We can’t “personal responsibility” our way out of trauma.

There are going to be people who warn you against a “victim mindset.” 

They’ll tell you not to “define” yourself by having been victimized by trauma. 

They’ll tell you that to focus on your trauma every day is to stay “stuck” in it. 

And they’ll VERY often tell you to “take responsibility” for your life. 

For them, “taking responsibility” seems to mean NOT accepting, in any way, shape, or form, that you’ve ever been powerless— or that you are currently powerless over certain things. 

Trauma survivors very often get lectured about this “victim mindset.” 

If you acknowledge in public that you have survived trauma— even just the fact of it— you’ll very likely be told by SOMEONE to “quit playing the victim.” 

Let me tell you something about trauma survivors: as a group, they are absolutely NOT inclined to “play the victim.” 

One of the big tasks of recovery is to get REAL about how much control we DIDN’T have once upon a time— and how much control we DON’T have right now over certain symptoms and situations. 

That’s not a “victim mindset.” That is reality. 

We don’t acknowledge our LACK of control or our essential powerlessness over certain things, past and present, for the purpose of “wallowing” or “staying stuck.” 

We acknowledge these things because if we’re going to get REAL about what we CAN influence and HOW we can influence them, we can’t be kidding ourselves about “taking responsibility” for things we aren’t or weren’t responsible for. 

One of the things that keeps some trauma survivors stuck is a refusal to give up the fantasy that we can control everything, or that we were responsible for what happened to us. 

As long as we hang on that that fantasy, we can’t design a realistic recovery— because we’re not dealing with reality. 

Mind you: there are ABSOLUTELY some people out there who DON’T want you dealing with reality. 

They WANT you feeling ashamed of your past experiences and your current symptoms— because you’re easier to control in that state. 

If “they” can convince you that what happened to you then is your fault, and the symptoms you’re experiencing now are the result of you “not trying hard enough” to heal, they know you’re infinitely more vulnerable to sales pitches and compliant with behavioral requests. 

The culture absolutely uses victim blaming to manipulate us emotionally and control us behaviorally. 

The truth is, the past happened. And it affected us exactly how it affected us. We’re experiencing exactly what we’re experiencing. 

Denying and disavowing what happened or what we’re experiencing isn’t “empowerment.” 

Once we can straightforwardly accept that we are where we are, that we’re dealing with what we’re dealing with, that we can’t wave a magic wand called “personal responsibility” and suddenly be “in control” of overwhelming symptoms and memories…that’s when our REAL recovery can begin. 

Step One of the Twelve Step recovery tradition is all about copping to our own powerlessness. It’s about admitting that we are struggling with EXACTLY what we are struggling with— that we don’t have the option of NOT struggling with it. 

The reason why Step One IS Step One is, there really isn’t ANY recovery work that can be done in a state of denial. 

The culture, and some people, WILL try to bully you into “accepting responsibility” for situations and symptoms that will only make you feel helpless and hopeless if you buy into that expectation. 

Over time we CAN influence our symptoms, and we CAN change not the facts of our past, but our RELATIONSHIP with those facts. 

But to do ANY of that we need to be crystal clear that identifying trauma recovery as the main project of your life ISN’T about “staying stuck.” 

We commit to recovery precisely because we DON’T want to stay stuck— especially not the kind of “stuck” that is enabled by the fantasy that victimization is a “mindset,” rather than a fact that must be dealt with. 

You’re not wrong or crazy– the world ISN’T safe.

I would love to tell you nobody will ever abandon you again. 

I would love to tell you all relationships are safe. 

I would love to tell you the WORLD is safe. 

But I can’t. 

The truth is, there ARE dangerous people and situations out there. 

There ARE predatory people and organizations out there. 

There are people and organizations that will specifically target vulnerable people— people who have been through trauma, and who are struggling with the aftereffects. 

In trauma treatment and recovery, you’re going to hear a lot of “you’re safe now.” 

When people say this, they often mean “you’re not as vulnerable as you were when you were a child. You have knowledge, skills, resources, and physical size and strength you didn’t have then. You’re not as dependent upon abusive people and systems as you were then.” 

All of that tends to be true— but does that mean we’re “safe” now? 

One of the big problems I’ve always had with some messaging around trauma is that healing is a matter of “leaving the past in the past.” 

It’s true that post traumatic disorders often leave us confused about what is “then” and what is “now;” but it also tends to assume that the most dangerous parts of our journey are in the past, and we can “leave them there.” 

