How To Heal Emotional Pain, Including Post-Traumatic Stress

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

The Vortex, I call it.

Everyone has one in their life (at least one)—a time when you are tested in seemingly insurmountable ways—and you find yourself spiraling uncontrollably downward. Maybe your Vortex was when you were thirteen and a parent suddenly died. Or twenty-four and you found out your sister had breast cancer, and you got fired—both in the same month. Or twenty-nine and discovering you could not have a child. Or forty-two and going through a divorce. Or fifty-one and happily retiring, only to discover playing golf all day is a formula for depression.

My Vortex lasted about a year, during which time so many bad things happened, I kept waiting for a Candid Camera crew to appear from behind the planter in my living room. First, the real estate broker, real estate lawyer, and moving company I hired found sneaky ways to rip me off. Next, a longtime business buddy hired me to package new groovy chocolate bars, then never paid me.

But those were nothing compared to the lowest point in my Vortex: a sexual assault—which came out of nowhere—by someone I knew as an acquaintance. As soon as I managed to get free and far away from my assaulter, I called an ex-boyfriend who was also an ex-lawyer to ask his advice. I figured because he knew both the law and me intimately, he’d be a wise adviser. We met at a café. I was in tears.

“How could someone be so…so…so evil?” I asked.

“People aren’t evil. They’re weak,” he said.

Weak? This word somehow calmed me.

Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderLater when I tried to understand why I preferred the word “weak” to the word “evil,” I realized that “weakness” meant there was at least hope for change in someone who’d done something evil—and most importantly, hope for me to find a way out of my Vortex by choosing not to be weak myself.

That’s when it hit me. In life, you always have a choice.

  1. Be weak

  2. Be strong.

Whichever of these paths you choose will determine your ability to bounce back from life’s myriad setbacks, crises, or traumas. If you want to survive life’s many challenges, you must put in the conscious effort and discipline to be a strong person. It’s essential you create a fiery will from within—harness that power of decisiveness—and choose to be your strongest self.

Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.

I realize that it’s easier to lounge around in depression and angst than to rise above challenging circumstances. Believe me, I know because at first I chose to follow this weaker path.

Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderInitially I was traumatized by my sexual assault. I started experiencing anxiety around people. If I’d be writing in a café and a stranger chatted me up, my left eye would twitch. And no, it wasn’t the caffeine. (Trust me. I’m a pro at espresso. And I’m a pro at casual conversation with strangers.)

Basically, after the assault my automatic tendency was to keep all people at a distance. I had trouble trusting anyone. Even people I’d known for years. After all, I’d witnessed how people could change in a moment. And so I pretty much became paranoid about everyone I came into contact with. Especially men.

Then I began gaining weight.
Maybe subconsciously I figured there was safety in creating a big wad of fat between me and men’s sexual urges. It was easy to gain weight. I had all this chocolate around my apartment from the nonpaying chocolate business buddy. He was a bad businessman, but he made some damn good chocolate!

Soon enough, this upward weight gain created a further downward emotional spiral. I began feeling bummed about my bigger bum, which further increased my yearning to stay inside away from people and close to my chocolate bars. I was a self-help author! Why couldn’t I help myself get through this? Sometimes, when I saw the growing discrepancy between who I was and how I was behaving, I’d mutter to myself in a kind of mock-voiceover: “Behind the scenes of the self-help book author…” as I unwrapped another chocolate bar.

Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderHonestly, I was surprised I’d chosen this weaker path of chocolate and withdrawal into solitude. I’ve always thought of myself as a very strong person—as have those who know me well. My friend David once introduced me at a party as “This is Karen. She’s a ‘doer.’ ” Most of my friends see me as disciplined and spirited. In my heart I believed this “disciplined and spirited me” was the real me. Yet if I wasn’t being “disciplined and spirited” during a crisis, was I truly this me—or somebody else entirely?

I pondered this more and realized:

Who you truly are as a person is best revealed by who you are during times of conflict and crisis.

It’s easy to be your strongest, highest self when things are rolling along smoothly. But how you handle life’s setbacks and traumas reveals your authentic character. If you can be strong during challenging times, then…well, you truly ARE a disciplined and spirited person. This identity makes you not only a very cool person—but a very happy person.

Just as it takes willpower to choose to stay on a healthy diet during times of great temptation, it also takes willpower to choose to remain a positive and happy human being during times of crisis. Basically, to live a happy life takes effort and work. Happiness is not for namby-pambies! For this reason, you need to develop a long-term vision for who you uniquely value being—recognizing which core values make you the happiest—so you can stay focused on embracing these values, no matter what your trials and tribulations.

I know what I value: I need to feel loving, loved, creatively charged, healthy, sexy, self-confident, and know I’m continuously growing.

