaris Project website. Here is a link. This website offers information and resources for human trafficking: https://polarisproject.org/myths-facts-and-statistics/.

Misconceptions (M) Versus Facts (F)

M1: Sex trafficking often involves kidnapping or using physical force.

F1: In truth, most traffickers trick, lie, manipulate, or threaten their victims into commercial sex.

M2: Victims do not know the people trafficking them.

F2: In reality, many victims and survivors do know their traffickers. Oftentimes, traffickers are significant others, family members, business owners, family friends or someone else the victim knows.

M3: Only women and girls are victims or survivors of sex trafficking.

F3: Boys and men are also victims and survivors of sex trafficking. Members of the LBGTQIA community are especially vulnerable.

M4: Sex trafficking only happens in other countries, or must involve transporting victims to another state or country.

F4: In reality, sex trafficking happens in the communities we live in every single day. Traffickers do not have to transport their victims. Victims can be exploited in the places they grew up, even from their own home.

M5: Victims are not physically able to leave their situations. They are locked up some where, tied down, etc.

F5: This does happen. However, victims stay for a lot of different reasons. Some have experienced threats and/or violence, or witnessed violence. They fear that if they leave, they will be harmed or killed, or a loved one will be. Some victims feel they have no other option but to stay because they have no where else to go, no way of surviving and meeting their own basic needs. Some have lived the life so long or experienced prior trauma. Therefore, it is all they know. Many victims also do not identify as victims.

Other Important Sex Trafficking Facts

These facts were also found on the Polaris Project website:

Who Are The Victims?

Anyone can be a victim. However, significant risk factors include recent relocation, substance use, mental health conditions, involvement with Children Services, homelessness, and being a runaway. Traffickers target and exploit these vulnerabilities.

Who Are the Traffickers?

Just like their victims, traffickers can be anyone. Traffickers are different races, ethnicities, and genders. They come from different backgrounds and have different socio-economic statuses. Traffickers are significant others, family members, business owners, family friends, community members, and more.

How Do Traffickers Control Their Victims?

Many traffickers use mental and/or physical abuse to control their victims. They often threaten their victims. Another means of control is isolation from loved ones. Also, traffickers can control victims by preventing them from having financial resources and basic necessities to make it on their own. They exploit victim’s needs for not only physical things like food, shelter, and clothing, but also their emotional needs for things like love, affection, belonging, and connection. Drugs and alcohol are another means of control. Victims are afraid to leave for many reasons as well. This includes trauma, shame, connection with or even love for the people hurting them, lack of means and/or resources, and fear for their safety and/or the safety of their loved ones.

Why Is It Important to Redefine Sex Trafficking?

I was sexually exploited by family members as a child and again as an adult. As a teenager, a massage parlor, a place of business, trafficked me. For a long time, I did not identify as a victim of sex trafficking or sexual exploitation. I did not completely understand some of the trauma I had experienced. Even when I left and started healing, it was hard to grasp why professionals in my life kept referring to me as survivor of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.

For a long time, I understood sex trafficking as the movie Taken. I thought it was girls and women being kidnapped, locked in rooms, tied up. Why? Because like many of you, that is how I always saw sex trafficking portrayed. Society taught me that is what sex trafficking is.

For years, I could not identify myself as a victim of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. For years, some professionals including some counselors, social workers, law enforcement, doctors, teachers, did not identify me as a victim of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Non-offending family members and friends could not identify me as a victim of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. That is the danger of portraying a single version of sex trafficking, the least common version in this country at that. If I had been identified earlier, I could have received help earlier. It could have prevented more trauma from occurring in my life. It could have helped other victims I knew get help and justice.

When we singularly define sex trafficking as when a stranger kidnaps their victim, throws them in a van, keeps them locked in a room, and tied to a bed, we keep victims from being able to identify themselves and people from being able to identify victims.

What I Have Seen Sex Trafficking Look Like

It wasn’t until February 27, 2020, that it really hit home that many parts of my past trauma did include sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. Logically, I knew that was a part of my past because the professionals in my life had identified me as a survivor. But, it didn’t really hit my heart until that day.

