A Healthy Idyllwild: Social support is good medicine

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Nothing in this article is meant to be medical advice. Please consult your own healthcare provider. 

Some info below taken from: 

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1995). “Trauma & transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering.” Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/SERNA-JOE-Comprehensive-Soldier-Fitness.pdf 

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 2891543/

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC 5480897/

What pops out of most research studies as the indispensable factor that supports recovery, resiliency and post-traumatic growth after exposure to trauma?

Social support.

An enormous amount of research supports what common sense tells us: The social support that a community provides traumatically wounded members benefits the entire community. In both good and bad times, members of supportive, interpersonally connected communities have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being, and lower rates of illness and death over-all. This “community” can be small, as in a close partner, or large, as in a village.

Reaching out to provide care, to bind emotional and physical wounds, is human nature. Needing, seeking and accepting that care when wounded is also human nature. Both are healthy responses to adversity. Caring for others and being cared for benefits all.

What is social support? Overall, caregivers are providing emotional comfort, restoring a sense of security, facilitating problem resolution, and providing opportunities for further post-traumatic growth and fulfillment.

This overall complex of caring may well require a village — individual as well as group support.

More specifically, we are creating a safe space for the wounded member to be vulnerable and dependent — for a time. We offer ourselves to listen to the negative emotions engendered by the hurt. We provide physical aid to relieve burdens. We protect the wounded from further harm.

We do all this nonjudgmentally, with genuine acceptance and understanding.

Of critical importance to the post-traumatic growth of the wounded, we also support his/her strengths and abilities to cope and move on, to rebuild a life perhaps even richer than what went before. We daringly support the once-wounded-now-recovering to use the harmful as a means to achieve positive change.

What of the wounded and cared-for? What is his/her part in this complex of social caring?

In the best scenario, the wounded reaches out for and accepts caring help. This takes courage to trust another after traumatic wounding. The traumatized community member then will, hopefully, begin to feel restored — slowly, with time. When able, the wounded then accepts the responsibility of post-traumatic growth. Each to his/her own timetable here.

Healing is not linear. We might think of it as more of a spiral. The spiral naturally routes back on itself, revisiting the nodal points of suffering. Importantly, though, this is never returning to the actual starting point, even though it often feels to the wounded as if he/she has made no progress at all.

Once the first step in a life-changing journey of growth and recovery has been taken, we have stepped off the platform, and even though we may route back to the nodal points, we are never the same person each time. In real life, suffering and growth co-exist.

Callie Wight is a California state-licensed registered nurse with a Master of Arts in psychology.

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