I also know: Life is constantly testing our ability to feel and know those things. Actually, if there were a single instructional goal for living your best life it might be “Keep your eye on the prize of happiness, even when caught in the eye of the Vortex.”

Post-Traumatic Stress DisorderGuess what else? Lucky unlucky us: Often the greatest happiness in life comes from going through a crisis—and growing into a stronger, better person. In fact, Aristotle, one of my favorite philosophers, wrote in great detail about how true happiness does not come from experiencing pleasures of the body and ego—but from having experiences that stimulate your core self—your “soul”—challenging and inspiring you to grow into your highest potential as a person.

Hence when you’re in the midst of a vortex it’s essential you put in the emotional effort to improve who you are as a person—facing your core pain—stretching yourself to become your strongest, wisest, highest-level self. Aristotle was right! The greatest reward out there is actually not found OUT there at all! It’s found INSIDE you!  The greatest reward is knowing that you are refusing to settle for being anything less than you can be.  There’s nothing more fulfilling and thrilling than discovering yourself to be a stronger person than you ever dreamed yourself capable of being.

My Vortex made me who I am today, and the good news is, I actually like myself more because of it. My Vortex challenged me to make that choice:

    1. Be weak.
    2. Be strong.

And when push came to shove, I chose “be strong,” baby!

TWEET THIS NOW: Healing PTSD and Emotional Pain Of All Kinds via @notsalmon

The above is an excerpt from my BOUNCE BACK BOOK – now in its 10th printing – which you can find out more about by clicking here you can even get a peek inside!

My newest book is INSTANT HAPPY – overflowing with my inspiring posters – which double-duty as “pattern interrupts” – helping to stop those negative trains of thought in your head from moving forward! You can get a glimpse inside – and find out more -by clicking here!

Written by Karen Salmansohn (Founder)

Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.
  • Lindsay Pearson

    It’s amazing that you share this personal experience so publicly, and it is an enormous strength. It inspires me to put down pretenses and deal with the world as my real self.
    Thank you, Karen.

  • Amy U

    Thank you for sharing…..well…..yourself, raw insides & all. I commend you for facing your challenges and sharing, so honestly, that you had to wallow bit to get there. I think there’s a mourning, grieving period to some things that come our way as we hopefully find our footing and learn how to take those steps forward…..stronger. You are quite inspiring. Thanks again.

  • Violet

    Thank you for this article. I agree with you. Last year all year I was caught in one of those Vortex’s. But what I discovered for myself is that I have always put a positive spin on “negative or painful” experiences. But what I didn’t do is grieve, and this kept me in that vortex. So for me, I realized I need to feel the pain, go through it and cry to get to the other side of that experience and get out of the vortex.. Then I became that strong person. Metta.

    • notsalmon

      Violet, thanks for sharing. You are right sometimes a good cry it just the thing you need in the middle of the Vortex to keep pressing on.

  • deepthi peiris

    Indeed amazingly inspiring! Thank you Karen!!!

  • BK

    Well said Karen! “… the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.” And I love how your friend had put it that people aren’t evil, they are just weak.” From this perspective, our feeling toward the person changes from sort of ‘hate’ to ‘love’, as you said, “… at least hope for change in someone who’d done something evil…” It is very enlightening indeed. This reminds me of something similar which Norman Vincent Pearle (if I remember correctly) said about blessings the person who did bad hope that he/she can be enlightened and changed.”

  • Betz

    Thanks Karen! Truly inspirational as I go through some trying and decision-making times. Nothing so threatening as the experiences told here, but the concept of being strong during difficult times came very timely!

  • DarleneMininni

    I love this article, Karen. These are words people need to hear. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Del

    Wow, Karen . Thanks for sharing. I’m going through yet again another challenge in my life. I consider myself a strong person but i still find it hard. Your story couldn’t have come at a better time. You’re an inspiration and I thank you for your truth, as it gives me strength and hope. I need to get out victim mode and move into strength mode to get through this. This too shall pass, I keep on telling myself and that it will. I tend to get relief from saying that. Also, let go and let god.

    • notsalmon


      I’m glad I could inspire you through your struggles. Keep persevering.

