Trauma is sometimes classified as one of 3 different categories – acute, chronic, and complex. Regardless of which category it falls under, trauma undeniably impacts how one functions in their daily life, from relationships to jobs to identity.
70% of adults in the United States have experienced some type of trauma in their lifetime . That is 223.4 million people that have been hurt and are experiencing a pain that cannot be seen but is strongly felt .
Trauma is a risk factor for “nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders,” and the impact of traumatic stress can also cause harrowing physical health challenges .
Treatments for Trauma
With so many impacted and the impact being so severe, mental health professionals and researchers are constantly searching for tools and treatments to heal these individuals.
Some of these are more complex treatments that involve light bars, sound equipment, and exposure. These are shown to be effective; however, these solutions don’t mean an intervention needs to be technically advanced or complex to be helpful.
In fact, simply strengthening certain traits, such as self-compassion, is proven to be effective in improving impact and reactions to trauma. Self-compassion can be succinctly considered a trait or skill that allows an individual to relate to themselves and their limitations or imperfections in a healthy manner without self-shame or judgment.
Numerous studies have indicated the benefits of strengthening one’s capacity for self-compassion, showing that it “helps people to better tolerate painful emotions such as grief, despair, anxiety, anger, and shame .”
A 2019 article points out the challenge one might experience having self-compassion if they have experienced trauma, as extending “a loving embrace to ourselves when we like ourselves the least, such as when we feel unworthy or isolated” is no easy feat .
We can learn a good deal about how self-compassion relates to PTSD symptoms by looking at how people respond to these symptoms without self-compassion.
The Impact of Self-Compassion
Research indicates that “low self-compassion was linked to a negative self-concept, relationship difficulties, and affect dysregulation .” This is seen particularly in those that engage in hypoactivation strategies, which are “attempts to downregulate, numb, and turn the distress inwards .”
Essentially, those that experience trauma and have little to no self-compassion are more likely to internalize the messages of their trauma and attempt to punish themselves for it through ineffective and harmful behaviors that numb or distract from their pain. These individuals also, heartbreakingly, report high intensity of feelings of shame and guilt related to their trauma.
Self-compassion may be an “effective antidote” to these feelings of guilt and shame, as “feelings of kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness can come to replace feelings of self-blame, isolation, and emotional avoidance .”
“Self-compassion has the potential to buffer against the impact of traumatic stress through the process of cognitive appraisal and emotion regulation and by helping individuals to make better use of social support .”
The sad truth is that most individuals cope with trauma in ways that hurt them, both mentally and physically. Self-compassion can help individuals tap into their own value to help them view themselves as worthy of support and healing, not punishment or isolation.
Resources: Unknown (2020). How to manage trauma. National Council for Behavioral Health, retrieved from https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Trauma-infographic.pdf?daf=375ateTbd56.  Braehler, C., Neff, K.(2019). Self-compassion for PTSD. Emotion in PTSD.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published October 27, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 27, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC