by Laura Waters
Most human beings will likely encounter trauma at some time in their lives. In fact, researchers estimate that 70% of American adults have experienced trauma in their lives, and 20% of people in this category go on to develop PTSD.i Traumatic events can include various types of abuse, neglect, serious illness, domestic or community violence, natural or manmade disasters, war, terrorism, and traumatic grief.
A person does not necessarily have to be a trauma victim to feel trauma: many people experience trauma from witnessing traumatic events, and a handful of other people, especially those in helping careers, experience “secondhand trauma” from hearing about the traumatic experiences of others. Exposure to traumatic events may result in a wide array of mental health challenges, including major depressive disorder, reactive attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and adjustment disorder.iv
In the past two decades, the world has grown in empathy and understanding for those with mental health concerns. This awareness has provoked more research than ever before about the implications of and solutions for better mental and emotional health.
Extensive research on healing from trauma confirms that external support can significantly enhance the healing process. In one study, forty-three survivors of serious injuries reported that social support was one of the three most important factors in their recovery. Similarly, Irish search and recovery divers and survivors of the 2011 Oslo bombing also reported the value of support from friends, family, and leaders in facilitating their post-traumatic recovery. These real-life examples show the positive influence of human connection in healing.
Therapy can also provide an outlet for connection, especially in serving trauma victims. A strong relationship between a client and his or her therapist can be key to a healthy recovery. Studies indicate that bonds between the client and therapist that include warmth, empathy, respect, and genuineness typically produce good outcomes in therapy. Successful therapy can greatly improve the healing process of trauma victims.
Trauma victims can heal more completely if their need for connection is met by family, friends, therapists, or other social outlets. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, connection is a basic human need. People crave social support, belonging, and intimacy. Therefore, the healing process of trauma victims may become more attainable as they experience meaningful human connection.
Many trauma victims have confirmed the importance of human connection. One man named John shared his story of recovery on Patricia Deegan’s psychiatry blog. John affirmed that one of the most powerful tools for his recovery was connecting with others. He said, “Relationships helped me. Patience. Sticking by you regardless…Sticking by you through thick and thin. Constant support. Constant encouragement from the outside. That’s what I think a person needs the most. And love.” John’s simple statement about his experience is a testimony to the impact of human connection.
How Do I Help?
All humans, especially those burdened by the effects of trauma and pain, need love and connection, but sometimes it is difficult to know how to form these connections. Trauma survivors and loved ones of these survivors may wonder what they can do to form deeper bonds. For those craving human ties, here are some common ways to begin connecting:
- Disconnect from electronics. This can help you concentrate on connecting with others instead of looking at a screen.
- Ask questions. If you need help, ask a trusted person to lend a listening ear. If you notice that someone else is struggling, ask if you can help them.
- Trade self-consciousness for interest in the other person’s needs.When you are listening, put aside your own agenda – it will help you focus and be in the moment.
- Point out the good you see in others. As Ruthie Lindsay said, “If you see something beautiful in someone, speak it.”
- Be genuine. Being yourself is the best way to form true, honest connections.
By following these simple tips, people who are involved in the healing process of a trauma victim can achieve greater connection. This connection can lead to greater love and more complete recovery.
Renowned speaker and psychologist Brene Brown beautifully stated, “Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” The purpose and meaning that comes through human connection is a powerful tool of healing for trauma survivors. Healing will become an easier process for all of us as we work together to navigate the hardships of life.