As someone whose professional life is devoted to working with people struggling with trauma, I can assure you: not all danger or pain IS in the past. 

There are absolutely people reading this who are STILL in abusive or exploitative relationships or situations, who feel trapped in them. 

There are people reading this who are struggling with institutional abuse or culturally sanctioned exploitation. 

There are people who experience much of their “everyday” existence in our culture as traumatic due to their racial, ethnic, or gender identity. 

Realistic, sustainable trauma recovery doesn’t assume that the danger or trauma is necessarily in the “past.” 

It doesn’t assume that trusting people is necessarily “safe.” 

The skills, tools, and philosophies of trauma recovery need to help us protect ourselves now and process ONGOING trauma, as much as they need to help us come to terms with past trauma. 

I cringe a little whenever I see a therapist say that “you have to let people in” or “you have to trust people” in order to recover from trauma. 

First, it’s my experience that there are very few “have to’s” when it comes to trauma recovery. 

(Some— but few.)

Second, “opening up” and “trusting people,” in the abstract, may not be possible or advisable for many survivors in recovery. 

We didn’t come by these attachment wounds by accident. 

Often our instincts about who we should or should’t open up to or trust have been skewed by the things we’ve experienced. 

Often we have very real struggles with the very idea of “opening up” or “trusting” people— and we don’t get past those struggles by forcing ourselves to connect before we’re ready. 

So— I can’t tel you the world is objectively “safe.” 

i can’t tell you that person isn’t going to leave you. 

I can’t tell you that the people around you are any more reliable or safe than the people you grew up with (how the hell would I know?). 

What I can tell you is, the more work you do in trauma recovery, the SAFER the world becomes FOR YOU— not because the world itself is any more or less are, but because YOU are more integrated, aware, and skilled. 

We need trauma recovery tools, skills, and philosophies specifically BECAUSE the world isn’t safe. 

We can’t let our trauma recovery be dependent upon the world or other people being safe. 

They aren’t. 

But WE can be safer IN the world, and WITH other people. 

Shame, amends, and self-forgiveness in trauma recovery.

We’re gonna get triggered by people who love us. 

We’re gonna get triggered by people who don’t mean to trigger us. 

We’re gonna get triggered by people who are going out of their way to NOT trigger us. 

It’s a bummer— but it’s gonna happen. 

It’d be more convenient if the only people who ever triggered us were people who meant us harm— that way, we could be angry about it without conflict. 

But when we’re triggered by people who we love, and who love us— it can get complicated. 

We might be angry about it— but feel guilty or shameful that we ARE angry about it. 

We might be hurt by it— but we might tell ourselves that we don’t have the “right” to feel hurt. 

Many of us might have people in our ives who know our struggle, and who do what they can to avoid adding to our pain— but sometimes, sh*t happens. 

Even if someone triggers us unintentionally— we’re still triggered. 

It took me awhile to come to terms with the fact that a feeling that frequently accompanies getting triggered, for me, IS anger. 

Sometimes I’m angry at the person— even if they didn’t mean to trigger me. 

But more often I’m just angry at the fact that I get triggered at all. 

It’s not fair. It’s a pain in the ass. It complicates my life and my relationships, and I hate it. 

So when I DO get triggered, whatever reaction I’m having to the trigger gets entwined with that anger— and it can come out at the person who triggered me. 

Afterward, it’s pretty common for me to feel guilt or shame about that fact. 

Trauma survivors in particular don’t like to think of ourselves as “angry” people. 

Many of us have been burned by anger— others’ anger, or our own. 

Many of us weren’t taught that it was okay to be angry, or what to do with anger. 

Like many strong emotions, we might be learning to deal with our anger for the very first time in recovery— because we didn’t have anyone show us how to non-destructively experience, process, and manage anger when we were kids. 

Here’s the thing: it’s normal to be angry when we experience pain. 

And it’s VERY normal to be angry that we have to worry about or deal with ANY of this trauma sh*t at all. 

When we snap at someone who has triggered us, whether or not they “deserved” it, we need to be able to push pause, take a step back, take a breath, and see the entire situation— including our reaction. 

Sometimes we need to apologize. I’ve definitely been in that boat. 

It can be hard for trauma survivors to sort through the feelings involved in apologies and making amends. 

Some of us were taught that if we did a “bad” thing— like snap at someone who didn’t “deserve” it— then we need to be punished. 

