Trauma is a person’s reaction to a deeply disturbing experience. A horrific event such as almost dying, war, or a natural disaster can rattle a person’s well-being.
When the impossible happens, it feels like nothing is real anymore and you feel lost in a daze.
“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.”
— Bob Marley
A terrifying incident may cause someone to fear that it could happen again at any time. As a result, this rewires the brain and nervous system to always be on high alert. Thus, stealing their sense of safety in the world.
Traumas are in direct conflict with how we believe life should be. It’ll take innocent perspective and send it through a shredder.
If it’s ignored it can wear away at a person’s sense of safety and self-worth.
It’s normal to go through horrible situations. But they can add up until they become an enormous obstacle that blocks your way to a happy future.
Here are some examples of possible trauma:
- Living through continual, relentless stress.
- Dealing with health issues.
- The sudden death of a loved one.
- The ending of a significant relationship.
- Having a horrendous injury.
- Hearing about a loved one’s traumatic experience.
- Being bullied in school
- A major car accident.
- Being mistreated by a parent.
- A single horrible event.
As you can see, there are many traumatic situations. So, if you’ve survived through trauma, you aren’t alone. About 75% of people in North America have been through traumas. Although this percentage is probably more due to people not seeking help. So, you’re not in this by yourself.
Often people will deny what happened and ignore it. But, it’s near impossible to tell yourself not to think of something without thinking about it. Not to mention, it can worsen into “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD.
Luckily, there’s a way to move past these harmful memories, which is to accept that they happened. Not the fact that they shouldn’t have happened but to acknowledge and learn from them. Later in this article, you’ll discover the incredible advantages you can only get from trauma.
Learning about trauma can help you to recognize its symptoms so you can respond in a healthier way.
Signs that you’ve been through a trauma
“Don’t despair if your heart has been through a lot of trauma. Sometimes that’s how beautiful hearts are remade: they are shattered first.”
— Yasmin Mogahed
Early childhood traumas aren’t consciously remembered but they can still make a negative impact throughout life. It’s important to know if you have unresolved trauma so you can start healing before it overtakes your life.
Here are some possible signs that you’ve been through a trauma:
- Feeling overwhelmed with emotions or feeling spaced out and numb.
- Recurring flashbacks or intrusive negative memories.
- Feeling that no one can relate with you.
- Nightmares and troubles with sleeping.
- Mood swings, aggravation, or catastrophizing.
- Anxiety or fear.
- Avoidance and withdrawal from others.
- Feeling shocked and in disbelief.
- Headaches and tense muscles.
Whether or not people think your experience was traumatic doesn’t matter; how you feel is real. You can’t just “get over it,” and pretending you’re okay won’t make it a reality. Luckily, there are things you can do to treat the problem.
The following are methods you can use to heal from trauma:
1. Release your trauma with creativity
“When you’re happy you enjoy the music, but when you’re sad you understand the lyrics.”
— Frank Ocean
Trauma can give you a boost in creativity. Do you know of any famous writers, artists, or musicians that haven’t been through hell?
You gain wisdom from all experiences possibly even more from painful times. A horrific event can give you access to a deeper meaning of humanity. Your particular trauma unveils to you things many others never see.
Pain can open your eyes to what it means to be alive. The depths of darkness enhance the light even more.
We all know what emotional pain feels like, and we recognize it in other’s creations. Let loose on an artistic endeavor and it might help someone else too.
When you release your sadness or anger in a creative project, you restore your soul. Even better if you discover a new passion!
2. Heal by playing with a dog
Dogs are incredibly therapeutic. They’ve been by our side for 15,000 years at least. They are loyal to the end, and they want nothing more than to make us smile. Regardless of what they’ve been through, they’re always happy to see another day.
It’s a fact that dogs and other animals help people heal from traumatic events. Dogs especially have anxiety-reducing effects on people. Plus, if you live in an apartment, a dog will give you a reason to get out and take walks. The exercise helps heal you as well. There are even certain breeds that are best for PTSD.
