Peer Support for Abuse Survivors
Common Misconceptions about Healing
source: Dee Ann Miller, RN, BS
Before leaving psychiatric nursing to devote more time to advocacy work, I wrote some hand-outs for my patients. No matter what the trauma, no matter what the diagnosis, no matter if the patient was suffering from a chronic or an acute condition, I found that many profited from one that helped clarify some of the common myths about healing. Hopefully, these myths can help you, as well:
MYTH #1: Emotional healing is a process that’s needed only occasionally, when one has been deeply hurt. NO! Healing is a constant on-going part of daily living. For everyone! It is required whenever we face a change or crisis. Much of it takes place without us being consciously aware that it is going on. Survivors often feel "different" or permanently "damaged" when, in reality, they are waging an internal war because of cognitive distortions that constitute unwelcome changes in the way things are perceived. Healing requires the adjustment to new understandings, new ideas, new skills, new behaviors, and a new self-concept that, in time, has the potential to produce a healthier person than ever before.
MYTH #2: There is a magic formula that I have to find if I’m going to recover. Sorry, there are no magic formulas! When I worked with children, I frequently sang a little song to them: "Look all the world over. There’s no one like me." It’s true for adults, just as much as children. In fact, life’s circumstances can make adult processes even more complex. The way you heal and how fast you do it can depend on your personality, past experiences with trauma, how you perceive your present situation, your support system, and many other factors. There is absolutely no right or wrong way to heal. There is no normal timetable, no measuring stick. You are not in competition with anyone else.
MYTH #3: Professionals are the most important people on the healthcare team. NO! You are! Professionals have a lot of knowledge, but they are not God. They alone cannot bring healing, no matter how much they try. Their work, and yours, can be undermined by circumstances beyond their control. All of us have our limitations. The most important thing a professional can do for you is to provide a listening ear and an accepting, empathic spirit.
MYTH #4: Healing is an event with a definite beginning and ending. Unfortunately, problems tend to recycle periodically, requiring one to face new issues related to the trauma, years after saying: "I think I’m over that." This can be scary, especially if one is not warned of the possibility. The stages of grieving may have to be repeated when reminders or other traumatic events trigger old garbage. This is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of normality. Our losses often involve sub-losses that may not be recognized until years after the initial trauma.
MYTH #5: Time heals all things. No, again! Ignoring pneumonia usually brings a slow, painful death. So does ignoring emotional or spiritual pain. While healing is an individual process, finding well-informed professionals, friends and other survivors who are able to support you can go a long ways. So can reading material. You DO need time, but time alone isn’t the answer. Healing involves a lot of grieving over changes and losses. And grieving is very hard work. It’s exhausting. So set realistic goals. Take vacations away from the active process, from time to time. Be kind to yourself. Expect things to get better slowly as you are able to take time for the pain.
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