- Trauma survivors struggle to take care of their mental health as much as their physical health, but this should be prioritized in the new year.
- Unmet needs in childhood often manifest in adulthood, leading to unhealthy behavior patterns—but 2023 can be the year to start unpacking.
- Survivors of trauma might need an extra push to engage in self care and self-compassion, but it is essential to healing.
Many of us are ready for 2022 to be over. We are nearing what is hopefully the end of a pandemic—travel is resuming again, and fear of catching COVID had been replaced by the almost-forgotten FOMO (fear of missing out).
Many start the new year with unattainable goals and unrealistic expectations, fearful of staining the black canvas before them. Then as the colder weather approaches, we look back on everything we did not accomplish or achieve, call the year a wash, and set our sights on the upcoming year.
If you experienced trauma during the past year, such as a traumatic breakup or divorce, a fallout with a family member, or if you are coming to terms with previous traumas, the end of the year can feel all the more necessary for healing.
Trauma survivors are suffering what we call layered trauma during this time. We have the trauma from the lingering effects of the pandemic, worldwide violence, and natural disasters compiled with the social and political climate, creating an overall feeling of unease and discomfort for many. These are the things that everyone is dealing with. But if you are also dealing with the effects of lingering personal traumas from your history, it can be difficult to even know where to start to move forward in the coming year.
Here are some tips for 2023 goal-setting:
1. Create more time and space this year for self-compassion. Many survivors struggle to move forward and make new goals due to a history of not feeling in control over their own stories. Survivors of abuse and family trauma have usually spent a long time being invalidated and gaslighted, many times even by those who perpetrated the abuse. Own your truth and your story, and know that not everyone has to see it to make it valid.
This year, prioritize what makes you feel happy while taking time to validate yourself and your feelings. Practice being understanding towards yourself and your imperfections. As survivors of childhood trauma, it is common to have negative self-talk throughout the day. You probably do not even realize that you are doing it. This comes from years of external messages that making mistakes is unacceptable and that it is always your fault when they do happen. Due to this, many survivors seem unable to look at situations logically or realistically when something goes wrong. Instead, they tend to blame themselves for the difficulties they experience (Webb, 2012).
2. Let go of limiting beliefs. Do not promise yourself that you will never again break down and cry or snap at a loved one, for this is not logical. Instead, focus on creating awareness. Pledge to be more aware of the negative feelings and decrease the amount of time focusing on them.
Trauma recovery is not linear. We do not process from steps 1 through 10 and then declare ourselves cured. There will undoubtedly be setbacks as you navigate this new year. Make a goal to have one positive change you’re working towards. Maybe it is to stop reacting harshly to others. Maybe it is to decrease the intensity to which you react to perceived slights.
3. Work on improving boundaries. Many survivors of childhood trauma struggle to identify their boundaries due to years of having theirs ignored. Many of my adult clients have to start at the beginning and learn what their boundaries are and how to enforce them. Whatever age you are, you can learn what your boundaries are. Start by thinking about what things bother you, such as conversation topics or situations that you do not feel comfortable in. Knowing that you can choose to walk away or end the conversation if you feel uncomfortable or not answer the phone if you are not available can feel empowering.
4. Ask yourself, "What essential need of mine have I been neglecting?" And make an effort to make it happen. Maybe you continuously do not let yourself get enough sleep. Take steps to prioritize this by declining offers to go out with friends in the evening, turning your phone on silent, or taking something else off your to-do list that takes away from your rest time. Trauma survivors carry a lot of guilt—from their families, faith communities, and society in general. They were usually taught that it is somehow wrong or shameful to partake in "selfish" activities, so self-care can feel uncomfortable at first. Make this year's goal one of increasing comfort with self-care.
5. Understand that setbacks will happen, and prepare accordingly. Many who have survived trauma want to "leave it in the past," "forget about it," and then they worry they let themselves down or even failed when these feelings inevitably resurface. It does not do any good to tell yourself to forget, move past, or leave your trauma in 2022—for this is unrealistic. Instead, understand that it is something you take with you into the new year, but with renewed purpose and meaning and a plan for healing.
Above all else, prioritize yourself. Show yourself compassion, love, and support. You can restart or change any goal at any time—they are meant to help you, not impede your progress. While it is difficult to quantify mental health progress, the goal is to feel better about yourself and your environment. We do not know what 2023 will bring, but we can build a strong foundation for whatever may come.
Webb, J. (2012). Running on Empty. Overcome your childhood emotional neglect. p 70-85