Healing from trauma is emotionally overwhelming. Yet, without taking steps toward healing, the effects of trauma stay locked in our bodies and minds, impacting everything from insomnia to deep relationship wounds. Knowing there is a specific path to that healing might make it feel less daunting. Scroll to read more.
Step One: If traumatic events have triggered our internal alarm ("fight or flight") to scream danger signals to us, no amount of comforting words or safe talk therapy will have positive effect until the screaming stops. The first step in healing trauma is to help this alarm system turn itself down. The alarm sounds just as it's designed to do, but can get stuck after traumatic events/relationships, continuing to sound off even when there's no longer real threat to us. Even remembering the trauma can cause the alarm to sound! This results in panic, anxiety, and seemingly irrational behaviors as we try to seek safety. Once we have a sense of internal safety and can stabilize the alarm's unintended screaming, we can begin to move forward. Until then, it's difficult to make clear decisions and feel safe in our own skin.
Step Two: Once we have the internal alarm reset, we must begin mourning the losses that occurred because of the trauma. Whether that loss is our entire childhood, years of our lives in abusive relationship, or even the loss of years we spent contending with the internal alarm, trauma causes loss. Being able to name those losses and feel the grief associated with loss is a vital step in reclaiming ourselves back from the trauma. Plus, being able to tell the stories of our trauma without the panic our fight or flight system helps our bodies know the difference between the unsafe situation happening all over again and just telling the story or having the memory. This is the step that many people associate with using therapy to heal from trauma. It is vital, but only a portion of the path.
Step Three: When the story of trauma has been fully processed in a safe manner, a person then begins to reconnect with their authentic self in the present-day and can begin to see a more hopeful future. Our healed self sees the future differently than our wounded self. This step can seem daunting to a person if they've never experienced living without the full impact of trauma. In this stage of healing even "normal" can feel unsafe. A person healing from traumatic events must reconnect with what it feels like to be truly safe. Only then can they benefit from healing in its truest form.
Therapy is designed to help traumatized persons walk this path to healing. While it can take more time than we'd like it to take, it doesn't have to take as long as you think. Working with a therapist who is informed in the impacts of trauma and the steps toward healing can provide hope for any person, regardless the magnitude of the trauma in their lives.
Hopefully, knowing there is a clear path to healing from trauma can make it feel less overwhelming to take those steps.
** If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call the National Suicide Hotline at
1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org and click "Chat" **
Life can unfold in unexpected ways, leaving us with much emotional pain. There are negative patterns that develop which can be altered for the better if we know where to look. Because of that, I am always searching for material that might help in someone's healing journey. If you're interested in reading more on ways to heal from shame, recover from relational wounds, and improve your overall quality of life, check out what's on my bookshelf.
Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity, Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D. - a great read for anyone affected by infidelity.
Helping Her Heal, Douglas Weiss, Ph.D. - When your spouse has decided to move toward forgiveness and reconciliation after a betrayal at your hand, knowing how to support her (or him) can play a powerful part in healing for the relationship. This book can give you much needed guidance.
Grateful for the Fight: Using Inner Conflict to Transform Yourself and Your Relationships, Viola Neufeld - Find out how you can address the conflicts within yourself to achieve personal growth and improve the quality of your relationships.
Just One Thing, Rick Hanson, Ph.D. - Neuroscientist, Dr. Rick Hanson, has compiled 52 exercises for helping us remain mindful and gain peace in our lives.
Hold Me Tight, Seven Conversations for a LifeTime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson - Couples in all stages of their relationship will benefit from reading this book on how to create meaningful attachments.
Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don't Deserve, Lewis B. Smedes - Learning how to remove the hardness of resentment from our hearts is the most powerful step toward healthy living!
I Thought It Was Just Me, Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame, Brene Brown - Shame is the most difficult human experience we encounter. This book may help you begin healing and free yourself from the burden of shame.
Running On Empty: Overcoming Your Childhood Emotional Neglect, Jonice Webb, Ph.D. - Dr. Webb writes about a powerful, yet often unnoticed adverse childhood effect that leaves many adults wondering why their lives seem to lack meaning, believe they should have accomplished more, or just don't feel right. If you have been wondering why you can be so accomplished in certain areas, yet feel completely unraveled in others, this book might be for you.
Boundaries of the Soul: The Practice of Jung's Psychology, by June Singer, Ph.D. - Having studied the great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, June Singer was able to articulate in the most clear way, the underlying essence of one's 'personhood'. Want to know what many therapists hold in awareness as we help you live your best lives? Though quite an undertaking, this book is rich with explanation into what Carl Jung knew to be at the core of our humanness.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer - a master teacher and leader, Parker Palmer wrote this book about finding the way into our purpose in life. He uses his own journey through depression and vocational confusion as an example of how we create a sense of meaning in our lives.
Where Is God When It Hurts? A Comforting, Healing Guide for Coping with Hard Times, Philip Yancey - This book does a beautiful job of helping us understand the answer to this common question.
The Road Less Travelled, M. Scott Peck - Another classic from my graduate school days. An in-depth and profound look at this journey of being human.
How To Carry What Can't Be Fixed: A Journal for Grief, Megan Devine - Megan is a licensed therapist and has offered an inclusive, beautiful journal that can help anyone moving through the grieving process.
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