What attitude do we have after a trauma? The truth is that ultimately how we relate to trauma situations has a lot less to do with what really happened, and a lot more with what we think about the things. And that is what we call attitude.
Here is a situation from my childhood that might help you identify with what I am saying. When I was about ten, a cousin shoved me off the dock at the lake while we were playing. The problem was, I didn’t know how to swim. I panicked but nobody noticed. I remember, after the incident I refused to talk to him. He apologized, but I still refused to have anything to do with him.
Finally my mother became very somber and said, “Anna, it is time to change your attitude.” Well at the time I had no idea how in the world I was supposed to accomplish this extraordinary feat. All I knew was that I felt very scared and angry at Adam, so I took her words as meaning that I should quit feeling angry. But I still felt angry. After all, he had almost drowned me. So my next step was to repress my fear and anger and pretend I was happy. And in the meantime I became quite an actress. But inside my attitude never changed.
So how can you change your attitude about a trauma?
1. Do not repress your feelings but deal with them. Your fear was real and you might have been severely hurt or killed. Allow yourself to have a body reaction like shaking or hiding. Acknowledge your feeling, talk to an empathic friend or counselor. Write about them.
2. Then examine your thoughts about the event. What are you thinking when the incident comes up in your mind? My thoughts were that Adam had tried to kill me. Are your thoughts that things will never change? I lost my leg and I will never be able to walk again? My life is over? I might as well give up?
3. Now look rationally at those thoughts. Are your thoughts actually true?My thoughts were not true. Adam was not really trying to kill me. Throwing me into the water was his idea of fun. He did not know I couldn’t swim.
Now for the lost leg: Just because you lost your leg in an IED explosion does not mean that you’ll never walk again. There are great prosthetics. Besides there are many many wonderful things you can do without ever walking again.
4. Now it is time to decide what you want to think about the trauma, what your attitude will be.
5. Then it is time to act on that new attitude. Don’t just sit there. How your life turns out depends on your thoughts + actions.
For a great inspirational movie about attitude change, watch Dolphin Tale.