It is estimated that approximately 2.8 million children are abused each year in the United States. More than half are neglected, one quarter experience physical abuse, 11% are sexually abused, and 6% are psychologically abused. So why are some victims of abuse able to overcome their trauma to lead healthy lives as adults while others are not? In honor of Trauma Awareness Month, we’re highlighting a recent study published in SAGE Open that helps to answer this question.
The goal of this study was to discover the internal and external positive influences that people rely on to overcome childhood trauma. Researchers Jennifer Ann Morrow, Sharon Clayman, and Bonnie McDonagh interviewed 22 participants who had experienced a variety of traumatic events in their childhood such as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, witnessing extreme violence in the home, and abandonment.
The participants that the researchers interviewed were inspiring for all trauma survivors, “Although these participants each described very different traumatic experiences while growing up, they all had one thing in common—they felt that they had dealt with it successfully, they were resilient.”
What caused these childhood trauma survivors to be so resilient? After interviewing them about their experiences, the researchers found five main themes that emerged:
- Spirituality/faith in God
- Support from others such as friends and family,
- Relationships with a counselor or therapist,
- Self-determination, and
- Expressive writing.
Among these, spirituality, social support, and self-determination were found to be the most common positive influences in helping people cope with childhood trauma.
The authors included some touching examples in their article. One participant described an important relationship with her grandmother, “My grandmother was there 24/7, took care of me, gave me beautiful things. I can describe her . . . she was my soul mate. Definitely my soul mate.”
Others named self-determination as a key coping mechanism, “I think some part of me knew inside that good was coming, and it is. I was a fighter. I was a scrapper.”
Interestingly, therapy was not always a positive coping mechanism for all participants. While some of the individuals in the study reported that their therapists enabled them to work through their experiences and move on, others stated that therapy was not helpful because they received negative feedback from counselors or could not really connect with them.
One participant stated, “I went to my school counselor and he, didn’t really know how to handle the situation and he ended the conversation with, I’ve gotta go run . . . I was very upset when I left that conversation.”
This study is a valuable read for researchers who study counseling and trauma, for counseling practitioners who want to implement some useful tools in therapy, and for anyone who is personally affected by incidents of childhood trauma and wants to know the best ways to overcome it.
To read the complete article, titled “In Their Own Voices: Trauma Survivors’ Experiences in Overcoming Childhood Trauma” by Jennifer Ann Morrow, Sharon Clayman, and Bonnie McDonagh, in SAGE Open, click here. To learn more about Trauma Awareness month, visit the American Trauma Society’s website here.