4000 Really Difficult Steps to Change was always my fantasy title for a book on healing from long term trauma. This would at least more accurately describe the experience of healing. Our world, especially the internet blog and the self help world , while trying to be helpful, has made it seem like the path to growth and healing is easy; everything is just 3 Easy Steps, or 7 Simple Slogans away from total cure or complete happiness. If it doesn’t work, well, that’s because you did it wrong, you didn’t try hard enough, or you don’t have enough willpower.
First ‘3 easy steps’ model implies that the process can be done alone in the do-it-yourself model so popular nowadays. But, healing from long term trauma is not a solitary activity. No one heals alone. Trauma shatters. And much of what it shatters are the connections in our world—between people and within communities. Trauma shatters trust and trust must be healed through relationship. In fact, for most things that we need to learn to truly grow, we need supportive relationships as learning environments. I’m not entirely sure where our love affair for ‘self-help’ came from, but there is an irony in the views we have of self help for medical problems and mental health problems. If you broke your leg, refused medical care and a cast, and opted, instead, to hop around and walk on the broken leg anyway—you would get called ‘crazy.’ Your ability to make sound judgments would be questioned. You would, ironically, get hauled in for psychological help.
Yet when you are psychologically run over by a car—breaking multiple psychic bones, and ‘walk on the broken bones anyway’ – you will get a pat on the back and told that you have “a strong character.” Yet in most cases, this is exactly what happened. In situations of long term trauma, you were hurt badly, and not taken care of. You had to let everything heal as it was and work around it, trying to hide your limp. Now its time to go back and do the work of healing. This is difficult work.
This brings us to the second and most difficult part of the ‘3 easy steps’ view of healing— it’s not 3 steps and it’s not easy. Healing from long term trauma, like developmental growth, happens in cycles over time. No one likes to hear that things take a long time, it feels virtually ‘un-American’ to say that—but really, if it really was 3 easy steps—wouldn’t most people have done it already? But here’s the thing: it’s not that there’s no way forward, it’s just that it is a long way forward. But it is often made more difficult for people who are trying to heal when they are told the entire time that it should be going faster, or should be less difficult. But it is a very worthwhile journey, these 4000 steps…
© Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD 2014