I was sitting on a panel with other survivors of human trafficking at Human Trafficking Awareness Day in my state. At first, I wasn’t sure if I belonged up there because I was certain that the other brave survivors sitting on stage with me would have stories like the movie Taken. I quickly learned, that wasn’t the reality. They, like me, had been trafficked by people they knew, people they loved, people they had thought cared about them. Since then, I have listened to even more stories, from real people who have experienced sex trafficking and exploitation. I have to tell you, so far, I haven’t heard any where they were kidnapped by strangers.

Let me tell you about the stories I have heard though. I know survivors who were trafficked by family members or given to a trafficker by a family member. I have heard multiple survivors speak of how they were exploited in active addiction or started using drugs while being trafficked. A friend told me she listened to many stories from young girls that had ran away or left home, fell in love with a man they believed loved them, only to be trafficked by him. Multiple massage parlors and strip clubs have been busted for human trafficking. These are the real stories. These are some of the real ways that trafficking in our country, in our communities, occurs.

Redefining Sex Trafficking

I am not saying that sex trafficking never involves victims being kidnapped by strangers, transported in a van, tied up, or locked in a room. It does happen that way. What I am saying, is that we have to expand our definition of sex trafficking to include the ways of how it most often occurs.

Trauma is a Serious Physical and Mental Health Crisis

Trauma is a Health Crisis

This video alongside research and evidence, supports severe trauma is not a rarity, but an epidemic affecting the physical and mental health of many. So, society needs to start treating it as such. What if trauma was addressed as part of health care? What if trauma was screened for regularly during check ups and mental health appointments? The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) test could become a vital part of community resources.

Statistics support that trauma has long lasting affects on survivors’ mental and physical health. It affects the way our brains and bodies work. Adverse experiences also put survivors at higher risk for heart attacks, cancer, depression, immune deficiencies, and more. In addition, it is probable that many survivors, both children and adults, are diagnosed with physical and mental health conditions that are unknowingly rooted in past traumatic experiences. Therefore, many people are not receiving the comprehensive treatment they need, one that includes trauma specific services. Trauma, mental health, and physical health, are not independent of one another as many believe. They constantly affect one another and treatment should be reflective of this.

What is Your ACE score?

Take this short quiz on the Stop Abuse Campaign website to learn your ACE score:

Acknowledging trauma as a social issue, an epidemic, a crisis, starts with acknowledging our own adverse experiences. We can also acknowledge other people’s trauma. It’s uncomfortable to talk about our trauma and can be uncomfortable to hear the pain others have experienced. However, speaking up can be essential to healing. Even more, conversations surrounding trauma need to happen if things are going to change.

6 Ways We Can Get Involved in the Trauma Movement

  1. Acknowledge our own trauma
  2. Share our experiences
  3. Start conversations surrounding trauma
  4. Break the silence and end the stigma that often surrounds topics such as abuse, neglect, domestic violence, mental health, substance use, and incarceration
  5. Educate ourselves and others about the commonality and affects of trauma
  6. Advocate for comprehensive care that includes trauma specific services

Evaluating Beliefs Left By Trauma

“Why are you where you are in your life. The choices you have made have been because of what you believe to be true for yourself.”

– Oprah Winfrey

Evaluating Beliefs Left By Trauma

Trauma Can Leave Survivors with False Beliefs

Trauma often leaves survivors with false and damaging beliefs about themselves, others, and the world around them. Why is this important? Our beliefs affect our thoughts and our thoughts dictate our actions. Negative beliefs can ultimately lead us to make choices that hurt us or put us at risk of being hurt.

A large part of my healing process has been evaluating beliefs that my trauma and the perpetrators of my trauma left behind. Another large part of my healing process has been instilling new beliefs. My counselor used cognitive processing therapy to help me do this. If you would like to learn more about cognitive processing therapy, here is a link to a short summary about it: https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-processing-therapy. I am also providing an example of one of the more comprehensive worksheets we used during this therapy below.

The Beliefs My Trauma Created

Growing up, I was sexually abused by family members and witnessed abuse and violence towards loved ones. That created beliefs that I was disgusting and powerless. It also taught me that in order to be loved I had to give pieces of myself away and allow people to hurt me.

In high school, I attempted suicide and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety. Children Services was involved in my life after I disclosed some of the abuse I experienced. They substantiated my case, but did not have enough details or evidence to help law enforcement arrest and prosecute anyone. These experiences led me to believe I was different from my peers and no one could help me. It also left me believing that what happened to me did not matter, that I did not matter.

A year later, I left home and was trafficked by a massage parlor. That made me believe my only worth was my body and my value as a person could have a price tag.

These are only a few personal examples of how trauma can leave us with beliefs that are usually not true and need to be evaluated in order for survivors to heal.

How Did These False Beliefs Affect My Actions and Life?

As I entered my adult life, my actions reflected the beliefs created by the trauma that occurred during the first eighteen years of my life. I made choices based upon what I believed about myself and others. As well as what I believed to be true about the world. I chose to abuse substances, exploit myself, and surround myself with people who had hurt me in the past or who would hurt me in the future. I put myself in dangerous and risky situations, not caring what happened to me.

The choices I was making had consequences. One of these consequences was that I was suspended from the previous college I attended. Another consequence was that I experienced more trauma and victimization.

How My Beliefs Have Changed

With help from professionals and friends, I have been able to evaluate many of the beliefs my trauma caused and either change them or replace them completely. For example, if I look at the belief that I am powerless. Why did I believe that? There were many situations in my life where people hurt me and I was not able to stop them from doing so, especially as a child. How did I dispute that belief? I have the power to heal, and to speak up and advocate for myself. Also, I have the power to create the life I want for my daughter and I. I am not a child anymore and I am strong.

With therapy and help from others, my beliefs have changed. Sometimes, the old ones still find a way to creep into my head, but I have the tools to evaluate them and replace them when they do. What I believe now is that I am worthy of unconditional love. I am strong and resilient. I have value as a human being, purpose, and things to contribute to the world. Above all, I now believe that my daughter and I deserve a life free from abuse and trauma. We deserve to be happy.

The choices I make in my life now reflect these beliefs. I have chosen to pursue social work. When given the opportunity, I choose to advocate for myself and other survivors. I have chosen to heal. In all types of relationships, I choose to only surround myself with people who treat me with respect, love, and kindness. Most importantly, I have chosen to create a life where my daughter and I are safe because we deserve to be happy.

Our Lives Are Greatly Affected By Our Beliefs

Our lives are reflective of our choices and our choices are often based upon our beliefs. Trauma can leave survivors with beliefs that are not true and harmful to them and their recovery. I can not stress enough how important it is to evaluate these beliefs and change them when necessary. With small steps and help from others, survivors do have the power to change their beliefs, their thoughts, their actions, and eventually their lives.

Fighting Against a Set of Broken Systems

“Sometimes, the only thing we can do is use our voices and pray someone listens.”

More than a decade ago, two of my younger cousins had a case through Child Protective Services. They were seen at a child advocacy center where physical evidence indicated they had been sexually abused. Later, they drew a picture of an adult lying on top of them, of rape. They also drew pictures of having their mouths taped shut and being locked in a closet. These pictures are only a small window into the many abuses they suffered and witnessed at the hands of family predators.

Years later, I disclosed to Child Protective Services as a teenager. I was seen at the same child advocacy center. After a forensic interview, a medical exam, and an investigation, my case was substantiated. I too had suffered multiple types of abuse, been exploited and witnessed trauma.

None of us received justice and all of our cases were entered into the child welfare system as the perpetrators being unknown. Besides the fear and emotional abuse that understandably kept us from naming who hurt us, various factors played a role in the lack of justice.

We are not the only children in our family who have suffered severe abuse and trauma. Many children in our family have in some form been involved with Child Protective Services, law enforcement, or other helping professions. Some of us are now adults, some of us are still minors.

A clear pattern of horrific crimes resulted in no justice and the allowance for criminal acts to continue. The lack of justice also allowed for more children in our family to be perpetrated. Today, I’m speaking up and I’m praying that someone listens because that’s all I have left. The reality is that the systems designed to protect us are too often broken.

