Ruth Anne Mak
I could go into the various reasons why one person can experience loss, trauma, or live through a disaster and come out stronger and ready to move forward, while another may crumble and not be able to cope at all. Since most of us experience one or more of these situations, psychologists, ministers, sociologists, and many others have tried to explain why this variation in reaction and outcome happens and what can be done to help those who struggle. I won’t quote studies or go into the results of all the research since much is available online on this topic, but I have been thinking about the people I have known, worked with while volunteering for a sexual assault advocacy center, and of my own experiences.
Some of the data was reported to show that if a person had a great foundation in life with loving parents and some stability that she or he would be more likely to handle adversity well and bounce back better than someone who didn’t get that initial support. When I read the article that discussed the research I found myself disagreeing with that conclusion. I have known and advocated for many people who have experienced traumas that can result in the development of PTSD of some degree, and I have experienced it myself. My own experience with others and my own path, while obviously not a scientifically controlled study or a huge sample size, would seem to indicate something different. So while I don’t dispute anyone’s findings, I simply have a different point of view that may be encouraging to some who are going through hard times.
I have worked with people who have had a stable foundation with loving parents and needs met, and I’ve worked with some who started out life in hard circumstances without emotional and sometimes even physical safety. While each person is an individual and comes to a trauma situation with different skills and challenges, I have seen people who didn’t seem to have much support or any kind of stable foundation do amazingly well and become stronger and healthier than ever with a bit of time and help. I’ve also seen those with strong support and firm foundations struggle and become lost in the aftermath of various kinds of trauma.
My purpose here isn’t to argue with studies or say anyone is right or wrong, but just to point out to anyone who reads this that many people who had a rough start in life or who didn’t live the ideal life before a trauma can still survive, heal and thrive. Of course having a bit of help afterwards helps a lot, but I can say from personal experience that a rough start can give us skills and knowledge that can see us through the storms and tragedies that may come along later in life. So please don’t assume or let anyone convince you that you are unable to stand tall, fill your heart with light and healing, and walk forward to make a joyful future for yourself.
In fact, anyone can make a difference in this world, and whatever your background may be before an event that was hard to survive you can use your experience to help others when you have had time to heal. The most passionate advocates for those who have been hurt in some way are often those who truly understand the pain involved, and when you can honestly say you know how it is to go through something and come out a survivor you can make a huge difference to those who are struggling.
Whatever your background and whatever your gifts are, whatever your challenges may be, whether you went to an Ivy League school or didn’t finish high school, you can make a difference to others and maybe change lives. We have a chance to turn tragedy into change, and after all, if you have survived something awful you know how to do it, right? Reach out for help if you are struggling, don’t give up, and when you are able reach out to give someone else a hand up and some hope just go for it! You don’t have to be perfect or particularly wise, highly educated, or great at public speaking. You just have to really want to help, learn some simple guidelines that can help you help others who are where you were at one point, and keep working on your own healing as you go. You have gifts to give and your own hurt can turn into helping.
But what if you haven’t experienced awful things and you can’t say you have been there? That’s fine and I am happy for you! Not only can you still learn how to help those in need and make a difference and help those who have been there stay healthy, but there are many other skills you will bring to the mix needed to help. Contact your local shelters, sexual assault hotline, community center, fire station, council of local churches that helps the needy, food banks, or whatever organizations in your area you can find that need volunteers, and find out how you can help! Sometimes a kind word or smile can go a long way, and sometimes people need someone to listen and just care. When we all help each other the world truly becomes a better place, so please consider sharing what you have learned in your life from your education, training, and your life experience and make a difference in someone’s life. You have gifts to offer whatever your background is, so please make the call or send that email today and bring someone some joy, and give yourself the peace that comes from knowing you have helped someone else make it through a rough time!