The truth is, we CAN feel guilt and contrition— but reject the undertow of shame. 

We CAN change our behavior— without punishing ourselves. 

The shame that I feel after snapping at someone is its own punishment. 

I know the subject and language of “forgiveness” can be really fraught for trauma survivors. It is for me. 

But it really is worth it to use that language with ourselves sometimes— especially when we have complicated emotional or behavioral reactions toward people we love. 

I don’t like that I snapped at the person I’m thinking about. I know she understands I was triggered and that at least some of what came out at her was sideways anger at trauma itself.

But I still feel horrible. 

The kid inside my head and heart still wonders if he deserves to exist. 

You do, sport. 

Sh*t happens. 

You’re forgiven, and your’e worthy. 

You are safe, and I am here. 

And we’ll make the amends we need to make, because that’s what we do in recovery. 

Is “awareness” REALLY the problem?

We hear a lot about mental health “awareness.” 

Specifically, we hear a lot about the importance of being “aware” of the consequences— personal and social— of abuse, neglect, and violence. 

It’s my experience that many trauma survivors have kind of a bittersweet relationship with these “awareness” campaigns. 

It’s hard to make the case that many people in our culture aren’t “aware” that bad, traumatic things happen to humans. 

But that “awareness” often doesn’t translate into compassion, credibility, or accessibility to resources for survivors. 

It’s as if the culture is quite “aware” of trauma— but doesn’t particularly give a sh*t. 

Ironically, this can spike a particular reaction in trauma survivors. It triggers a feeling we know all too well: that we’re not important enough to bother with. 

One of the most common experiences of trauma survivors is feeling visible— but unimportant. 

It’d almost be EASIER to feel invisible. 

It’d be almost better if our culture WASN’T acutely aware of the prevalence and consequences of trauma. 

But the truth is, we see it all around us. 

We see it on the news. And we see it in real life, too. 

Literally everybody reading this has experienced trauma, or knows someone who has. 

It’s NOT that we are not “aware” that trauma exists— and I don’t think we have all THAT many illusions about how prevalent and devastating it can be. 

We just don’t want to do anything about it. 

When people come forward with their stories, we don’t want to prioritize them. 

When people are open about their trauma-based symptoms, we often tell them they’re being “dramatic” or “seeking attention.” 

It’s as if our culture will do ANYTHING from being honest about and responsive to the fact that trauma occurs. 

But we do love a good “awareness” campaign, don’t we. 

We do love pretending that “awareness” can change things on its own. 

There are even some therapy techniques that suppose once we become “aware” of certain things— usually things that have been tucked away in the “unconscious mind”— that the work of therapy is largely accomplished. 

Show of hands: who reading this has ever been MORE than aware of a problem, MORE than aware of the EXACT dimensions of the problem and its origin…and yet NOT had the tools, skills, or resources to actually DO what needs to be done about the problem? 

(This is why, for as respectful as I am of psychodynamic theory’s contribution to the therapy world, I will never consider psychodynamic insight to be the end-all, be-all of therapy work.) 

Speaking for myself, I’m sick of awareness campaigns. 

If our culture is going to say it cares about abuse, neglect, sexual violence, and other trauma, it needs to walk its talk. 

Survivors need compassion, not public service announcements. 

Survivors need to be believed and respected, not used as talking points in “culture war” discourse. 

Survivors need access to resources like specialized therapy, paid medical leave, specialty inpatient treatment, and case management, not f*cking colored bracelets showcasing the wearer’s “awareness.” 

Our cultural institutions, like governments and insurance companies, LOVE to talk about awareness. 

But we survivors in recovery every day have no choice but to WALK that talk. 

We’d love some actual help. 

Don’t let “their” attitudes or statements f*ck with YOUR recovery.

We can’t let OUR recovery depend on what THEY are or aren’t willing to acknowledge. 

We just can’t. 

There will be times when other people will simply refuse to acknowledge what you’ve been through. 

There will be times when they refuse to acknowledge how difficult recovery is. 

There will be times when they try to turn it all back on YOU. 

They’ll call you “dramatic.” 

They’ll say you’re “attention seeking.” 

They’ll imply— or out right say— that you’re lying or exaggerating. 

None of this will have any basis in reality, mind you. 

It will ALL be about their issues. Their blocks. Their beliefs. Their agendas. 

But— they will try to get you to believe that YOU can’t move forward with YOUR recovery until you buy into their narrative. 

People really will do anything and everything to cram the world into the mold of THEIR beliefs, their agendas, their comfort zones. 

Unfortunately, for a lot of people, that means denying and disowning the fact that traumatic things happen to vulnerable people. 

The simply don’t want to acknowledge that. 

To really acknowledge it would be to upend their worldview. 

Similarly, they often don’t want to acknowledge that trauma RECOVERY is a hard, multilayered, one-day-at-a-time process. 

If they acknowledged THAT, they’d need to surrender many of their cherished beliefs about how all anybody needs to recover from painful experiences is “willpower.” 

I wish all of this was just limited to a subset of people out in the world— but the truth is, we run into these attitudes, beliefs, and narratives in a LOT of places. 

Our culture really glorifies this “all you need is grit” narrative. 

We make heroes out of people who suffer silently— and we heap scorn upon those who are publicly vulnerable. 

Whenever somebody accuses a trauma survivor who is openly discussing their experience and recovery of being an “attention seeker,” I want to ask them: “What kind of ‘attention’ do you think comes from openly identifying as a trauma survivor?” 

It’s often not the kind of “attention” anyone reading this WANTS. 

So why do people say this about trauma survivors? 

Because they need some reason— any reason— that people might be saying these things…any reason, that is, BESIDES the simple truth that these things happen. 

Some people just don’t want to know that trauma happens. 

Some people just don’t want to admit that trauma recovery is hard. 

Some people just don’t want to admit that traumatic things can happen to people— regardless of how privileged they are, regardless of how attractive they are, regardless of how “safe” their world supposedly is— that they have no control over…and it can affect them in the long term. 

They will go out of their way to defend and reinforce this denial. 

That’s why we can’t let their denial get in the way of our recovery. 

If we do, we’re going to be waiting…forever. 

Their denial has zero to do with your recovery. 

We don’t need their permission to recover. 

We don’t need their permission to identify our pain points. 

We don’t need their permission to do what we need to do, especially within our own head and heart, to recover from what happened to us. 

Don’t let “their” attitudes and statements f*ck with your head in trauma recovery. 

They are defending a narrative that has nothing to do with your recovery. 

Feeling disrespected or dismissed can be a particular kind of trigger for complex trauma survivors.

Complex trauma survivors often have this complicated relationship with visibility. 

On the one hand, many of us have learned over the course of our lives that to be seen isn’t particularly safe. 

Many of us consequently go through adult life trying hard NOT to be seen. 

It makes us anxious when attention is drawn to us. 

When someone wants to talk to us— when someone even calls us— we often assume we’re in trouble. 

We bend over BACKWARDS to NOT be “high maintenance” in our relationships or jobs— and if someone insinuates that we ARE “high maintenance,” we often feel TERRIBLE about it. 

For many complex trauma survivors, invisibility isn’t just the superpower they WISH they had— it’s something they’ve worked hard to cultivate. 

But then, on the other hand, feeling functionally invisible to certain people can be one of the most painful experiences of a complex trauma survivors’ life. 

We know what it feels like to be “invisible” to the people who “should” have seen us. 

We know what it feels like to be ignore by the people who “should” have been invested in us. 

We know what it feels like to be betrayed by the people who “should” have had our back. 

We often know all of that because we felt it growing up. For some of us those were some of the FIRST things we felt in life. 

As a result, in our adult relationships, we can often be hyper aware of whether we’re being seen and respected— at least by the handful of people who “should” see and respect us. 

If someone says they’re our friend— but then they don’t seem to have much genuine interest in our life, we notice. 

If someone says they love us, but then behave toward us in ways that really can’t be described as loving— we notice. 

If someone talks over us or interrupts us, as if what we were saying or expressing didn’t have particular value— we notice. 

We notice— and sometimes we react. 

Lots of complex trauma survivors find it surprising that, as hard as they’ve worked to NEVER feel or express anger in their adult lives, that feeling ignored or disrespected by certain, specific people can very suddenly elicit feelings and expressions of anger that even WE didn’t know were inside us. 

Almost nobody likes to think of themselves as an “angry” person, and complex trauma survivors in particular tend to go to great lengths to NOT be fundamentally “angry.” 

But when someone who “should” have our back behaves dismissively toward us, for some reason it often hits a button that lets ALL the anger we never expressed flow. 

Which, of course, means we sometimes feel ashamed afterward. 

After all, the emotions of anger and shame are often hard wired together in the nervous system of a complex trauma survivor. 

