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What is a Survivor Anyway?

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Lentz Letters!

What does it mean to be a survivor? The dictionary would tell us that it is defined as continuing to live after a dangerous life experience. Remember the show called Survivor in which competitors voted other competition off the remote place until only a sole survivor remained? If only surviving from trauma was that easy! Imagine the billboard advertisement “Survive a trauma and win a million dollars!” Instead, trauma survivors must learn to experience and relate to the part of themselves that they typically repressed to survive their childhood. Without this process the trauma survivor learns to exist without healing and continues to do life as if the dangerous life experience is still occurring. My vote would be that trauma survivors deserve a sustainable reward for this kind of hard work more than the monetary reward won by the questor that chokes down nasty bugs or forges through tumultuous paths on a remote island!

Relating to a trauma survivor can have its own challenges. It is important to step into the shoes of the trauma survivor and use their frame of reference which may be different from your own to understand why this is so difficult to break free from the familiar relational methods. As a child this survivor only knew that feelings are meant to deny, avoid, minimize, or suppress. Family secrets were guarded and protected. It was believed that relationships are meant to be controlled or be controlled. Perfections was likely expected, and mistakes never permitted. Blame became a coping skill. Love was always conditional. Above all, they were taught to remain guarded by not trusting others.

The unresolved emotional pain that results from experiencing the ultimate betrayal from those that were supposed to love and protect leaves each survivor on a quest for more. By sticking with the familiar learned behaviors this quest can be riddled with perfectionism, broken relationships, codependency, or other self -sabotaging behaviors. Reward is found in learning that vulnerability is not a dirty word and navigating through life is not found in the familiar. Trauma survivors must learn to grieve over the family that they were born into, develop a trusting relationship between adult self and the wounded child self from childhood, and gain perspective about what they are and are not responsible. This shift helps to foster the sense of self that that we all deserve to embrace in life.

Helping with this navigation process for a trauma survivor is more important than you may realize.

He/she couldn’t pick her family of origin but you can be part of the process that helps them learn how to relate to safe people. Here are some tips to get you started:

1.Believe her/him:

His/Her greatest fear is that you won’t.

2.Stay on his/her side:

He/She needs to hear from you that it was not his/her fault.

3.Listen to him/her:

He/She has remained quiet for too long.

4.Accept his/her feelings:

They have been negated, distorted, and invalidated too often.

5.Support and encourage him/her:

This will help him/her heal.

6. Challenge his/her on self-sabotaging behavior:

He/She may need your protection and your loving feedback.

7. Educate yourself about the effects of child abuse:

8. Honor the time, energy, and resources he/she invests in his/her healing.

This will benefit you as well as him/her.

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