Healing from trauma is an essential step in the aftermath of an unfortunate experience. While trauma shapes how we view the world, our emotional scars are only one part of our lives and not the whole thing. In this article, a trauma survivor will share the 13 ways to begin healing from trauma based on their personal experiences.
13 Ways to Begin Healing from Trauma
1. Acknowledge that you need support
Trauma can be a messy thing to deal with. Similar to the stages of grief, trauma survivors go through a similar process. They first try to deny that the trauma happened or that they’re affected by it. Eventually, they act like they’re strong and can handle anything. However, slowly, you sink into a depression, state of anxiety, or into survival mode. Eventually, you’ll get to a place of acceptance, but that’s impossible to do when you don’t realize you need help yet. Admitting to yourself that the trauma happened and is affecting you is a hard thing to do. But without this step, you’ll never inch closer to overcoming obstacles like repeated nightmares, bad sleep, hyper-vigilance, and more.
2. Seek professional help
Only after you ask “do I have PTSD?” and acknowledge that you may need some help can you begin healing from trauma. Often, we try to solve our problems on our own. But being so close to trauma, it’s hard to see what’s our fault and what isn’t. As a result, we end up getting tangled in a mess of emotions unable to get ourselves out. Soon, the symptoms of trauma start occuring, such as nightmares, panic attacks, being in survival mode, lucid dreaming, hypervigilance, and other horrible symptoms. As these symptoms become more common, we begin to realize we’re unable to solve trauma on our own. That’s a good time to connect with a therapist who specializes in your trauma. For example, you might meet with a veteran PTSD therapist, a sexual assault PTSD counsellor, or one who specializes in family trauma. You’ll then go through a form of therapy specialized to your specific needs to help you overcome your trauma.
3. Join a support group
A support group can be helpful for healing from trauma. Talking to other people who’ve shared similar experiences gives you a place to relate to them. You can learn the coping strategies and grounding techniques people use to calm the mind when things get heavy. Many people who go through trauma tend to follow the same stages and patterns. Meeting people who’ve started the process before you will give you an idea of what you can expect. You might also meet people who take wrong turns into addiction, making you aware of the damage those vices can have on your life as you heal from trauma, convincing you to look for healthier solutions to your problems. Just as therapists can be the best or worst thing in your healing process, so can your support group. Find a support group that lifts you up and helps you deal with your emotional pain in a constructive way.
After experiencing trauma, it’s normal to begin exercising, possibly even excessively. Our bodies feel pent up with rage and other strong emotions that naturally we want to release the stress. Running feels like therapy for trauma survivors. You head outdoors, think through your situation in your mind trying to resolve the situation, while doing exactly what fight or flight wants you to do. You can’t always fight your trauma on your own emotionally, but running or martial arts gives you an opportunity to practice fight or flight nevertheless. Exercise offers numerous benefits for the brain. And most of our problem with trauma is happening in that big brain of ours. From overthinking to PTSD nightmares, our exhausted brains after a traumatic situation are working on overdrive. To balance out the negative aspects of trauma, exercise can help repair many of the issues in between therapy sessions.
A guided meditation for PTSD can help you work through complex PTSD. Trauma will give you ruminating thoughts. It’s true that trying to process trauma on your own will leave you feeling stuck. However, the goal of meditation isn’t to be alone with our thoughts nor is it to process our trauma independently like a brave hero. The messiness of trauma makes it hard for us to untangle, but with meditation you can become aware of which thoughts keep surfacing. Then, write them down. When you meet with a therapist, you’ll likely work together to find patterns within your thought process to help you figure out what needs to be worked on. Often, thoughts and dreams about a loss of control are a common theme in a PTSD survivor. If that’s the case for you, working towards regaining control of your thoughts will be greatly beneficial to your healing from trauma.
6. Do a cleanse
After a trauma, many survivors tend to do a cleanse of some sort. You may hear stories of survivors spending hours in the shower trying to scrub themselves clean. But we don’t mean literally cleanses only. There’s also the sweeping declaration. Often, after a trauma, a person will announce to the world that they’re giving up alcohol, sex, or some other activity related to their trauma. People who suffered from alcohol addiction post-trauma will one day quit it cold turkey. The cleanse is an important and significant part of trauma recovery. However, it’s important to remember that while it’s common to go through this, the journey doesn’t end here. After the cleanse, that’s when things start to get tough. It’s your time to start doing the hard mental work of going through the trauma. There will be times when going back to the vice feels like a better solution. However, keep your commitment to your healing. Eventually, you’ll have enough self-control to drink alcohol or have sex in moderation. Don’t turn the vices into your coping strategy. Yes, dealing with trauma is challenging but the vices only make it more complicated. To begin healing from trauma, the elimination of vice is a crucial step.
