It’s interesting how we define Trauma. This week Oprah raised awareness about early childhood trauma & it’s lifelong effects in her 60 minutes episode. I see this in my own work and the impact it can have on how we function as ‘adults’ in our lives. It can be debilitating for many.
But at the same time I often hear from people dismissing what they go through in life as not that traumatic. It’s almost as if we compare the levels of what is considered trauma. I remember when doing my own healing work around my grandmother’s murder that when the word ‘trauma’ was used to explain what I had experienced I dismissed that as I thought to myself “ hey, I was functioning okay, I got up everyday and went to work etc’ .
Trauma doesn’t have to be a near fatal incident. My dictionary defines trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Defined like that the events which can be considered traumatic are wide ranging indeed – from what might be considered the stuff of ordinary life such as divorce, illness, accidents and bereavement to extreme experiences of war, abuse, rape and genocide.
If you’ve been viewing the world one way, then something stressful happened to you that now causes you to view the world differently…that’s trauma. Stressful events can create a certain level of shock on the mind and body. If not addressed they develop into dysfunctional patterns that can impact your behavior in everyday life.
Shock to our minds, bodies and souls
Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and others contend that emotional trauma goes unhealed when the natural trauma response is interrupted and feelings unleashed by the event remain unresolved. Because of this, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, hopelessness, self-blame, shame and other feelings freeze up inside of us. That “freeze” is not just emotional, but physical as well. Recent research indicates that parts of the brain become altered by traumatic events. These disruptions are actually visible on brain scans.
Just what is a natural trauma response? It’s the whole continuum of emotional and physical sensations that occur with the first inclination that something is wrong or dangerous. To understand it, Levine suggests looking at how animals respond to danger, real or perceived. After the animal has instinctively chosen to fight, flee or freeze, and the danger has passed, the animal trembles throughout its entire body, “shedding” the tension required for alertness and quick response.
Human response to danger—real or perceived—can also involve shaking, sweating, crying, laughing or shuddering. Just like the animal, such responses are natural and part of the body’s effort to return to a state of equilibrium. They are crucial to the recovery process, and they may go on for hours, days or weeks. Too often, however, we deny this process or don’t give it its due. We say to ourselves or hear from others, Pull yourself together. Forget about it. Get up and shake it off. It’s time to get on with your life.
And when we do that, when we ignore the emotional and physical sensations that continue after a traumatizing event, we interrupt the natural cycle, short-circuiting our natural ability to heal. It is this, more than anything, that sets us up for a damaging traumatic aftermath. “The animal’s ability to rebound from threat can serve as a model for humans,” Levine writes. “It gives us a direction that may point the way to our own innate healing abilities.”
Life after Trauma
What happened to you in the past does not have the final say in who you become. For some people, trauma and its effects can heal on its own, after a period of time. For others, the healing process may require professional treatment. Recovery from trauma requires access to conditions that promote healing and there are a number of paths I’ll be exploring in the next couple of months, so stay tuned. If an individual who has experienced trauma doesn’t have access to recovery-supportive conditions, the effects of trauma may continue indefinitely, and may even worsen.
Trauma Healing and Recovery Tips
1.) Be willing to Heal
Recovering from trauma takes time and courage to face what you went through. It’s very important to give yourself time to heal and to mourn the losses you’ve experienced related to your experience. It’s never helpful to try to force the healing process. Do the best you can to try to be patient with the pace of your healing and recovery. Don’t compare your journey with another. Be mindfully aware of your thoughts and feelings, and allow yourself to feel whatever comes up for without judgment, guilt or shame. Remember the reactions you experience because of trauma are only responses— they are not who you are.
2.) Accept support
When healing from emotional trauma, it’s important to connect with others regularly and avoid isolating yourself. It’s important to talk about your thoughts and feelings, and ask for the help you need. Support from family and friends can have a huge positive impact on coping with the trauma. It is often helpful to share thoughts and feelings with those loved ones and friends. You may wish to attend individual or group therapy, seek out expert opinions and receive the help of someone trained in the field of emotional trauma, who you feel comfortable with and trust.
3.) Engage in activities
The desire to feel better can be your best ally on the road to healing. Don’t give in to the ego, which will try to tell you there’s something wrong with you: there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s easy to disconnect from the pain and the overwhelming feelings and thoughts. Try to continue with or resume your usual activities whether those are with others or by yourself. If you’ve retreated from activities or relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect with them. Schedule time for activities that bring you joy—favourite hobbies or activities with friends, for example.
4.) Added resources and tips
I have joined forces with Jennifer Cunningham to help people experience positive change after trauma in an online event called thePost-Traumatic Enlightenment Summit (completed). I’m joining her and 23 other experts to discuss real-life strategies to find transformation through trauma. They are short 30 minute interviews so you can watch/listen as you get ready in the morning or on your lunch break with real, actionable techniques that you can implement right away.
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If you are looking to make a change but not sure where to start or clear on what it looks like I have a few openings in my business for taking on new clients. If you are committed to change what is not working and ready to invest the time and resources in yourself there is no better time to start. Contact me & book your complimentary call. If you want more information check out my book Forgiveness: How to let go when it still hurts. Included in the book are worksheets to help you through the process.