    • Del

      Wow this is crazy wierd, I go by Del also, and your story above is exactly what I’m going through! I thought for a moment did I write this and forgot I wrote it? I also find karens story inspiring and gives me good advice and hope. This too shall pass has been my motto too, but I know it’s hard sometimes. Good luck to you : )

  • Tariq Raasti

    Solomon, it is better to share the Truth because if something reaches from some other source then it is not right. I call myself a “Psychologist” also—though professionally I am not—and I find that the effects of assault are still much on your ‘Psyche’. You still remain a bit away, and you could not wash all the pain—but what you have achieved and the way you are serving Human beings is tremendous. The problem on this planet Earth is that we can’t prove that all the Human beings are dishonest and betray, and at the same time it is most difficult to find the best few—as when you interact with the best looking, then the weak points of that person sometimes stun you—so it remains difficult to find the true ones, the most honest ones; who have the guts to through away “Vested Interest” for the true welfare of Homo Sapiens. Regards, Humble Thinker, Tariq Raasti.

  • Laura Phillips

    I chose “be weak” for now…working my way towards “strong” and that’s ok too 🙂

  • Venetia Flowers

    Karen, I would have never known this about you, I just thought everything in your life was perfect. It’s good to know that your power comes from adversity. My vortex is so bad don’t even discuss it with people because it would make THEM want to jump off a bridge instead of me! Now….where is that Candid Camera crew hiding! LOL

  • Venetia Flowers

    Karen, I would have never known this about you, I just thought
    everything in your life was perfect. It’s good to know that your power
    comes from adversity. My vortex is so bad don’t even discuss it with
    people because it would make THEM want to jump off a bridge instead of
    me! Now….where is that Candid Camera crew hiding! LOL

    • Biopityboppity

      You got this!! I will not let the vortex suck me in!!! I am strong enough to resist and so are you! Our strengths can pull eachother just look at the boost from this article!

  • Carolan Ross

    The deepest pain empowers, yes “Sometimes we don’t know our strength til the only choice is to be strong” – I don’t know the source of that quote but can surely relate to it from a time when I was going through “a vortex” (divorce) – was so shocked at the actions of my evil ex that I can relate to wondering where the damn Candid Camera was…for real, a feeling so shocking you just can hardly believe it’s really happening. How could I ever have actually married this Hitler-clone? Grateful to have made it though that ugly dark time, and for people like YOU who inspire. Thanks for all you do!

  • Robyne Kooy

    I can so relate to this. I have had the last two years from hell. People have said ” wow you’re amazing, I’d be in a mental ward by now ” I’m not amazing I’m human there were many teary days sometimes there still is , I had a choice let these bad things define me or think it’s happened I can’t change it and I refuse to let it control my life any longer. You’ve got to keep soldering on . That doesn’t mean it’s been easy , but being a single mum I did it for me and for my children .

  • Charlene Baynes

    So true. An inspiring read.

  • Oldie but goodie!! Illness has for me been my vortex. Dealing with physical illness has brought emotional turmoil. Yet as you point out darlin, it has made me a strong and resilient woman, capable of helping others and finding laughter in it…

    A few times in my life, when I shared the vortex with others, I watched them be over whelmed. Some are not capable…while other times, I was told how much it helped them to see me be honest and real.

    I love this journey to deeper connection to self and deeper connection to others. All about the vortex moments…

  • Thank you for sharing and putting this out in the world, I am really going to remember (and refer to !) these wise words during my current (and very lengthy) testing time 🙂

  • sweetp

    So truthful. I’ve definitely had my vortex s. It has made me into the strong woman I am today. My most successful accomplishment came when I was at my lowest. Almost 13 years ago I quit drinking. I saw so much in one year that I knew I was stronger than all this weakness in my life. Then a little over 2 years ago, my kitchen caught on fire, the restoration company warehouse was flooded with our belongings in there. The contractor(husband of a good friend of mine) made a mess of our home, restoration company employees came into the house and ripped us off while we were still at the hotel, insurance ripped me off and still dealing with the after effects of all that. A son of a friend broke into my Almost classic car and took for a joy ride and caused close to $1000. Damage. I felt like what else can happen to me. Oh, and another thing. I had CPS & the cops come for a total intimidation session. We came out of that one unscathed Thank God. So it goes to show you, if you believe in yourself and God then you can make yourself even stronger. And the weak shall meet with their maker and karma will prevail in the end. Thank you everyone for sharing and your comments.

  • marti

    So true. I have kept my vortex mainly private.this article helps. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Joanne Gmerek

    Bounce Back was a gift from my brother the day after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It completely changed my life and got me through two bouts of cancer….6 surgeries…one being a mastectomy…feeling so happy and empowered that I needed no pain medication ever! It seems so simple…the choice is always ours. Thank you for a perspective that altered my outcomes!!

  • James Gilbert

    There’s a third choice. Be nothing.

  • James Gilbert

    I seem to survive whether I want to or not. Something keeps dragging me out of the muck constantly. So much that I’ve almost stopped taking an active hand at solving my problems. They always work themselves out anyhow even when I do try and solve them myself. It’s like I’m just a bit player in this movie.