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to apologize for feeling angry OR hurt when someone behaves dismissively or disrespectfully toward you— especially a friend or lover. 

It DOES hurt. 

It hurts in a specific kind of way— because it recreates certain experiences that were at the root of our ORIGINAL hurt. 

How you manage and express your anger is up to you. I’m not in the business of telling anyone they’re dong it wrong or right. 

But you need to know that it’s not “wrong” to FEEL what you FEEL. 

You also need to know that this is the textbook definition of a trigger: a present day experience that is recreating old dynamics and emotional patterns. 

You bet your nervous system’s going to react. 

It’s not “wrong” or “bad” for doing so. 

YOU’RE not “wrong” or “bad” for having feelings and reactions. 


Some basics of dissociation.

Dissociation is often subtle. 

It’s often not the dramatic “switching” we imagine it to be, or we’ve seen dramatized in the media. 

Most often people who dissociate don’t announce it. 

Hell, often people who dissociate aren’t entirely aware they’re dissociating. 

Even when dissociation is somewhat extreme— such as it is in Dissociative Identity Disorder— “switching” between self-states isn’t experienced by a person as fun or exhilarating. 

It’s often a pain in the ass. It interferes with your day. 

It’s often confusing. People discover purchases they made— sometimes signifiant ones— that they don’t remember. 

When people dissociate, it’s not a floaty vacation from the “real world.” 

Some part of us still has to be present or “out front” to deal with the “real world”— and some part has to carry or otherwise deal with the painful memory or emotion that triggered the dissociation in the first place. 

Even when there are dissociative barriers between parts or aspects of experience, it’s not like anyone gets to just “skip over” or “zone out” pain. 

Some part of us ALWAYS has to deal with it. 

If that part of us is walled off from the other parts of us, that means that part is dealing with it alone. 

It’s an experience that often echoes the experience of having endured the abuse or abandonment in the first place— being alone, frightened, abandoned. 

It’s not fun. It’s not an adventure. It’s an adaptation to trauma. 

Nobody “chooses” dissociation because they think it’ll make them more interesting, or give them a pass to not deal with with something. 

Because the “something” that is dissociated is ALWAYS dealt with— just not consciously. 

When emotional pain or traumatic memories are walled off via dissociation, it means we can’t bring our adult understanding and skills to deal with it. 

It leaves the younger pars of us to try to handle it— alone. 

Don’t get me wrong: sometimes people have parts of themselves that charge RIGHT at a painful feeling or memory to try to “handle” it. Some people have “warrior” or “defender” parts of themselves that can very much hold their own on the emotional battlefield. 

But they shouldn’t HAVE to hold their own. 

Lots of people who dissociate describe feeling embarrassed or ashamed that they struggle to stay present when they’re triggered. 

There’s no shame in dissociation. You’re not choosing it. Very rarely does anyone say to themselves “I’m just gonna float away now,” or “I’m just gonna hand this over to a self aspect to handle.” 

Dissociation is an adaptation to trauma, usually enormously panful trauma that happened to us relatively early in our development. 

If you’re dealing with dissociation at ALL in your trauma recovery, it’s because it was, at one time, a relatively SUCCESSFUL adaptation. 

That’s why I’m not hot on shaming anyone for dissociating or demanding that parts “integrate.” 

I have ENORMOUS respect for ALL self-aspects and dissociative processes. I respect them and I’m grateful they were there for you. 

I want to work WITH them now— not against them. 

I want them to be able to trust you. 

I want you to be able to be there for them. 

I want the NEED to dissociate to diminish. 

I want YOU to be able to handle things WITHOUT checking out or instinctively handing them off. 

I want your dissociative processes and self-states to INFORM how YOU deal with stressors— instead of feeling obligated to take over and deal with them themselves. 

Healing doesn’t mean your parts go away. 

It means they get BETTER at what they do— and that you and all the parts of you have each others’ back. 

You are not a burden. Full stop.

Sometimes we just feel like we’re taking up…all the space. 

All the space, and all the oxygen. 

Survivors of neglect are particularly susceptible to this feeling. 

Growing up neglected is to grow up being sent repeated signals that you existence doesn’t matter; your needs don’t matter; your voice doesn’t matter. 

Survivors of neglect often come away from the experience feeling as if anyone allowing them to take up space in their world is doing them a favor— that they don’t have a right to exist, let alone consume resources. 

