TRAUMA: journal or speaking prompts

TRAUMA: journal or speaking prompts

Some of you have expressed that you find benefit in trauma through writing or conversing so I want to offer some journal or speaking prompts.  This can be done in conversation with a trusted person or through journal writing. The ultimate goal is to find the silver lining in the pain you went through. First, acknowledge that your loss or trauma has caused you a great deal of suffering. How did you respond to this painful event? How were you affected in terms of mind, body and spirit, and your relationship with others? Secondly, consider how much you have grown as a result of your loss. Do you have a new perspective on something you’ve never had perspective before? Are there certain positive character traits you have gained or honed as a result of surviving this experience? Thirdly, think about how the trauma has positively affected your relationships? Write or converse about relationships that have gotten stronger, more intimate or more supportive due to the trauma you underwent.

Challenge your own pessimistic thoughts. Many of us are overwhelmed by negative thought patterns when we undergo a challenge, stressful event or trauma. One valuable exercise is to follow the ABCDE disputation technique: A for adversity, B for belief, C for consequence, D for disputation, and E for energize. By logically arguing with your pessimistic thoughts and finding a more pragmatic and less negative interpretation of events that are causing your pessimism, you are honing your own ability to short-circuit your negative thought patterns–for your present mood and for other future similar events that may cause you to fall into an emotional rut. Here are the steps in order:

a. Write down the nature of the adversity, the bad event or problem you are facing–e.g., “My baby won’t sleep…EVER.”

b. Identify any negative beliefs triggered by this problem–e.g., “Something must be wrong with him” or “I’m terrified that I’m doing something wrong.”

c. Record the consequence of the problem, how you are feeling and acting as a result–e.g., “I feel miserable and lonely, like I’m the only one feeling this way” or “I’ve never been good at resting myself, maybe I’m just a bad role model” or “I’ll skip his nap and just hope for the best.”

d. Dispute the negative belief, challenging it, thinking of other possible reasons for the problem–e.g., “Perhaps my baby just isn’t tired (I remember a friend saying her baby never napped and he turned out fine),” or “Maybe she’s in a developmental stage where he wants to explore the world and it will pass.”

e. Considering the more optimistic explanations for your problem can energize you and lift your spirits, so that you become less anxious and more hopeful.

Foster a sense of forgiveness. First, it is important to remember that forgiveness is something that you do for yourself, not for the person who may have hurt you. When we let go of resentment and hostility, we give ourselves the mental and spiritual space to be happier. Recall a time in your life when you were forgiven for hurting another person. You may have intentionally or unintentionally hurt a family member, friend or significant other. If the other person forgave you, how did it make you feel? Did the experience teach you an important life lesson, or improve you in any way? Or perhaps you currently are seeking forgiveness from another person. If this applies to you, as a writing exercise consider writing a letter of apology–whether it’s for something you did in the past or in the recent present. Describe the harm done, acknowledge that it was wrong, and apologize for your behavior. Whether or not you want to send this letter is completely up to you. The point is when we recognize that we are capable of wrongdoing, we have the chance to foster a sense of forgiveness in our own hearts when other people wrong us.

Imagine forgiveness, then write a letter of forgiveness. Research has shown that participants who practice forgiveness and empathy experience less stress and more self-esteem than participants who hold onto grudges and harbor painful memories. Write a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you. Be as specific as possible in how the person hurt you, how you continue to be hurt by it, and what you wish the other person had done instead. Make sure to end the letter with an explicit statement of forgiveness and understanding. Whether you send the letter or not is completely up to you, as the person you are forgiving may not be a part of your life anymore or not even alive.

Consider the charitable aspects of the transgressor. One effective way to foster the forgiving process is to see the positive or charitable aspects of the person who has wronged you. You may want to imagine what an apology letter from the transgressor would look like if you were to receive one. Maybe the person was going through a difficult life transition, underestimated the pain afflicted upon you, motivated by good intentions or simply not aware of the hurt he or she caused you. By trying to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and not defining the person by the harm he or she caused you, you have the chance to expand your own sense of humanity and let go of your intensely personal past pain.


Post an intent on how you plan on managing stress or hardship today. (Example: “My intent is to write a letter of forgiveness to someone who has hurt me in the past.”)

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