Aurora, Colorado: Is Acceptance Possible After Trauma?
By Michele Rosenthal
I run support groups for trauma survivors in which we cover a slew of universal topics that each survivor struggles with on the road to healing. Lately, we’ve been talking about acceptance, which came up when some members struggled with the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting.
At the beginning of our conversations about acceptance we talked about how acceptance can only happen when you know you’ve done your best in a situation. That’s true. But what if the situation has nothing to do with you? Even when you know you’ve done your best there are still things that are going to be difficult to accept, i.e. there will always be evil in the world.
In mulling over the idea of acceptance I think it comes down to an issue of relinquishing control. We cannot choose, decide, or define the world according to our own desires. When we fight acceptance I think we’re also fighting our feeling of being out of control — which makes total sense for a trauma survivor since we have experienced the darkness that lack of control can bring.
In this case, then, perhaps acceptance includes two parallel things:
1- embracing the fact that this is how things are, just the way we embrace that the sky looks blue, the grass is green and gravity keeps our feet on the ground.
2- focusing on all the ways we are in control – and developing them – so that the things we don’t control are less overwhelming.
In the end I don’t think the issue is to accept violence or any other horror; certainly, they are unacceptable. What we do is accept responsibility for claiming as much healthy control as we can so that we live as safely as possible in an unpredictable world.
Try this exercise:
1 – Examine all areas of your life – career, family, relationships, friends, spirituality, health, personal development, finance, fun and enjoyment, safety — and rate your feeling of control on a scale of 1-10 (10 being ‘I have complete control’.).
2 – Once you have the scaled list of life areas prioritize it from most important to least.
3 – Starting with the most important item at the top of the list, identify what it would take to bring the number up one notch.
4 – Based on that one thing, devise a step-by-step plan to implement a strategy that will help you achieve that.
5 – Keep repeating steps 3 and 4 until you reach somewhere between 8-10 in that area.
6 – Move on to the next prioritized item.
This is, of course, a process that will take some time but at the bottom of trauma recovery is a reclaiming of a sense of safety and control that is engineered by you and, most importantly, the person you wish to be.