I have been given many reasons why multiple professionals in different systems could not help us. And, many reasons why they cannot help us now or help the children currently living with our same predators. It is not the fault of any one person, but the consequence of various broken systems.

There is no reason that multiple children in the same family should have documented victimization of abuse, trafficking, exploitation, rape, and/or witnessing trauma, and nothing be done. There is no reason that multiple adults should be able to continue to commit heinous, life-damaging crimes. We are not talking about singular crimes, which would be bad enough. We are talking about ongoing trauma that affects every part of a person’s life. Trauma that hurts so deeply that recovery doesn’t mean moving on. But instead, means some how learning to live with what happened to us and the constant reminders. Trauma that can never be taken back or erased. Trauma that leaves permanent scars on the minds, bodies, and hearts of the people victimized.

I am writing all of this because I do not accept that nothing can be done. I’m speaking up because being told that I’ve done everything I can has never been and will never be, at all comforting. Why? Because one day the younger children in my family are going to come out and disclose, fall into the negative patterns that many trauma survivors do, end up seriously injured or end up dead. And all anyone will be able to do is give meaningless apologies that are not good enough or excuses that are not legitimate.

I’m asking for everyone to help us, other children, and other adult survivors who have been let down by a set of broken systems. I’m asking for everyone to speak up and fight for changes. A perfect system will never exist, but we can always work to continue improving them. We have to hold ourselves to that standard. We have to use our voices to fight because sometimes our voices are the only things we have.

5 Reasons There Is a Pertinent Need for Trauma Specific Services

Why Do We Need Trauma Specific Services?

1. Trauma Has Long Lasting Effects

Many people hold the misconception that trauma ends when the traumatic event is over. However, trauma has long lasting effects, especially when someone doesn’t receive trauma specific services. Trauma can lead to addiction, mental illness, physical health issues, problems maintaining relationships, cognitive delays, self harm, etc. Many times, the symptoms of trauma are much more obvious than the trauma that caused them. Therefore, as a society we often treat the symptoms and not the cause. When we do this, it is not uncommon for those trauma symptoms to continuously reappear because we are not addressing the root cause of them, the actual trauma.

2. Trauma-Informed Care

We need professionals who are specifically trained to work with trauma survivors. Trauma-informed care means having professionals who understand the impact trauma has on its survivors. Professionals who work with trauma survivors need to provide a safe place for their clients and patients to heal. If someone is not trained to work with trauma survivors, they can at times cause more harm than good. They may trigger them by saying something insensitive, intruding their space, or reacting in a way that unintentionally hurts the survivor.

3. There are Countless Types of Trauma

As a society, we are really just starting to explore all the things we consider as traumatic. According to the dictionary, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. What someone considers deeply distressing or disturbing may vary from someone else depending on what other life experiences each person has had. This is why we can’t compare traumas or minimize the trauma of anyone else. Trauma can be abuse, human trafficking, domestic violence, or sexual assault. It can also be the death of a loved one, a car accident, having a family member who has a substance abuse disorder, suffering from a mental illness, having parents who are getting a divorce or watching a violent event. These examples are only a small portion of the countless types of trauma a person can experience.

4. Trauma Research

As we begin to develop more trauma specific services, we can delve into doing more research on the effects of trauma and effective forms of trauma recovery. Trauma recovery and trauma specific care is still a fairly new topic. We are just starting to explore the extent of future problems that trauma can lead to and some of the information is shocking. We are also just now starting to look into how someone who has suffered from long-term trauma or multiple traumas, may react differently to their experiences than someone who has experienced a single traumatic event. There is so much research that still needs to be done and part of this includes creating services. If we have trauma specific care, we can look at what we still need to learn about trauma and its effects. We can also start to look at different trauma specific treatments that may be more helpful than others. We still have so much to learn when it comes to trauma.

