7 Lessons On Keeping Hope Alive While Healing From Sexual Assault
Updated: Apr 1
If it doesn’t go perfectly, and according to plan then it’s happening all wrong.
If it isn’t coming easy then I must not be good enough.
I don’t feel as good as I did yesterday… I must be failing.
There’s no possible way things can get better.
Do any of those feel familiar?
When we’re faced with the task of reconstructing our lives after a traumatic event Hope is like water in the desert. Finding, creating, and maintaining Hope is a central pillar in the process of healing from trauma.
Without hope it’s not just that we give up, it’s that we literally can’t continue moving forward (at least not in any meaningful way). Sure, we might keep surviving day to day, but we won’t dare engage with the project of Thriving without Hope.
Hope is about believing that you can overcome something hard, and that the end result can and will be worth the effort.
In the midst of a traumatic situation we are left with literally no options exception those of last resort. Hope on the other hand exists when we have access to desirable options, and we believe we can achieve them - even if it’s hard (incredibly hard, feels impossible kind of hard).
Are you ready to begin working with a trained trauma therapist who can help things not be so hard?
Hope is about finding workable options
The infamous Brené Brown has written and spoken volumes on the power and importance of Hope. Here are a few key points and strategies distilled down in to something you can use today.
Hope is a state of mind. It isn’t something we can feel without first believing that it exists.
Hope is teachable (and therapy helps). Those supporting a survivor (or anyone, especially children) can role model Hope. You can share your Hopefulness with your loved ones, and reassure them that it’s ok to hopeful.
Hope is built upon resiliency and resources. To have Resiliency is to have the ability to bounce back after something hard or terrible has happened. Resources are the material, financial, social, spiritual, and environmental supports you have access to.
It is completely possible to build resiliency and connect to resources after a traumatic event, but having these things in place before hand supports and often shortens the healing process.
Resiliency and Resources are built early, often, and in community with others.
Hope is built upon accomplished goals. When we create and reach our goals we dare to believe that we can create and reach even larger goals. When we meet a goal we learn that we’re capable of accomplishing hard things (Brown).
Hope is threatened by unworkable goals. Setting overly ambitious goals leaves no room for error. We set ourselves up for failure which kicks off a cycle of shame. We stop believing we can do hard things. We lose Hope for the future.
Hope needs SMART goals:
Specific: knowing exactly what you’re aiming for
Measurable: your progress has milestones you can track
Achievable: it’s possible to achieve the goal given the resources you have access to
Relevant: reaching your goal will have a positive impact on reaching future goals
Timely: there’s a window of time you set to accomplish your goal.
Hope harming goal: “I’ll be total over my sexual assault in a few weeks or so.
Hope SMART goal: “Over the next month I’m going to connect with two new community resources, develop 2-3 new coping skills, and arrange a consult session with at least 3 different therapists.”
Hope needs Short and Longterm Goals: Primary and secondary survivors of assault (or any trauma) benefit from creating small daily goals, and bigger longterm goals. Setting daily goals can help energize you to have the patience for longterm goals and the overall healing process.
Keep in mind that trauma can impact every area of your life. Things that may have been easy once might now feel really challenging or exhausting. It's OK for your goals to feel small.
Healing from trauma is a difficult process. But it is made immensely less challenging when you have the resiliency, resources, and know how to set and reach Hope creating goals.
If you or a loved one is struggling to heal from something terrible please remember that resources exist in you community. There are likely some great support groups, activist organizations, therapists, and spiritual communities that can support your healing process.
Today is the perfect day to begin reaching out for support.
Always remember two things: Healing Is Possible, And It’s When We’re In Connection With Others That We Thrive.
Hudson Wilkins, MA, LPCC, EMDR, IFS. Hudson is a nature and mindfulness based trauma therapist inFort Collins, CO. He operates a private practice with a specialty in supporting folks who have experienced sexual violence first hand, and those that love them to heal and rebalance their lives.