Self-Care after Trauma: Discovering what that means through the introduction of my thesis.

Here is the introduction, which was the first chapter, of my thesis! The first chapter introduces the reader to the concept of the author’s research study. I hope you enjoy it, and I am excited to now be sharing the process of some ways we can all embrace self-care. The title of my study was, “Self-Care after Trauma: A heuristic inquiry using Art Therapy, Journaling, and Dream Reflection.”

“The world is imperfect. It is full of pain, neglect, misunderstandings, abandonment, and countless other sorrows. Not one person has been lucky enough to leave this world untouched by trauma (Gustafson, 2016). It seems that there has been a collective belief that once a person survives a traumatic event the next step was to just move on. But how can people transition from being traumatized to healed in one step, as if it was a swift movement, an automated response, like walking up a flight of stairs?

If the next step after survival was moving on, then what lied at the top of the flight of stairs? What was in between? Was healing really that linear to the point of putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward, and by climbing up these metaphorical stairs meant I have moved on

There were a lot of unanswered questions when pondering the concept of healing. I knew that I wanted answers. I wanted some sort of guideline to healing, happiness, and feeling whole presented to me so I could be granted the ability to attain it and check it off as complete. I have learned that healing was not that simple, it was not linear, and as much as I wanted it to be, it may never be complete. So, what now? How does a person continue to move through life if they cannot technically ‘move on’ after living through traumatic events? I had all of these questions, but who had the answers? With proper guidance I discovered that I already had the answers. Everything I needed was already available within. As poetic as that sounds, the reality was this journey was quite messy. 

Most of the time in life I had not been one to cut corners. This was why I had chosen to do a heuristic study. There were levels to a heuristic study, and it challenged the deeply rooted inner workings of the research topic (Moustakas, 1990). I wanted to obtain the valuable wisdom this process could offer through the exploration of my pain. Although pain manifests uniquely across the population, my trauma was not unique. I had been raped multiple times and was left feeling broken, empty, shameful, and filled with rage and despair. The list of feelings seemed endless. 

Worldwide 91.6% of rapes would never be reported because of the stigma attached to rape (Links, 2019). That was an unfathomable amount of pain that had the potential to go unnoticed and not validated. For me, it took my voice away. Through this study I was striving to take my voice back along with other countless parts of myself that were fragmented after each rape. I was able reach the point of gathering all these fragmented pieces by taking care of myself. 

I wondered what self-care after trauma looked like. It took me a long time to realize that attending to the darkness that dwelled in me following the trauma was self-care, but I did not have the capacity to do this if I maintained any level of denial about being raped. 

It has been nearly impossible for survivors to tend to this darkness without accepting the trauma and owning it as something that had happened in life (Levine, 1992). In the fall of 2018 while taking a spirituality in art therapy graduate level course and learning about Bearing Gifts to the Feast, I finally accepted my traumas and other associated sexual assaults. This was where it started for me. I knew I needed to tell my story, but I also knew that I needed to obtain the wisdom my suffering had to offer by sitting with my trauma and exploring it through expression. This heuristic study was me bearing my gift of suffering to then give away my wisdom to other survivors through this thesis (Levine, 1992).”

This was just the first section of my introduction chapter. If you are interested in listening to the rest of the chapter I talk more about it on my podcast, Creating Light with Kelsey, in episode 27. Stay tuned for when I share the results of the study that lead to many of my personal breakthroughs and the deeper aspects of what self-care can be!


When we see the light in ourselves, we create light in others.


Much love,


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