5. Trauma Recovery

As a country, we are severely lacking in the amount of trauma recovery centers we have. We have services for addiction, mental health, behavior issues, relationship counseling, etc. However, we lack trauma recovery services. We have countless services that address the traumatic event. Law enforcement, children services, fire departments, medical professionals, hotlines, shelters, etc., all of these are people and places we have to respond to a crisis/ traumatic event. Once the crisis is over though, the survivors are left to heal on their own. Trauma recovery centers focus on addressing not only the traumatic experiences, but the long lasting effects of those traumatic experiences. They understand that trauma recovery is a long term process and full of ups and downs. Trauma recovery centers focus on helping clients heal and be empowered as survivors. With more trauma specific services, we can help trauma survivors find recovery, healing, hope, and faith.

Chrystul Kizer’s Story

Photo credit: Facebook

“It’s easy to judge someone when we don’t understand, but if we had to walk in their shoes we have no idea where we’d end up”.

I read this story and my heart sank into my stomach. If you don’t know Chyrstul Kizer’s story, here is a recap. The nineteen year old child trafficking survivor is being charged with murdering the man who trafficked her. He sexually abused her and a number of other children. Her abuser, Randall Volar III, was charged with child sexual assault and other related crimes. He died before he had to face the court on these charges. After his death, law enforcement also found evidence that Volar III was a perpetrator of human trafficking.

Chrystul Kizer was seventeen when she was arrested for killing Volar III. The prosecutor claims it was premeditated; Chrystul states that it was self-defense. Chrystul’s lawyers had to fight to gain access to the evidence compiled against Volar III. After reviewing the evidence, they urged the courts to allow Chrystul an affirmative defense. Meaning, her defense would be the abuse and human trafficking she endured at the hands of the deceased. The judge denied the defense’s efforts. Chrystul now faces life in prison if she is found guilty of the charges against her.

As a society, we often stray from truly speaking about severe forms of trauma such as human trafficking, child rape, and sexual abuse. I refuse to follow suit. These things happen every single day and silence gives power to the perpetrators, not the victims and survivors who deserve it. There has to be conversation.

Bluntly put, Chrystul Kizer was a child whom an adult male repeatedly raped. Her abuser then sold her, so that other men could rape her. She was still a child when she pulled the trigger that killed her trafficker. If we diminish Chrystul’s story to the moment she pulled the trigger, we condone a misrepresentation of truth and a miscarriage of justice. If we place responsibility on a child to know what they should do in a traumatic situation, we misplace fault.

In this case, the only person who should be criminalized is the man who abused, filmed, and trafficked Chrystul. As well as the men who bought and raped her. Collectively, those men inflicted a horrible pain that Chrystul and other victims, will have to carry for the rest of their lives. They perpetrated trauma that causes severe, long-lasting trauma symptoms and suffering. They treated their victims as less than human and permanently changed their lives.

Killing someone is never the answer, but Chrystul was a child making what she believed to be the one choice she had to stop her trauma from continuing. Her trauma was so horrific that she saw her perpetrator dying as the only way to keep herself, Volar III’s other victims, and future victims safe. She did what she had to do to survive. Chrystul Kizer doesn’t need punishment; she needs healing, hope, faith, support, and love.

Rewriting Our Labels

“It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

-W.C. Fields

I felt God scoop me up in his arms and while he held me, he told me that I do not have to be what they tried to define me as. I am his child and I can choose to be whatever I want to be.

They made me believe that I was worthless, unlovable, disgusting, dirty, crazy, and bad. That I could never surmount to anything more than a pretty face and nice body to be used and defiled by others. God told me that I was smart, beautiful, kind, loving, and had the potential to help others. I know I am loved because the creator of the Earth tells me that I am his child and that he loves me.

God loves me so much that he sacrificed his only son on the cross for me, breathed his life into me and protected the kind heart he created from all the people who tried to destroy it. He loves me so much that he carried me to the other side of abuse, horrific trauma, and mental illness. He loves me so much that he journeyed through the world of chaos, insanity, pain, and trauma I once lived in, just to find me. So, that he could bring me to a world of love, happiness, hope, and peace. This is the God that I know, the God that loved me to life and loved me to live.

-The Anonymous Survivor


Over the summer, I participated in a leadership program. On the first day, we did an exercise where we wrote down some of our labels. We could choose labels that we had taken ownership of that others gave us. Or, we could write down labels we had given ourselves.