That’s a tough feeling to exist with, when we live in a world where we NEED to consume resources— in a world where we NECESSARILY take up space. 

It leads survivors of neglect to this place of contradiction: I don’t have the RIGHT to take up space or to consume resources; and yet I do, every moment I’m alive. 

Consequently, many survivors of neglect walk around feeling low-key guilty much of the time. 

Guilty for taking up space. 

Guilty for “demanding” attention. (Many survivors of neglect were specifically TOLD that they were “attention seekers”— as if there’s something unusual about children seeking attention.) 

Guilty for sucking up emotional oxygen, even in their closest relationships. 

The way we resolve that guilt is to realize your early experiences tricked you into believing you didn’t “deserve” time, space, resources, and attention— when, in fact you do, by virtue of being human. 

But that can be a tough sell to a survivor of neglect. 

Survivors of neglect are very often hesitant to believe they “deserve” even the basics that any human being deserves— after all, their early experiences led them to believe their very existence was a hassle. 

It’s a particular kind of anxiety to believe that your very presence in your closest relationships is somehow a burden to the other person— but that’s very often what survivors of neglect feel like. 

At the same time, many neglect survivors have a particular craving for intimacy and connection— for those things they didn’t get once upon a time from an indifferent family.

This often leads the kid we once were, and who we still carry around in our head and heart, confused. 

On the one hand, all they want is a hug. To be told they matter. To be told they’re not wrong or bad for taking up space. 

On the other hand, every experience that kid has ever had with someone who “should” have held them or made space for them, has resulted in that kid feeling like a burden. 

Here’s the thing: you’re not a burden just for being human. 

You’re not a burden for having needs. 

You’re not a burden for consuming resources. 

You’re not a burden for taking up space— emotional OR physical. 

The world very often tries to convince us we need to “earn’ the right to our existence— that if we’re not “productive” in ways defined by the world, that we really DON’T have a right to breathe or take up space. 

But you exist. You don’t have to “earn” the “right” to exist— you’re here. The right to exist is a right that cannot be taken away from you— definitely not by guilt or shame. 

If you’re in a close relationship with someone, you need to know that you ADD to that relationship just by your presence. The relationship wouldn’t exist otherwise. 

You need to know that that feeling that you’re a burden, you’re taking up too much space, you don’t have a right to breathe, need, or be— it’s fake news. 

It’s BS. Belief Systems— but also the OTHER kind of BS. 

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings that are difficult to cope with. But don’t let them bully you. 

You exist, you have the right to exist— and the world is better BECAUSE you exist. 

Yeah, you. 

I may not even know you, but I’m willing to place exactly that bet. 

Trauma recovery is about taking realistic responsibility for what we can– and rejecting fault that isn’t ours.

What “should” you feel bad about? 

I don’t know. And I don’t get a vote. 

Nobody does get a vote when it comes to what you, specifically, “should” feel bad about. 

The point of chipping away at shame in trauma recovery is NOT that we “should” never feel bad about anything. 

You get to decide what you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel bad or guilty about. You get to decide what you need to “make amends” for. 

In trauma recovery we DO discover, however, that we DON’T have to feel bad or guilty about things that were done TO us. 

We DON’T have to feel bad or guilty about OTHER people’s decisions. Not in a personal way. 

That might seem obvious— but it’s important we make that distinction, because one of the most common symptoms of complex trauma is feeling bad about almost EVERYTHING that’s EVER happened to us in our past. 

Trauma survivors’ default is very often to blame ourselves. 

Our default is very often to assume EVERYTHING was our fault, and everything IS our responsibility. 

Experiencing relational trauma in particular tends to leave our “fault” and “responsibility” wires crossed. 

As we develop our new philosophy of life in trauma recovery, we often have to grapple with what we ACTUALLY “should” feel fault and responsibility for. 

Sometimes people mistakenly assert that in trauma recovery, we encourage trauma survivors to reject responsibly for almost anything and everything. 

Not true. 

In trauma recovery, we are, in fact, taking responsibility for a LOT— most notably, our choices in THIS moment. 

But it IS accurate to say that in trauma recovery we are also REJECTING fault and responsibly for certain things— most notably, things that were done TO us and OTHER people’s decisions. 

I’m not going to tell you what you “should” feel bad about. That’s up to everybody’s individual sense of morality, ethics, and maybe spirituality. 

But I will tell you, with absolute conviction: meaningful recovery means giving up this fantasy that WE can or should be responsible for things that happened TO us, or OTHER people’s decisions. 

