Her story of abduction and rescue, suffering and resilience, captivated the nation a little more than a decade ago. Now, Elizabeth Smart is revealing the full story of the nine terrifying months she spent in captivity after being kidnapped from her bedroom at age 14. She is also shedding light on her inspiring road to recovery. In her new book, My Story, and on The Dr. Oz Show, Elizabeth reaches out to all those who have suffered trauma in their lives to share how she has rediscovered happiness and how we too can find strength in times of adversity.
Since her rescue and reunion with her close-knit family in 2003, Elizabeth has dedicated her life to activism and mission work. She has become a strong advocate for victims, especially child victims, of abduction, rape and abuse, and has fought against the predators responsible for such suffering. Elizabeth also faced her own attacker when he was sentenced to life in prison in 2011, telling him that he had not defeated her and that despite what he did to her, her life is “wonderful.” Now 25 and happily married for more than a year, Elizabeth has managed to not just survive her ordeal, but to transform herself into a beacon of hope for victims of trauma everywhere.
So what are some of the surprising sources of Elizabeth’s strength? For one, not just after her rescue, but even during her captivity, Elizabeth managed to focus on gratitude – gratitude for her family, friends and supporters, for the prayers of thousands, for her rescue and for the opportunity to help others. Gratitude can be a surprisingly successful strategy for those overcoming trauma. Studies show that people who are grateful are also more able to focus on positive memories from their lives, rather than negative ones. And even brief moments of thankfulness can help stave off depression after a traumatic event.
After her rescue, the prayers of people around the world for her safety inspired Elizabeth to embark on a missionary trip to France to try to give back. Her unwavering spirituality, which she has said is also founded on the idea that everyone is responsible for their own moral choices, was a motivating factor in her recovery. Research suggests that feelings of anger, rage and the desire for revenge may actually be tempered by a sense of spirituality and forgiveness.
One of Elizabeth’s most important pieces of advice to victims of abuse is to never accept blame for any part of what has happened and to remember that they are worthy of love. She has admitted to struggling with feelings of shame related to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her captors – a common feeling among survivors of trauma. In fact, overcoming feelings of guilt is often an important focus of treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Elizabeth’s honest and revealing account of her trials in her new book shows how far she has come in surmounting such difficult feelings.
Elizabeth’s optimism and hope are unending, and she does everything she can to share them with others. She is a frequent public speaker, openly lobbies for legislation to protect victims and heads a foundation whose mission is to “prevent and stop predatory crimes,” according to the foundation’s website. Elizabeth has risen well above and beyond the challenges life presented her with, and is both a shining example and a crucial resource for those who are overcoming trauma.