3. Don’t isolate
Withdrawing from the world will make things worse. You don’t have to talk to others about what you went through, but it’s helpful to interact and have fun. Reach out to those that make you feel accepted and worthy.
4. Reach out for support
No matter what you’ve been through, someone out there has experienced it too. You’re not alone, and you’re much more resilient and strong than you might think.
Always remember that there’s never a reason to check out from life. We need you in this world, and you’re here for a monumental reason! You must take care of yourself and survive, no matter what.
So, if things feel overwhelming, don’t suffer in silence. Call a friend or relative for support. Otherwise, you can get 24/7 completely free online therapy right here. You have plenty of other low-cost options out there too. Remember that you’re worth it!
5. Try acceptance and commitment therapy.
“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
— William Shakespeare
It’s natural to try and avoid feeling painful emotions, but it does more harm than good. Pain is a part of the human experience. No one lives life without it, regardless of what they portray on TV or social media.
ACT breaks down into the following five goals:
1. Realize that trying to avoid emotional pain doesn’t work.
“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.”
— Peter Levine
Accept that the things you’ve done to avoid painful memories never worked.
In stoicism, they practice an attitude called “Amor fati,” which means “love of fate.” It’s a profound form of acceptance where they love everything, good or bad, that happens to them. After all, even negative situations can bring life-changing benefits.
They believe that these experiences were necessary and beneficial.
If you embraced everything that happened to you, then you’d never be worried about the future. You’d allow negative things you can’t control to occur without fighting against them. Resisting reality is a war no one can win. So, it’s best to accept it happened and avoid unnecessary suffering.
2. Problems never disappear when you ignore them.
“It doesn’t hurt to feel sad from time to time.”
— Willie Nelson
In this step, you’ll learn that most of your problems came from trying to cover up emotional pain. For example, self-medicating or partying. Therefore, it’s best to accept that bad things happened and will happen. Be okay with that, learn from them, and move on in life.
3. You are not your thoughts.
The next goal is to realize that you are not your thoughts. You might believe that you’re inadequate or defective in some way, but these are only ideas from your mind. They aren’t real. Focus on the truth instead, which is that you’re having negative thoughts and that’s okay because they aren’t you.
So, instead of thinking, “I’m so horrible.” Tell yourself that you’re having a false thought that you’re horrible. Then counteract it with an opposite statement like, “I’m a remarkable person.”
4. Let go.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
— Peter A. Levine
In this step, you let go of trying to control or manipulate your feelings and start accepting them all. Be open to all experiences in life, even the bad. Don’t label memories as good or bad.
Let’s say you are the planet Earth and your thoughts are the weather. Each day you’d watch the clouds come and go. You’d know that there’s no way to control the storms, so you accept them. Blizzards or heat waves don’t make you worse or better. You are always amazing and valuable no matter what you go through in life.
No matter how violent the earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes become, there will always be a breezy, sunny day on the horizon.
Watch the negative memories sail by and choose not to identify or grab ahold of them. Just be your incredible self and nothing can get to you.
5. Commit to taking action.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
— C.G. Jung
Traumatic memories can take over the importance of having a value-driven life. So, it’s important to remember them and take action.
What are your values? Write down the most meaningful areas in life. In this step, you’ll reconnect to your values by choosing to spend more time on the things that truly matter to you.
Examples of values:
- Work ethic
- Sense of adventure
Write down your ten most important values. Then circle the ones you focus on every day. Which ones do you want to embrace more often? Think of what you could do that represents your values.
For example, if you value family, you could pick up groceries for your grandparents or simply spend time with them.
To clarify, ACT helps you be more open to hardships. They are a part of life. You’ll learn how these events affect you and how it’s your choice on how you will react to them. Then you can focus more on what you value rather than painful situations from the past.
Now back to the more general ways to heal from trauma.
Meditation is a great way to learn how to allow thoughts to pass without grabbing ahold of them. Simply breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds, hold for 2 seconds and breathe out for 6 seconds and repeat. Let any thoughts flow.
