Trauma can create damage so dark and severe that one may not be able to see the full picture. With our response, to protect ourselves, precious things, places, people, and events held in common with the tragedy, we now become tainted and caustic. Even in death, we create a need to be distant and numb, allowing unhealthy coping skills to cover up and mask our newly learned truth. Over time, we each develop negative core beliefs which become relationally learned, presenting a bond that is then hard to break.
With some luck or with assistance, we can diffuse this new belief, and start to focus on our self, and our shared experiences with those places, people and things, we love. We increase our actuation of activities that bring value to oneself, loved ones, and with our surroundings. Over time, we separate and discontinue enabling the negative core beliefs, and strive for an adaptive belief system that reinforces beauty, love, strength, and courage. We begin to notice and bond with our surroundings and gain a clearer understanding of the connections we have yet to make. We will find the beauty in things we never before noticed, placing value and making affirmations of the smallest gain. Unfortunately for those who are unable to seek help, it may take a lifetime for relief, and gaining the understanding that trauma can bring us closer.
For those finding relief, it is seen through our un-faded memories and the love of life. We are able to shift our focus from where darkness resides, turning our lives and those around us into something glorious. We acknowledge our loss and of all the newly seen beauty around us. COLLATERAL BEAUTY can then be seen as a way to heal after trauma: not simply to survive, but to strive.
As a therapist, this concept is seen through the modality of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This approach focuses on bonds built between symbolic representations of objects, including private experiences, identified as the derived identified response. This learned relational framing helps us to understand and bring meaning to our thoughts, memories, sensations, and feelings that we are not directly presented with into our present-moment experience. The six major parts of ACT are identified as: acceptance, defusion, present moment, self-as-Context, values, and commitment. In ACT, acceptance is a willingness to come into contact with a person’s whole experience. Defusion creates a space to pause and notice the effectiveness of a response, the awareness of being flexible, and having the ability to choose a response rather than being reactive or automatic in response. Present moment, encourages the awareness of experiences as felt here and now. One must become aware of how past experiences are creating thought, feelings, and sensations in the moment. Self-as-Context is seeing or experiencing oneself separate from their private experience. Values are who and what matters to each person individually. It is our actuation of values that give us self-worth. Unfortunately when not activated or bound relationally to a negative experience, the opposite occurs. Commitment is about doing the observable behaviors or engaging in activities in the service of one’s values.
For me personally, Ozzie is todays example. Ozzie left the track and if not adopted would not be here today. Since retiring, he has become my companion, my friend, and my partner. Ozzie is an amazing animal and is loved by clients and coworkers. He is my partner in therapy and it was his potential demise that put us together. Away from his racing family, he has now found a forever family and a place to work where he is loved often. Thank you Heartland Greyhound Adoption for putting us together.
John F. McInnerney LISW, CADC
Licensed Independent Social Worker