5 Steps to Rebuilding Confidence after a Physical Trauma

Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 in Blog | 0 comments

5 Steps to Rebuilding Confidence after a Physical Trauma
by Whitney Prestwood, MA, NCC, Clinical Associate   One of the most common casualties of trauma is self-confidence. After a trauma we are thrown into a space where perhaps the world around us hasn’t changed much, but we most certainly have. Hobbies and activities we used to enjoy and were good at can seem alien and near impossible. Truthfully, how could they not? Our sense of security and reality has been altered and, as Walsh (2003) put it, we may struggle with the belief that we have been set back to square one. Loss of confidence can show up in a variety of ways. Perhaps your body no longer feels like your own; it moves more stiffly and doesn’t respond as quickly as it used to. Perhaps your thoughts are cloudy and unorganized, causing you to doubt your ability to communicate your experience clearly. This may leave you feeling powerless and unable to reach a sense of normalcy. Because we no longer feel like who we were before the trauma, we may no longer know how to participate in these things we used to do. The reality is, with support, we can often reengage in those same activities with a similar skill level and passion. Whether you’ve experienced a trauma or not, if you have lost confidence, the following 5 steps can offer ways in which you can begin the path back to your confident self. Step 1: Look at evidence of past accomplishments. Re-read your old poetry, watch home movies of past dance recitals or sporting events. Look at trophies you’ve earned. Take the time to go through old projects and witness your past success. Remind yourself that you worked hard to gain those skills, and recall how good it felt to put them to use.  This knowledge doesn’t go away but sometimes it gets covered up. A walk down memory lane can help bring the muscle memory back to the surface. Step 2: Ask for help from people you trust. Seek out someone you know cares about you and that you trust. This can be a friend, family member, or colleague.  Talk to them about what you are afraid to do. Tell them you worry you won’t be able to do it with the skill level you had previously. Ask them to tell you how they experienced you when you did these activities. They will remind you of how much skill and passion you brought with you each time you engaged in something you loved. They will remind you that you are actually really good at these things and, while you may have lost your footing a bit, that you can still get back to it! Step 3: Find a community class. Recreation centers, community colleges, and meet up groups all offer opportunities to participate in activities within a structured environment. This makes for an excellent resource for people who want to gently get back into hobbies that they enjoy. For example, if writing has become difficult, look for a beginner’s creative writing class at the local community college. You’ll receive the guidance of a teacher, assigned projects that allow you to begin your practice again, and a supportive class full of others who are there for similar reasons. These groups can also hold you accountable for doing your work. This means there’s less of a chance of you talking yourself out of at least trying. What about activities like sports or dance? As Lilley, Arie, and Chilvers (1995) point out, we may also be afraid of re-injuring ourselves. This is an understandable fear. To help, joining a class for beginners or a refresher course for physical activities is a great option to get moving again in a safe way. Step 4: Join a support group. Find a support group for people who have experienced similar trauma. Support groups can be immensely validating because chances are you’ll hear from others who are struggling with very similar issues. This can reduce feelings of isolation because, among other things, you’ll see that you aren’t the only one to question your abilities after a trauma. It’s a very normal reaction! The following websites can help you get started on finding a support group near you: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/find-support-groups http://healthfinder.gov/FindServices/SearchContext.aspx?topic=833 Step 5: Seek professional help. If you don’t feel comfortable going to someone you already know, talk to someone you don’t! There are a few signs that may mean professional help from a counselor or therapist, like those of us at Aspen Trauma Therapy Institute, is a good fit for you. If you’ve tried getting back into old activities and notice a voice inside of you (I call it the Self Critic) that answers each attempt with negativity, it might be a good time to speak with a professional. Negative self-talk is a normal symptom of trauma and it can be hard to get rid of since its role is keep us tied up in our fear. You deserve to live without that voice second guessing every move. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for support from people you already know, then meeting with a counselor or therapist could be a great alternative! We are are there solely to support you. Our job is to help you heal and thrive. These steps are not meant to be cures. Rather they are meant to be keystones from which a path that will lead you back to your confident self begins. In fact, you may find that you have a greater passion and reverence for the activity than you did before. The journey might feel daunting, so remember to take it one step at a time. Each step will put you further along than you were yesterday, and that’s what is ultimately called progress! This list of steps above names just a few ways to get re-involved in beloved activities and hobbies. Can you think of any others? Add your ideas in the comment section below.


Lilley, J. M., & Arie, T. T. (1995). Accidents involving older people: A review of the literature. Age & Ageing, 24(4), 346. Walsh, F. (2003). Crisis, trauma, a challenge: a relational resilience approach for healing, transformation, and growth. Smith College Studies In Social Work, 74(1), 49-71.  

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