It’s critical to realize that thoughts are just thoughts. Detach from them and allow them to pass by without overanalyzing each one.
7. Experience the present moment
Sometimes all it takes is to have mindful awareness of the present moment to break free from the torment. Get out of your head and out into nature. Sit outside and feel the heat from the sun, the slight breeze, and the beauty surrounding you. Notice every detail. Smile because, in this moment, things are good, and you are okay.
8. It’s impossible to change the past
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Sometimes horrible things happen to people, and they never let it go of it. Then they get resentful and that’s never good. Every day they stew over the injustice. While certainly, it was terrible, it doesn’t help to re-wound yourself with it.
When things get overwhelming, remember the following statement to snap back to reality.
“I can’t change what happened, but I have the power to improve what happens today.”
Since there’s nothing you can do to change the past, there’s no reason to torture yourself about it. It happened, now let it fade away so the present can take center stage.
9. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
In CBT you’d speak with a therapist to identify reoccurring negative thoughts and replace them with more positive, realistic statements.
Steps in CBT for trauma:
- Name the troubling events in your life.
- Identify how these situations made you feel.
- Discover any inaccurate or negative thoughts you have about the situation.
- Reshape those beliefs in a more compassionate way.
CBT usually lasts 5 to 20 sessions. It will be most effective if you’re honest and you do the homework they give you.
10. Journal about your feelings
“Behind every sweet smile, there is a bitter sadness that no one can ever see and feel.”
— Tupac Shakur
Venting your emotions out in a journal is a free method to avoid holding toxic thoughts inside your mind. Writing is another proven way to ease distress. Studies show that 6 weeks of journaling boosts positive thoughts and actions.
11. Always remember that you are always valuable and worthy of happiness
If someone traumatized you, always remember that what they did has nothing to with who you are. It doesn’t mean you’re damaged or that you deserved that treatment. Instead, it’s because they never healed from their traumas and they didn’t know how to handle it. You were and will always be an incredible human being worthy of respect and love.
You will heal when you forgive them for what they did. Realize that you aren’t saying what they did was okay, you are releasing yourself from further mental torment.
12 Think positive for 12 seconds
According to neuropsychologists, it takes 12 seconds to create a new neuron connection that replaces fearful thoughts. So, thinking about things that make you happy for 12 seconds can help rewire your brain to be stronger.
Example of positive thoughts:
- A courageous thought to counteract your fear.
- An adorable thing your pet did.
- A compliment you received.
- Happy memories.
The more you make yourself focus on positivity, the more you’ll do it naturally. Thus, making each day a little brighter.
13. Positive effects from trauma
“I won’t let pain, turn my heart into something ugly. I will show you that surviving can be beautiful.”
— Christy Ann Martine
When someone sees themself as a survivor (rather than a victim) they gain resilience. Especially if they use healthy coping strategies. This is known as post-traumatic growth.
When you go through a challenging time, you learn how lucky you are to be alive and each day becomes a gift. Even if bad things happen, at least you’re here to experience and embrace them.
They’ll benefit from the following:
- A renewed appreciation of life
- Strengthened relationships
- Discover possibilities
- Gain more resilience
14. Keep a routine
It can help to stick with a daily schedule to prove that you have control of this aspect of your life. So, strive to sleep 7-9 hours per night, shower daily, and eat healthy food.
“I had been fortified by trauma, the way a bone, once broken, grows back stronger than it had been. “
— Charles Blow
Just 3 daily bursts of 10 minutes of exercise is enough to start healing your nervous system. Don’t hold all these emotions inside; let them out! Do some sit-ups or pushups in your living room. Or go for a walk or a jog.
“The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect.”
— Peter A. Levine
In short, how you respond to trauma can either drag you down or transform you into an inspiring person.
The memories might pop up from time to time, but that’s because they’ve become habitual. Each time remind yourself that you’ve already accepted it and focus your attention on something else. It’s only harmful to keep re-living it.
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