Not only were things that happened to us not our fault; not only were (and are!) other peoples’ decisions not our responsibility— but we can’t MAKE those things our fault or responsibility, even if we tried. 

It’s complicated, because we so often FEEL ashamed. 

That has nothing to do with reality. That has to do with conditioning. 

It has to do with the messages we were sent once upon a time— and, usually, that were reinforced over and over and over again, over the course of YEARS. 

Because we strongly FEEL ashamed doesn’t mean we have REASON to be ashamed. It doesn’t mean we “should” feel ashamed. 

And it DOESN’T mean we were at fault for our trauma. 

It DOESN’T mean we were responsible for avoiding it or stopping it. 

You are responsible for your decisions and your behavior. Right here, right now. 

There are things that impact and influence how “free” your decisions can be at ANY given time— but when we try to take responsibility for things that we can’t POSSIBLY control, often can’t even INFLUENCE…we set ourselves up for chronic shame. 

No more. 

Recovery is about taking realistic responsibly for what we can…and rejecting fault that isn’t ours. 

I know. Harder than it sounds. 

Which is why we just take it one day at a time. 

Our recovery needs to work for us EVEN IF the entire world “out there” goes to hell in a hand basket.

In every trauma or addiction recovery, there will be a ton of stuff we can’t control. 

In every LIFE, there is a ton of stuff we can’t control. 

I don’t believe in trauma or addiction recovery that depends on controlling stuff we can’t control. 

It’s true that it would be much EASIER to recover from trauma or addiction if we had control over certain things in our lives or environments…that we just don’t. 

It would be much EASIER to recover if we NEVER had to come into contact with people or situations that trigger us. 

It would be much EASIER to recover if we NEVER had to interact with family members that had been abusive or neglectful toward us. 

It would be much EASIER to recover if we didn’t have to work jobs to make a living. 

Many of the trauma and addiction recovery takes I read on the internet seem to assume that those of us in recovery have nothing else to do BUT recover. 

But that’s not the world we live in. 

We have jobs. Many of us have kids or pets. We can’t just check out of life to deal with our trauma or addiction issues, the check back in when we’re sufficiently safe or stable. 

I HATE when I see takes about how we need to take our recovery “seriously” by “getting help” when we need it…without acknowledging that the “help” on offer, even when it is affordable and/or accessible, often asks us to put everything else on hold in a way that just isn’t practical. 

Similarly, I see lots of recovery takes that encourage us to “take control” of certain things in our lives that we just can’t control in the real world. 

In the real world, we’re never going to be able to 100% control the people we have to interact with or are exposed to. 

In the real world, we’re never going to be able to control certain things about our stress level or our personal or professional responsibilities. 

In the real world, we will ABSOLUTELY come up against systemic obstacles and prejudices that can drastically limit how accessible or realistic certain recovery resources are to us. 

We can’t meditate or stress-manage those real world things away. 

So we need to design a recovery that is, as much as possible, realistically under OUR control— one that doesn’t hinge on us being able to access things that we just can’t reliably access. 

To me, what that means is that the main work of recovery happens in our head and in our heart. 

We have very limited control over certain aspects of our external environment— but we have a lot MORE control over our INTERNAL environment. 

That does not mean we have PERFECT control over what happens in our head and heart. 

Often times we are starting out with habits and beliefs that are energetically working AGAINST our recovery. 

Often times trauma survivors in particular struggle with intrusive thoughts and memories that can, at times, absolutely DOMINATE our internal environment. 

Often times addicts struggle with cravings that can positively OVERRUN anything we’re intentionally trying to think, feel, or focus on. 

What I’m trying to say is that NO aspect of recovery, internal or external, is easy. 

But if we are truly invested in our success in either trauma or addiction recovery, it matters whether we start with and focus on our internal or external world. 

I say life is too short to wish and hope that things reliably change for us externally. 

But in my experience focusing on the external world to bolster our recovery is a mistake. 

I can’t control what other people say or do. I can’t control the weather. 

i can’t perfectly “control” what I think, feel, or focus on either— but I have a LOT more INFLUENCE over what happens INSIDE my head and heart than I often have over what goes on out there in the world. 

So that’s where I choose to focus. 

My recovery— our recovery— has to work for us EVEN IF things to to hell in a hand basket “out there.”

Because— spoiler— things absolutely WILL, sometimes.