“My Scar”: Posttraumatic Loneliness as a Source of Pain and Resource for Coping

Shai Shorer, Michael Weinberg, Yael Koko, Doron Marom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Contemporary understanding of combat trauma’s psychological effects emphasizes the interpersonal ways survivors process their experiences. Yet cases of incongruence between survivors who want to share their traumatic experience and close others who are not ready to take part in this challenging task are common. Hence, many trauma survivors are compelled to cope with the posttraumatic consequences mostly alone. The present study followed the interpretive phenomenological approach to examine the experience of loneliness, as described by 15 male combat veterans dealing with posttraumatic stress. Participants completed semistructured qualitative interviews in which they shared their knowledge regarding postservice distress, loneliness, coping, and growth. Two main themes emerged: “The Loneliness Complex,” highlighting this phenomenon’s multifaceted, layered, and cyclical nature; and “Emotional Growth after Loneliness,” presenting the positive potential of loneliness. These findings emphasize the importance of interpersonal relations in trauma survivors’ recovery process. Participants described how experiences with peers can serve as a pivotal point for coping with postservice distress and how internalization of positive interpersonal interactions seems to be a crucial psychological resource for further rehabilitation and growth. Being a multilayered and cyclical condition, loneliness might serve trauma survivors in their search of safety, while also bearing the potential to motivate them to act upon their condition and promote emotional growth. Clinicians should acknowledge the risks trauma survivors take by leaving their lonely yet safe place, as they are encouraged to process their traumatic experiences and share their inner world with others.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Health Research
Early online date20 Jan 2024
DOIs
StateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jan 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.

Keywords

  • growth
  • loneliness
  • nature
  • nature-assisted therapy
  • trauma
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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