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Trauma Survivors May Already Have the Tools to Cope (and Help Others Cope) Through the Pandemic

Holocaust survivors and others who’ve been through traumatic experiences sometimes experience what psychologists have termed ‘post-traumatic growth.’ Could trauma survivors have the tools and the tools to teach us how to cope during the coronavirus pandemic?

peaceful tree in water

“We’re never going to be the same….”

Edith Eva Eger

In an interview with Oprah Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a Holocaust survivor and trauma psychologist, shared about the current pandemic situation saying any experience makes us stronger if we find some good in it. She goes on to explain, “That this is a wake-up call. That this is time-out. And to be able to really see and what we can empower each other to stretch our comfort zone. And to really find a way to become survivors. And never, ever to be victims of anything, anyone, or any circumstance.

You can watch the full episode for free on Apple TV here.

We never have to be a victim to our circumstances.

In a similar interview about the coronavirus pandemic, Australian Holocaust survivor Olga Horak urged people to stop panicking, and “to stay calm and be kind to each other instead.” Horak, born during the Great Depression, was a teenager during World War II. While she survived imprisonment at Auschwitz she lost her entire family during the Holocaust. In the article, she expresses her sadness over the hoarding of groceries and how it reminds her of the war. She wants people to remember “after rain comes sunshine” and even the worst times always come to an end.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”

Dr. Steve Maraboli

Some studies have actually shown trauma survivors as more resilient — so it’s no surprise these two Holocaust survivors seem ready to take on whatever comes their way — as they’ve had an opportunity to fine-tune their coping strategies. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a trauma survivor to say they wouldn’t be who they are without the experience of the trauma, and to actually embrace the good of the tragedy. 

Psychologists have actually coined this term post-traumatic growth, Steve Taylor Ph.D. shares in a Psychology Today article, Can Suffering Make Us Stronger?. The term created by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun came after the pair interviewed several people who had endured traumatic life events, finding that the trauma was a launching point into personal development for many of these people. Some of the benefits these trauma survivors seemed to realize is greater inner strength, a new appreciation for life, deeper compassion for the suffering of others, more confidence, a discovery of skills and abilities they didn’t realize they had beforehand, more intimate relationships, and a more spiritual outlook on life. Taylor goes on to share the work of psychologist Judith Neal, who also studied post-traumatic growth. She identified that most of the survivors went through a “dark night of the soul” where they questioned the meaning of their life, and their values. This led them to a spiritual searching to make sense of it all. They eventually emerged from it with new values and spiritual principles. This caused a period of spiritual integration so they could incorporate their new principles and values into their life and essentially make sense of it all. The result seemed to be survivors who had found a new meaning to their life, gratitude for life and even gratitude for the trauma.

Previous Trauma May Prove Purposeful During the Pandemic

Trauma prepared many of us for this very moment. It certainly prepared me. I spent years suffering, enduring what I now know as my own “dark night of the soul,” before deciding my trauma might be purposeful. I went through all of the stages psychologist Judith Neal mentions including darkness that led me to question my brokenness over and over. Then over a several-year period discovered meditation, and trained with a Buddhist teacher and other mindfulness-type teachers. I read a ton of books about trauma, mindfulness, spirituality and how to fix myself (until I realized I wasn’t really broken.) This led me to study metaphysics, making a choice to live healthier and an examination of my attachments, now feeling free of many of them. 

Long before the pandemic occurred and during my “post-traumatic growth” period I developed a daily soundscape for my life, researching and discerning how sound and music could positively affect me to help me feel more peaceful and centered. I created the online course “Creating Your Personal Soundscape” to help others do the same. It’s free, I can’t imagine charging anyone during this time who could possibly benefit. Please feel free to reach out at [email protected] with questions, thoughts or just to share how you’re coping during this time.

Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.

Unknown

How Trauma Survivors Can Help

During this time I feel a sense of peace, an acceptance of purpose and a knowing this time shall pass — feelings I credit in large part to surviving trauma. I surrender to what I can’t control because we really never have control, any sense of control is an illusion. Our joy can’t be and isn’t dependent on external factors. We can choose our happiness by embracing gratitude — I’m grateful for the space to cook for and with my family, meditate more, journey into the depths of myself, allow my unique gifts to emerge, explore a deeper purpose, write, create, listen to more music and sound, immerse myself in nature and I have an ever-growing deep appreciation for my health.

Many others are understandably struggling much more than I and for various reasons. Consider the current and long-term emotional impacts of the pandemic. Even the most mentally healthy could experience the effects of increased isolation and possibly limited support, a fear of what is to come and the daunting question of how they will survive financially. In an article published in The Atlantic Steven Taylor, the author of The Psychology of Pandemics and a psychology professor, says, “My colleagues in Wuhan note that some people there now refuse to leave their homes and have developed agoraphobia.” People in isolation will likely bare some emotional scars. Who will serve them?

The stress of the pandemic may be overwhelming for someone already dealing with PTSD, OCD or an illness anxiety disorder (what was once called hypochondria) — the last, in particular, considering those who normally worry excessively about illness may now have some reason to worry. With 2 million in the US impacted by OCD, 7 million afflicted with a generalized anxiety disorder and 6 million dealing with panic disorder, the numbers aren’t small. This doesn’t even take into account those actually dealing with illness, or the illness or death of a loved one due to the virus.

Can we all agree we must come together now more than ever? Can we exercise greater compassion and empathy? Those of us who have a more peaceful center, those of us who have survived trauma and maybe especially those who have navigated our post-traumatic growth are being called to help others. We know how to survive. We can help others to find their way so they are not victims of their circumstances. What the world needs now more than ever are healers, the survivors who can lead the way because they understand the path.

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