7. Avoid triggers
Eleven years post-trauma I’m still not immune to triggers. I know this isn’t the news you want to hear, but triggers never go away. Learning how to cope with PTSD triggers is an important part of your journey. You can do everything in your power to avoid triggers, but know that you can’t escape them permanently. For example, if you’ve been in an abusive relationship, cutting out toxic people in your life will help prevent triggers. However, if you’ve been in a war, avoiding all firework shows, isn’t always possible. You might choose to stay home on the 4th of July or any other big celebration, but sometimes fireworks happen unexpectedly. Avoiding triggers will help you feel a sense of control. However, don’t falsely believe that you’re in control about everything. Triggers will still happen when you least expect them. Minimize them to a point but also build the coping strategies that’ll help you work through the unplanned ones.
8. Understand nightmares
Nightmares are the brain’s way of processing information. In the midst of trauma, your brain is working hard to make sense of trauma. Your dreams will give you much insight into how you perceive things. From a loss of control to emotion management, your nightmares will indicate how you feel about a situation. You may feel anxiety, fear, panic, or anger in your dreams. You might dream about fears unravelling as well. Your brain might take different components of your trauma and rework them in different ways to help you find patterns to allow you to experience closure. If you wake up from nightmares many times throughout the night, tell yourself “processing information” every time you wake up from it. Stating what your brain is doing will help desensitize you to being afraid of your nightmares. Your brain will still work to make sense of it, but you’ll be able to fall asleep faster after a nightmare. You won’t be too afraid to stay awake and too afraid to fall asleep, which is a common experience for people with trauma-based nightmares.
9. Challenge your thoughts
To begin healing from trauma, it’s important to challenge negative thoughts. You can challenge negative thoughts by replacing them with positive or constructive thinking. You can also search for evidence against the thought. For example, those with PTSD tend to overblow their fears because they’ve just been through a dangerous situation. It’s the brains way of protecting you from further harm. However, the evidence shows that you’re likely safe. If you have a thought, such as “I am in danger.” You can list all the ways you’re keeping yourself safe. For instance, you might add a security system in your home, you might add more locks on your doors, you could tell friends your whereabouts more regularly, and so on.
10. Add new safety features
Healing from trauma is all about keeping yourself safe from danger. After a trauma, hypervigilance is what causes us to feel like we’re under attack long after the danger has passed. It’s true that this is a brain’s first line of defense. Learning how to feel safe again after losing your sense of security in your trauma, isn’t easy, but necessary. Consider adding elements of safety into your daily life. Getting eight hours of sleep so you can protect yourself will be part of it. You can also find a buddy who will join you on outings to protect you from harm. Adding security features to your home is helpful too. Changing your phone number can also protect you from harm.
11. Invest in your self-care
Self care ideas like showing self-compassion, taking care of yourself, and more can help you begin healing from trauma. As you go through the stages of trauma, caring for yourself becomes a priority. This isn’t the time to become the best person for someone else. During this time, you need to take care of yourself so you can move forward. Investing in your treatment of trauma, attending therapy, challenging your inner critic, and helping yourself regain mental stability. It isn’t selfish to invest in your self-care when you experience a trauma, it’s a necessity to begin healing from trauma. Your brain needs care, love, and patience to find inner peace in the world again. So, focus on yourself and your healing for now. It’ll all work out better in the long-term if you do the inner work for yourself.
12. Do what feels right for you
As you begin healing from trauma, you might start to take actions that feel good for you but other people don’t understand. Cutting out people who make you feel worse about yourself is a good move. Unfortunately, it’s also one that not everyone understands. You might eventually become ashamed of who you were during your period of trauma. This means that you might remove all people from that period of your life out of your life. You need to do what’s best for you. If quitting a job, breaking off a relationship, or moving to a new city is what helps you begin healing from trauma, then that’s what you need to do.
13. Journal your experience
Today, the emotions and challenges of trauma seem heavy and overwhelming. However, with the passing of time, you’ll be proud of how far you’ve come. Journaling your emotional pain and experiences as you go through them can be helpful for you in the future. Writing down a lesson you learned in therapy or a red flag of the time, can be helpful for you ten years down the road. You might even eventually decide to publish your own memoir some day, so that others can learn from your experiences.
You can only begin healing from trauma after you’ve invested in your self-care, mental health, and overall wellbeing to protect yourself from danger. Trauma may always be a small part of your life, however, you’ll still find happiness, love, and safety despite your past experience of it. Finding a therapist who can help you put the pieces together, meditating, and daily exercise can be beneficial to your healing process.