I am wandering my way through a helpful book called The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook. The following, admittedly rather cerebral, exercise was such a nice, concise way to think through some traumatic situations I have been through.
It is hard sometimes to make sense of a confusing situation. Some painful situations (such as abuse) are meant, by their very nature, to confuse and destabilize. Other situations are confusing and remain so just by being something so horrific that we never could have imagined it or had an internal cognitive hook/domain to store and process the experience on.
In that context, these five questions give me a frame of reference for restoring some mental stability as I reflect back on things I’ve experienced, and help me solidify some of what I learned as I move away from the trauma, so that I don’t need to panic internally anytime I encounter a person or situation that even remotely hints back to the “original” difficult situations I experienced.
Here are the questions:
1. What happened? (Describe the event. List all the facts. What did I do that was good and bad? What did I fail to do that was good and bad?)
2. Why did the event happen? (Why did it happen to me? Was it a random act of nature or of God? Was it something about me?)
3. Why did I act the way I did during the event?
4. Why have I acted the way I have since that time? (How and why have I changed as a result of the event for good and bad?)
5. If something like this were to happen again, what would I do differently to cope and survive? (What strengths and knowledge would lead to a more optimistic outcome?)
UPDATE: I realize as I reread this that the connection to the word “guilt” in the title isn’t too clear. These questions were originally listed in the book under a section that was to help people who have been through trauma work through some of the guilt they feel tied in with the trauma. My struggle is not so much with guilt as with understanding and sorting through trauma in general. That is the context where I found the questions helpful.