Similar to most in the program, I had written down one positive label and one negative label: resilient and unworthy. Both labels were products of my trauma. I was resilient because despite everything I had been through, I was still there. At the same time, I felt unworthy because negative experiences and negative people had taught me that. I didn’t feel worthy of success, happiness, help, hope, love or respect.

I have learned that when trauma occurs, it can change the way we see ourselves and lead us us to label ourselves negatively. We may also take ownership of the way our perpetrators and other negative people in our life labeled us. When we define ourselves negatively, it affects other areas of our lives negatively.

Throughout my trauma, I gave myself and took ownership of many negative labels. I defined myself as bad, a slut, stupid, disgusting, unworthy, a failure, unlovable; the list goes on and on.

During my leadership program, I figured out that I had the ultimate power over my labels. I had the power to not only change the way I labeled myself, but to change what labels I accepted and owned. My faith played a huge role in changing how I define myself and how I choose to let others define me.

Sitting in church one night, our pastor spoke to us about the lies told to us and the lies we tell ourselves. He talked about how those lies come from evil. Then, he encouraged us to pray and ask God who we are and how he sees us. Over and over again, I heard God whisper for me to lift my head because I am his child whom he loves. The poem written towards the top of this page is how I believe God sees me and was the beginning of me working on rewriting my labels.

I redefined myself through trauma recovery as well. I broke down where some of my negative labels originated. Many of them resulted from my trauma and people who had hurt me. At some point, I took ownership of the things they said to me and the way they made me feel about myself. I learned those labels not only from the words I repeatedly heard, but also the way I was repeatedly treated. Eventually, I started to believe those words and experiences defined me. However, in the end, my counselor and I were able to tare down those negative labels because they were lies. One part of that process included using a very wise saying, “Consider the source”.

By the end of my leadership program, I was proud that many of us, myself included, had worked hard to change the negative labels we wrote down that first day. I know now that I am worthy of happiness, success, love, kindness, help, hope, and respect. One of my favorite quotes goes, ” I am worthy of love and respect because I breathe”.

Every human being deserves to be treated like a human being. Period. If anyone defines or treats us as anything less than, we have the right to refuse that. If we are labeling ourselves negatively, we owe it to ourselves to change our own labels. You can start by listing things you like about yourself or positive things others have told you. I already know that you are beautiful, capable, valuable, resilient, strong, worthy, and loved. You are a survivor.

What Can We Do When We Are Triggered?

“I am okay. I am safe. This is temporary.”

As trauma survivors, our trauma impacts us long after the actual events take place. The trauma we endured is remembered by not only our mind, but our body as well. We often experience triggers as a symptom of our trauma.

What is a trigger?

A trigger is something that reminds us of our traumatic experiences and causes our mind, body, or both to react. It can be something we see, hear, or smell. It may be the way someone interacts with us or speaks to us. Sometimes, triggers are hard to identify. However, if we can recognize when we are triggered, we can take back some of the power our triggers have.

What are the symptoms?

Triggers can cause emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms. Emotionally, triggers can cause us to feel things like fear, panic, anger, sadness, or helplessness. Physically, triggers may cause our hearts to race, our bodies to freeze, shortness of breath, shaking, or they can lead our bodies to shut down. Cognitively, triggers can provoke unwanted and intrusive memories, or flashbacks where we feel as though we are re-experiencing our trauma. We can also suffer from episodes of dissociation. These are among the many ways that our body and mind may process and react to a trigger.

What can we do when we’re triggered?

In the past, I had an extremely difficult time calming my body and mind when I was triggered. I suffered panic attacks, dissociation, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and intense emotions. Sometimes, my trauma symptoms would last for hours.

About a year and a half ago, I made a reminder to myself of steps I can take when I am triggered and started actively using it. This is a list of those steps.

