A Coaching Power Tool Created by Merete Mace
(Trauma Recovery Coach, UNITED STATES)
Survivor or Livor
Yes, I did just make up that word: livor and it doesn’t sound that good. But bear with me and it’ll make sense.
“I still don’t understand why I exist, why do I have to be here?” Sarah looked frustrated and sad at the same time. “What makes you say that?” I asked.
It had been a pretty quiet conversation, an exchange of questions and ideas for thoughts and answers, but Sarah now seemed more forceful.
Sarah had been through many hours of therapy a few years back and reported that she had done “a lot of work”. She had an extensive history of abuse behind her but had healed and grown leaps and bounds. Her inner strength amazed me.
Now here she was questioning her reason for existence, her voice grew with her frustration.“What’s the point? Life is hard, it’s like I just have to get through it and eventually it’ll end and I’ll be free… I know, I’m so strong, I’m a survivor… it just sucks!”
She grew quiet and then uttered an “I don’t know” -as if she felt she needed to soften the blow of her previous statement.
“What if there’s more to life than being a survivor?” She looking at me in disbelief. A little smile slid over her lips as if I had told a really bad joke or probably rather that my question was that far fetched to her.
“What do you mean?” Sarah sounded almost irritated with me. She had come so far and her current state was not so bad, except it made her not understand why she had to exist.
Consider being in a terrible accident. You have sustained broken bones, bruises and the likes. The pain is overwhelming, you have no control, nothing you can do. You are just trying to survive.
This is where many people are. Whether trauma or complex trauma has occurred, people goon in a state of surviving – some for long periods of time before they get help. Then help arrives. You are brought to a hospital, examined. You get casts on the broken bones and medicine to manage the pain. Now you feel better, you breathe a sigh of relief. It’s gonna be ok. You are a survivor.
This is similar to receiving therapy and working through your experiences. Eventually, you get better, and the pain subsides.
You bones heal, the bruises go away. Finally, the casts come off, but your muscles are weak so you get physical therapy and you work your way back to your normal physical state.
This is where trauma survivors often get stuck. They stay in the hospital bed with the casts on their body. As if they don’t know that they can get them off and train their muscles back up.
When surviving for a long time, being a survivor feels much better. No need to get the casts off, the pain is a lot less than before. You don’t need anything else.
So you camp out in the hospital bed.
Surviving is managing the pain daily. It’s using whatever coping skills available to not be taken out by the enormity of the inner turmoil. It’s living through the nightmares, flashbacks and body memories over and over again.
Going through therapy is intentionally experiencing it all over again and in addition – talking about it. But as hard as working through your past trauma is, on the other side is air.
Being a survivor
Being a survivor is so much better than surviving. It’s like breathing for the first time, it’s experiencing times of calm and peace – although short to begin with. It’s realizing the inner strength that helped one survive, that is what makes you a survivor.
Living is being who you were meant to be. It’s being one who experienced trauma but not being defined by it. It’s a healthy personal autonomy.
I hear the expression from surviving to thriving, but it’s so much more than that and thriving still implies a kind of doing – the goal is simply living.
Living can be thriving, living can be stuck too. Living is a full spectrum of emotion, actions, choices and preferences.
It’s all the things you automatically do according to your mood, people around you, your energy level and so on, which are all based in a fundamental belief that you have the right to be.
Often this fundamental belief is forgotten or given up when trauma happens. When surviving you focus on your fundamental needs to not die, the need to assert yourself as who you are is not prioritized when trying to survive.
Especially during complex trauma, a person may have been taught that they are insignificant and not worthy. If someone spends any amount of time being told and/or believing they don’t have the right to be, it takes work to make that swift back.
In trauma recovery coaching this is my focal point – your right to be. Once you rediscover your right to be, and you are able to claim it, an exciting journey begins, it is a process and for many, it’s working with some deep beliefs.
Eventually, you will be able to move from being a survivor to being a livor. And a new world opens up. Personal autonomy often needs to be re-discovered or developed. When your trauma no longer defines you, you get to define you and you get to learn to love you and care for you.
Trauma coping skills gradually become replaced by conscious trauma mastery. Where most coping skills develop unconsciously based on survival, trauma mastery is conscious coping mechanisms, it’s leaning to understand your trauma and how it affects you as you move forward in different areas of life – like relationships, activities and often the choice of work. For me, coaching is perfect for going through this process. There’s so much new learning to be had, so much to navigate and discover.
As a coach, you get to come along on the journey of an individual discovering a new world –their true-self. It is a huge privilege.