There is one universal truth to grief and trauma healing. We can’t do it alone.
Well, not all of it anyway. We just can’t. We need people to hear our story and what it was like for us. It may be one person or a group of people, but however it comes out, our story has to be told. From what I can see as a psychotherapist of over ten years, the central tenet of all mental illnesses in isolation. I mean isolation by hiding our deepest truths and our vulnerable selves. All kinds of famous or apparently loved people feel lonely, depressed, or worse despite being surrounded by people.
Why? Because they are not connecting with other humans from a vulnerable place. So, I will be clear here. The community I speak of are the people with which we tell the truth or at least some versions of the truth. The people in these communities are also being sincere and vulnerable with us at times as well. By doing so that we are given the gift of seeing our pain in them and feeling worthy of their trust and love. These are fundamental human needs.
Of course, I would not recommend spending a majority of our time in a community that is solely based on trauma and grief. But, some time spent in those communities or groups can be deeply healing.
What I am thinking of here is partly that, but more, making sure that we spend time with people with whom we offer the real answer when asked ‘how are you doing?’ and that they do the same for us. Between tendernesses, there is also enormous value in laughing, playing, or just watching and hanging around together. It doesn’t have to all be deep for it to be deep enough.
Let me share a story of a real client who came into my office uncertain about his interest in living.
They had years ago attempted to take their life. Although they were not planning to do that now, they would not have been sad to wake up dead. Now they were just wanting to not be so emotional in front of other people in ways that felt humiliating and out of control.
Essentially, their initial objective for therapy was to be better at hiding their pain.
Over time this person realized that they worked in a culture that they were sure would mock their pain. Every day for 10 hours a day they were spending time with people who they mostly thought would judge them for feeling pain. In their personal life, they kept a crew of friends for drinking with and just a couple of deeper connections. But, even those were mostly one-sided. With some therapeutic support, this person was able to tell one person and then one more about the horrific work trauma that had been haunting them, and that was in fact the source of massive PTSD. Two people and me, the therapist. That’s all they shared, but it was enough.
It was as if that sharing put a crack in the pressure cooker of pain in this person’s soul. Of course, no one they told could take away the trauma of the events or change even how it felt to them. But, the weight that is lifted by simply telling the truth can be the difference between a bearable life and an unbearable life. Over time, this person shared other vulnerable things with people they trusted. Only in small bits and only to very select people, in one on one chats or on a hike or a ski lift.
Eventually, they decided to leave the job that felt unbearable to them.
They decided to even tell the truth as they gave their resignation. They told their bosses about their PTSD related to work and that working there was like torture because of the PTSD responses it evoked every day. But, they were astounded by how the company responded to their honesty as they gave their resignation.
The company publicly called it an early retirement and named a conference room after them and then set them up with a compensation package followed by disability pay.
Arguments could be made about the purity of the company’s intentions behind all of these moves. But, what is definitely true is that the greatest fear that this person had about what might happen if the people they worked with knew that they were deeply suffering did not happen. What this story amounts to is someone slowly telling more and more truth about themselves. And, how it felt to be them and find themselves in a life they wanted to live with deep ties to people they felt safe telling the truth to.
This took a couple of years. So be clear that shifting our habits of lying about how we are and how we feel takes enormous courage and time. It takes time to get to a massively different place for people, but it’s generally a forever better place. I will also tell you that in the beginning, those smaller steps are tremendously hopeful even though they are small. They are hopeful because we get to see other people respond well, which builds our faith in humanity and in our ability to choose the right people to share ourselves with. It also offers hope that we may have other options. Other options that suit us, that feel sincere and powerful for us.
There is no way the person I spoke of here could have done this work alone or only internally.
ure, most of it happened internally. But, those moments when they turned toward people or the community were game changers. It is astonishing how a choice that takes three minutes can redirect our entire human experience. We often focus on the downside of this when we speak to trauma and grief. But, it can also be the upside of living. We have more power and resilience than we think. It is unleashed when we turn toward other people in our hardest times.
Begin Trauma Therapy in Boulder, CO
You don’t have to face the pain of trauma alone. Our team of caring therapists would be honored to support you in coping with past traumatic events. We can offer mental health services both in-person in Boulder, CO, and online across Colorado. You can start your therapy journey by following these simple steps:
Other Services Offered with North Boulder Counseling
Trauma therapy isn’t the only service offered by our Boulder, CO-based counseling practice. Our team is happy to offer a variety of services in-person and online across the state. We are happy to offer depression therapy, anxiety counseling, eating disorder treatment, trauma therapy/PTSD treatment, play therapy, and mindfulness-based therapy. We offer therapy services for the whole family, including counseling for men, women, teens, and children. Other therapy services offered include LGBTQ counseling, anxiety intensive treatment, postpartum anxiety treatment, parent coaching, and co-parenting. Feel free to learn more about us, or visit our blog for more info!