  1. Stop and Breathe: Stop where you are. Sit down if that helps. Take deep breaths. This helps relax your body.
  2. Ground yourself: Keep your mind and body in the present moment. There are quite a few things you can do to ground yourself. One thing that works for me is describing ten or more things out loud that are in my environment. I describe things that I can see, hear, smell, or feel. Another thing that helps me is holding an ice cube or splashing cold water on my face. It can also help to pick something in your environment to count. For example, count the number of tiles on your ceiling, the number of lights you can see, the number of people in a room, etc. Touching your thumb to each one of your fingertips repeatedly is another useful trick, especially if you are among other people and do not want to bring attention to what is happening.
  3. Self-Talk: Remind yourself that you are safe and that you are okay. What is happening is temporary and it’s going to pass.
  4. Things You’re Grateful For: List at least three things in your life that you are grateful for. People, pets, a favorite movie, a favorite book, a place you like to go, nature, anything that makes you happy. You can list the same things every time or change it up, whatever works best for you. This allows you to combat the negative emotions and memories you are experiencing with positive ones.
  5. Distract yourself and relax yourself: Use a positive coping skill and give yourself the time to recover from the trauma trigger and trauma symptoms you just experienced. A positive coping skill is simply something you like to do. It is a healthy way for you to deal with stress. Exercising, coloring, watching a funny movie, listening to music, playing with a pet, playing a game, calling someone you identify as supportive, are all examples of positive coping skills.
  6. Process Your Trigger: When you feel like you are ready, it is helpful to process your trauma trigger. Identify what it was or may have been that triggered you. Why did that trigger you? I also like to keep a log of my triggers once I have identified them, so I can later talk through them with my counselor.

These are the steps I take to soothe myself when I am triggered. Try them out and tweak them as you see fit.

Empowerment

Before I started taking these steps, I often felt powerless to my trauma when I experienced a trigger. Sometimes, I would begin thinking that it didn’t matter how far I had come or that I had found the courage to leave my past and start a new life. It seemed that no matter where I went or how well I was doing, my trauma would always have control over me. I thought I would never truly be able to escape it and I felt revictimized by those thoughts and feelings.

As survivors, we didn’t have control over the trauma that happened to us. We also don’t have much control when it comes to facing things that may trigger us. This is especially true as we continue to discover new triggers. No matter how long we are in trauma recovery, there are times we will be triggered by something. A movie, a conversation, someone else’s journey, a song, a sound, a smell, a trigger can be anything. We can’t control that we are going to encounter things in the world and in our daily lives that take us back to a painful place. That can be hard to accept, but at some point you will be able.

What we can gain control over is how we react when we are triggered. When we practice steps that calm our mind and body, we take away power from our trauma and restore it to ourselves. We are stronger than our trauma; that’s why we are survivors.

Healing Exercise: Throw it Away, Literally

I threw away the shame that was never mine to carry.

As trauma survivors, we often carry around negative feelings that are associated with our trauma. Shame, guilt, anger, hatred, sadness, and other feelings can attach themselves to our hearts when we suffer traumatic experiences.

This year, I attended a healing vigil hosted by a chapter of the Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. After listening to some of the many survivors I had the privilege of meeting that day speak, we all gathered in a circle around a trash can. We were handed post-it notes and were asked to write something down that we wanted to get rid of, something we had been carrying around with us. We then went around the circle, each survivor sharing pieces of their story and what they were releasing.

On my post-it note, I had written a single word: shame. I felt ashamed that I had been victimized multiple times as a child, teenager, and young adult, by multiple perpetrators. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t able to protect some of my loved ones from violence and abuse. I felt ashamed that I had allowed fear to keep me silent. Simply put, I felt ashamed of my trauma. All that shame was being internalized and was a part of why I didn’t love and accept myself at that time in my life.

What I realized as I listened to each survivor share, was that the shame I felt was misplaced. The only people that shame belonged to, was the people throughout my life that chose to abuse me, rape me, and traffic me. Throughout all my trauma, I had done the one thing that I needed to, survive. Standing in solidarity with the beautiful, brave, and incredibly strong men and women around me, I concluded that the only thing we should feel as survivors is pride. We should feel proud that we were victorious over our victimization.

When it came to be my turn, I told my truth with dignity and threw away the shame that was never mine to carry.

I encourage trauma survivors to try this exercise. Write down a negative feeling associated with your trauma, something that you carry around with you, something you want to release. Then, throw it away, literally.