SUPPORT GROUPS

When we’re faced with the aftermath of a traumatic event, one of the greatest obstacles to coping is when we look inward and attempt a self-analysis. This process can compromise good coping because, more often than not, we enter the world of self-doubt (“Do I have the courage and strength to recover?”), self-blame (“I should have done things differently; the whole event is my fault.”), and self-pity (“I need to let others know how I have been victimized because I deserve their sympathy.”).

These self-intrusions make successful coping with the trauma difficult because you become unable to look objectively and accurately at the event and the challenges facing you. One excellent way to resist these ventures into a self-centered mine field is to join a support group for those who have suffered the same, or very similar trauma. Such groups are plentiful, and can be located by contacting a local mental health association, crisis hotline, or even local law enforcement.

When in the company of victims like yourself, interesting psychological dynamics unfold. Consider the words of support-group members, and note how so many coping lessons that we discuss in this blog can be found in their words:

“Telling my story to others, and listening to their stories, helped me organize the basic facts, the objective reality of the event.”

“I felt less alone.”

“I discovered it was OK to be nervous; OK to feel ashamed thinking I was the Lone Ranger, all alone in my turmoil.”

“I found it was OK to laugh, and talk, and share. There was a lot of all of that in my group.”

“We shared our secrets, our darkest days. I felt a sense of belonging because there was a bond of trust, of privacy, an unspoken understanding that our secrets would never leave the group. It gave me a sense of identity beyond myself, and the security that brought me was unreal.”

“New people would show up. It was hard for me to listen to them because I was reliving my own experience. But the long-term effect was acceptance and a feeling of personal strength.”

“I knew I was reaching an inner peace and strength when it occurred to me that I had become as much a helper in my group as one who needed help. When I shared my story with newcomers I could see it in their faces. There is life afterwards; it goes on.”

“I discovered sympathy and empathy, I mean to the point that I realized it was not all about me. We asked the same questions, faced the same demons, and found lifelines. Since joining my group I have felt more human than ever before in my life.”

We should all be so lucky.

So, what are some of the important coping themes we see in these comments? Organizing a plan to deal with the reality of your issues; realizing you’re not alone; accepting emotions instead of denying them; sharing secrets and trusting.

Two cautions: your group leader should be a professional with experience; and, the purpose of the group should not be to embarrass, badger, or intimidate members.

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