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Four Ways Spirituality Can Help You Cope with Difficulty

​People have always sought answers to the unexplained.

ID 36175366 © Studio Grand Ouest |
Source: ID 36175366 © Studio Grand Ouest |

People have always sought answers to the unexplained. From our earliest days humanity has searched for a deeper meaning to existence, especially in the face of unbearable conditions and experiences. Despite the long-running rift between science and spirituality, new research suggests that spirituality and the benefits we receive from spiritual practices can be an integral part of recovering from a traumatic experience and merit inclusion in psychotherapeutic treatment. Here are four reasons you should consider incorporating spiritual practices that resonate with you into your own mental and physical health plan.

Spirituality is the world’s oldest coping mechanism. One of the many reasons various forms of spiritual expression have been around for so long is that they provide a larger framework for understanding both the meaning of life and how life can still be justified despite cruelty and trauma. As you begin to work through the difficult parts of your own history, you may find that many of your questions have already been thought of and discussed for centuries, if not millennia. Digging into your spiritual practices and beliefs can connect you to a larger tradition that acknowledges your questions instead of ignoring them.

You create your narrative. An important component of reclaiming your life following a destructive period of abuse, addiction or trauma involves reclaiming your own narrative: what has happened to you, why, and what you will make of it. Turning to a spiritual practice that resonates with you is an important first step in creating or recreating your narrative by first couching the events in a framework that is distinctly personal. Although the past can never be undone, with intention you can control how you perceive the past and how much you want it to be a part of your future.

You don’t have to do it alone. Pursuing spirituality will likely lead you to a community of like-minded individuals who can share something you’re passionate about and perhaps even (appropriately) commiserate over your experiences. Spiritual communities also often engage in acts of community service, which over time can improve your self-esteem and self-worth. Recognizing your innate value while being surrounded by people who see you as valuable and worthy of love can go a long way in helping you to work through a history of trauma.

Let go. Accepting that some things are just completely out of our control is difficult. Yet when we are confronted by a traumatic event in our past, we are forced to do just that. It is often easier to hide from our past by numbing ourselves through an addiction to drugs or alcohol or by trying to live as though the event never happened. But particularly in the case of addiction as a coping mechanism for trauma, you can only run so far until you either confront your demons or die. It may not work for everyone, but for some, a spiritual practice or set of beliefs can be the permission you need to engage in the final stage of the grieving process: acceptance.

It’s true that there are some things we will never know about life. But as we continue to live through experiences that defy human understanding, we should not ignore the potential benefits that accompany spiritual practice, including community, tradition and higher meaning. To ignore spirituality entirely is to deny ourselves one of the oldest human activities for making sense of our lives and existence. What a shame it would be to miss out on that.

More from Constance Scharff Ph.D.
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