How to Begin Healing After Personal Trauma

No one is ever prepared for a tragedy. In fact, most of us go through our lives believing that tragedies happen to other people.

When people do experience a distressing or life-threatening event, such as a car accident, natural disaster, rape, or terrorist attack, they often develop extreme anxiety or PTSD. Many develop ongoing problems with their personal relationships and their own self-esteem.

But traumas aren’t always as clear cut or life-threatening as these. Sometimes traumas look more like a terrible break up. Or being bullied online. Sometimes trauma happens after years and years of constant criticism or lack of support.

When people experience traumas like these, they often develop anxiety and depression symptoms. Many struggle with perfectionism and self-hate. Often they get to places in their lives when they feel stuck and struggle to find meaning.

Everyone deals with trauma–whether it’s a big “T” trauma or a smaller, frequent little “t” trauma–in their own way. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond to a tragic or terrifying event. Don’t let anyone, not even yourself, tell you that you should respond in a certain way.

Having said that, there are steps you can take to begin to heal and regain control of your life.

Accept Your Feelings

Ignoring your feelings of fear, shock, rage, terror, confusion, or guilt will only slow your recovery. In the moment, you may feel you must avoid your emotions. But, whether you accept or push them away, your feelings are real, and feeling them is necessary for healing. The good news is, even intense feelings will pass if you simply allow yourself to feel them.

Additionally, comparing your trauma to someone else’s never helps, either. There will always be an example of someone else who’s trauma is worse in some way that feels more valid than your own. In a lot of ways, we do this to try to protect ourselves from the pain of acknowledging the depth of what we actually experienced. But just because someone else might have had it worse doesn’t take away from the pain of your experience.

Many people also avoid this step because they don’t want to wallow in the pain. They want to get past it and move on.

The strange truth is that acknowledging and validating your own experience, while controlling how you react to that pain, is the thing that allows you to move past it.

Reframe Your Identity

After experiencing a traumatic event, it is common to feel helpless and out of control. Often, the feelings of helplessness are so strong in the memory, that we begin to believe “I am helpless” in all areas of our lives, as well. To fully recover from the event, it is important that you eventually reframe your identity and challenge your feelings of helplessness. So, even though you felt helpless, you need to understand that you aren’t actually helpless. You need to believe again in your ability to control what is within your power to control.

You can do this by taking action. Being proactive – even in small ways – will help you overcome feelings of fear and helplessness.

Consider volunteering for a cause that’s important to you. If that is too much of a time commitment, you could simply focus on helping a friend or neighbor. This will help you feel more powerful and in control of your environment.

Counseling can also help you to break down what happened into smaller steps. Often, doing this allows you to see ways that you did act in helpful ways during the event itself. Once you see that you did have power and strength even during this terrible experience, your sense of self will strengthen again.

Reach Out to Others

It is common for people to want to withdraw from loved ones and social activities following a tragic event, but connecting with others is necessary for recovery. We are social beings hard-wired for connection. Though you may not feel up to taking part in huge gatherings like you once did, a simple face to face conversation with a close friend or relative can trigger hormones that relieve stress.

You needn’t talk about the event with your loved ones. Just simply spending time with them can help you feel more “normal.” Of course, if you feel like you need to talk about your feelings, reach out to those you know love and support you. You may also want to look into support groups in your local area so you can be around others who know what you are going through.

And finally, you may want to consider seeking guidance from a professional therapist who is trained in helping people who have experienced a traumatic event. They can help you navigate your emotions as well as give you tools to get back on your feet.

If you have experienced a traumatic event and feel you could use some guidance on your journey back toward peace and joy, please get in touch with us. You don’t have to suffer with your burden alone.

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