Victimized by Crime: Hope and Healing After Trauma

Dear Liz,

I’m a 26-year-old woman living a charmed life: 2 great kids, loving husband, well-to-do, intelligent, very attractive, very outgoing personality. A week ago I came home from shopping around noon and walked in on 3 teens (probably) burglarizing our house. Thankfully I was unhurt but was left tightly bound, gagged, face down and hogtied on the kitchen floor. I struggled furiously but couldn’t get free. Three hours later my kids and two of their friends arrived from school and found me “mmphing” and lying all tied up in a helpless, embarrassing heap. They removed the gag from my mouth but had to get a neighbor to untie the rest of me. I was humiliated and felt my self-esteem completely evaporate. A week has gone by and I’m depressed and feel like a schnook. For my kids to see me so utterly bound has destroyed my pride, sense of dignity. How do I recover from this mental ordeal and regain my sense of confidence, pride?

Dear Friend,

What a traumatic and devastating experience for you. I am so sorry.

Right now you are in crisis, and if you were “doing well,” I’d be concerned that you were doing some version of denial/shutting down. So just for starters, please consider this truth: You will be okay, you will recover from this, but right now, it’s one day at a time. Be gentle with yourself.

The response to most traumatic events in our life follow along some common emotional/psychological themes. There is that stunned state of disbelief and a numb detachment, coupled with an internal shattering so deep that sometimes the emotions that rise up feel like they could annihilate us. When that happens, we often do shut down, or put aside, or take on a “habit of distraction,” all of which can allow space for the following beliefs to take root:

  1. I have no control
  2. I have lost myself
  3. I’m devastated
  4. I’m ashamed
  5. I’m weak

In such a broken state, we may ask:

  1. How do I go on?
  2. Who am I?
  3. How can I get past this?
  4. How can I recover from this?

Traditionally, the aim of recovery is to “get ourselves back to where we were.” We want our equilibrium restored, our well-being, our esteem, and the feeling of being okay in our own skin. We want to feel good again, we want the incident far from thought, and we certainly don’t want the trauma blindsiding us months or even years down the road. We want to exist apart from what happened to us.

Therapy can help with this recovery process, and I encourage you to find someone as soon as you are able. Trauma isolates us, so it’s really important to connect with a counselor who can listen and validate all you are going through. I highly recommend a therapist who practices both mindfulness as well as EMDR (you can go online to goodtherapy.org, and read up on both). EMDR will “heal the brain,” while talk therapy will help you move through the stages of grief you are experiencing. This is a process, so give yourself time. Expect ups and downs on your path to recovery.

Trauma and Grief

Keep in mind that trauma and grief go hand in hand. You wrote that you are depressed. I’d like to invite you to think of your post-trauma response as grief, rather than depression. I say this for two reasons. Trauma steals from its victim, and as such, there is profound loss. Where there is loss, there is grief. Also, it appears that you are feeling the impact of this event, and seeking help. Both of these suggest you are capable of moving through this grief, without getting stuck.

I’m not suggesting depression is impossible given your situation, or in the event of trauma. For example, abused/neglected children often suffer depression as the result of their childhood traumas, because they lack the developmental skills to process their traumas at such a tender age. And rape victims often must “turn off” simply to survive the suffocating shame that follows sexual assault. But you are naming what you lost—you are conscious of what trauma has stolen from you, and as such, you are positioned to grieve. Grief is fluid. Depression is stuck. What we do not feel in the moment, what we do not grieve in the present, we encounter at a later time in our depression.

When Our Sense of Self Evaporates

You named what you lost: Your dignity, your pride, your esteem. At your very core, you have lost the familiar way you experience your own self. In simplest terms, you have lost all you have come to identify as “you.” Trauma often results in this, and the aim of trauma work is to recover the lost self.

What Can Trauma Teach Me?

There is a powerful lesson in any experience of trauma: You are not what happened to you; you are not what you think about yourself as a result of what happened to you.

In fact, with or without trauma, when we come to realize that our identity (and worth) is not something dependent upon any external thing whatsoever, we immune ourselves from “losing our identity/self-worth” to a random event, person, or suffering. If our identity is based around what others think of us, what we do, our status, how loved we think we are, how admired, etc., then trauma or crisis can shatter our experience of self, our worldview, our interior equilibrium.

All trauma, all crisis that shows up in our life, is pressing us to do soulful, spiritual, work. Always.

In the aftermath of a trauma, we are not in our “right mind.” Quite literally, reason eludes us. Either we can’t make sense of an event, we can’t focus long enough to genuinely process—we can’t even begin to touch the edges of understanding how this could have happened. We are frozen in “why…how…what if…” and we long for some organic form of justice, legal or otherwise, but even if that longing is realized, we often remain fractured.

Only Love can heal us.

Beyond Recovery

If you connect with a skilled therapist, and if you invest in the process, you will be able to recover. Recovery is “rational.” Heal the body, heal the mind, and you can recover. But healing—true healing—is always spiritual in nature. Healing can appear paradoxical, because healing may result in a “cured body and mind,” but it doesn’t have to. Take serious illness, for example—we can actually die, fully healed. In the same way, we can also recover, but not have healed the dimension the illness was tugging at us to address. Western medicine helps us recover, but all true healing is Divine in its nature.

Healing Always Involves Forgiveness

Whether our trauma has its roots in violence, abuse, divorce, rape, war, sudden death, etc., all crisis and trauma asks of us to practice forgiveness, simply because healing always involves forgiveness. Forgiveness is a world view, a consciousness shift, not a solitary act. Our EGO narrows the concept of forgiveness for us, so that we say “there is no way I can forgive “x” for doing “y.” But forgiveness is so much bigger, and far more subtle.

Forgiveness is not a “reason based activity,” but a spiritual one. It is the “irrational” choice to fully accept the circumstances of our life: to trust that where we are is where we are meant to be. Acceptance of an event (and its perpetrator(s)) means placing it outside of our self—it does not define us, and therefore can be seen from a distance, allowing space for compassionate consideration to unfold.

Forgiveness asks us to accept that we aren’t going to get a reasonable explanation, because the rational mind cannot comprehend the greater workings of the Universe. Instead, we turn to the non-rational part of our self, our Spirit. Here, in the heart of our Spirit, we encounter compassion, and forgiveness feels obvious. The very comfort we long for comes from experiencing the power of compassion. This is a practice, not an instantaneous event, a practice that brings about a shift in consciousness.

The very act of forgiving deepens our intimacy with grace and with our authentic Self. Grace is that endless reserve of unconditional love that lights up and energizes our entire being. When we experience the grace that dwells within us, we begin to heal. We loosen the shackles of EGO, and diminish the experience of shame, humiliation, and worthlessness. We become more trusting in a cosmic sense, and we struggle less with image, expectation, and control. Compassion for others becomes our default setting.

All things good begin with forgiveness.

In Conclusion

Something big happened to you. Something traumatic. Something that has wrecked the flow of your very charmed life. In addition to addressing the grief and the natural post-trauma reactions, I invite you to be open to the wisdom that is tapping you on the shoulder, the wisdom that wants to be revealed to you. As you observe what happened to you from a distance, consider this traumatic event as the universe stepping in, stripping you of your esteem and pride, safety and control, and sense of well-being, and ask: Why? What would the Divine Cosmos possibly want you to see…to come to understand?

At the very deepest level, trauma can only steal what is not at the core of who you are: That which cannot be diminished, cannot be stolen, cannot be shattered, cannot be made cynical or untrusting or depressed or ashamed…find her. Find her in the midst of this painful mess. You can do this.

Love, Liz

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