By Melanie Brosnan, LCPC
Anyone who has experienced a trauma has had to learn how to live after the traumatic event. Some people struggle with this immensely and become frozen or paralyzed by the trauma. In wanting to learn more about how to safely help individuals who have survived a trauma, I came across a self-help book that had easy to understand suggestions and guidance.
It is important to note that everyone’s experience is unique and not all the steps will be useful to each person. My hope is this: If you are having a difficult time coping and recovering from a traumatic experience, will reach out to a therapist trained in trauma recovery for additional support.
1. Start With Mindfulness
Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In using mindfulness to help recover from trauma, one should practice tuning in to the reactions their body is having and use this information to guide their journey to recovery.
What thoughts are running through your mind? Is your heart beating out of your chest? Is your body tensing up without your knowledge? Or are you feeling calm, in control, at peace? If your body is telling you that processing an event is too difficult at the moment, it is okay take a break and return to it at a later time.
2. Realize Your Accomplishments
Take a moment to reflect on how far you have come and know that you are a survivor. Many times, in recovering from trauma, you may be asked to tell your story starting from the beginning. This can be problematic because it is easy to get stuck at this point, especially if you are experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress syndrome) symptoms such as sleep disturbances, panic, flashbacks, or poor concentration that trigger your brain to believe you are still in the midst of the trauma.
Remind your brain that you have survived, therefore signaling your nervous system to know the traumatic event has ended. Beginning your story in the present moment can return control to your life as you understand the future remains unwritten.
3. Reliving The Trauma Is NOT A Requirement
As discussed in Step 2, a typical piece of trauma recovery therapy is describing and processing your trauma memories. What if revisiting the memories will cause you to become completely overwhelmed in your daily life? Or what if you blocked out the memories completely?
The goal of trauma recovery therapy is to improve your quality of life. Over the years, researchers have been debating on whether or not the step of reliving the trauma is completely necessary.
The answer lies within the individual survivor because it may be helpful for some to revisit the memories but beneficial for others to bypass the memories temporarily. The most important factor in recovery is stabilization and safety. One should not begin processing their trauma memories if they are not yet safe and stable.
4. End Flashbacks
Flashbacks are a particularly challenging part of trauma recovery as they can trick an individual into believing they are actually reliving the original traumatic event. One way to gain control over flashbacks is to change the way you think about them. Tell yourself that the flashback is indeed a memory of an event that happened in the past and not something taking place in real time. The way a person thinks can have either a positive or negative impact on their mood and functioning.
If your internal dialogue is telling you “it’s happening again” try reminding yourself that this is not true, you are experiencing a memory from the past.
5. Resolve Forgiveness And Shame
More often than not, trauma survivors struggle with self-blame, guilt, and shame. Learning to forgive yourself can be a powerful tool of recovery. Understanding that you are not responsible for the trauma happening to you is essential in moving forward. An example of self-forgiveness can be illustrated by a trauma survivor understanding and accepting that they were not personally responsible for being robbed. It could be a case of “wrong place, wrong time” or being threatened by an attacker, neither of which were the survivor’s fault.
Shame, on the other hand, is a driving factor in the course of life as it shapes our culture and socialization. Shame informs our bodies and minds that something is wrong. Too much or too little shame is cause for concern.
Shame within trauma is connected to feeling as though we have let ourselves down which can cause a survivor to disconnect from others. Talking about and recovering from overwhelming shame can help a survivor feel at peace and reconnect with friends, family, and community members.
6. Your Small Progress Matters More Than You Think
When working through trauma, feeling a sense of discomfort and pain is common. A survivor may want to move quickly as a way to avoid the pain, but this tactic can lead to unnecessary regression and relapse. Taking small steps will allow you to feel a sense of success and achievement in your journey.
Rothschild uses the example of a trauma survivor who wanted to be hugged. If this survivor jumped too quickly to accept this display of physical affection in their life, they would dissociate. Instead, taking a small step of someone laying a hand on the survivor’s shoulder allowed the survivor to successfully manage this display of affection without becoming overwhelmed.
7. Be Active
Movement and exercise are key points in trauma recovery as they aim to decrease the amount of traumatic stress one experiences. Maybe this will look like taking a mindful walk several times a week or utilizing yoga to help decrease tension in the body. Others may desire a more rigorous routine to increase feel-good endorphins. Whatever movement routine a survivor chooses, it is important to take it slow, listen to your body, and assess if the movement is having a positive effect.
8. Rise Above
After you have reached a sense of recovery from your trauma, you may want to reflect on how you could help others from your experience. This could take form by engaging in activities such as a participating in or facilitating a trauma support group, becoming a youth mentor, writing a blog, completing an errand for a friend who is struggling to cope with their own trauma, or even studying to become a therapist. Learning from your trauma does not mean, in any way, to make light of the trauma you experienced.
Timing and appropriateness are things to consider as you examine if you want to share your experience or become involved in supporting others.
We are here to assist you in your journey of recovery from trauma. At Ammirati Counseling, we have therapists who specialize in trauma who are currently accepting new patients and ready to serve you.
If you are called to learn more about the 8 Steps to Trauma Recovery please reference Babette Rochschild’s book 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery: Take-Charge Strategies to Empower Your Healing.
Source: Rothschild, B. (2010). 8 keys to safe trauma recovery: Take-charge strategies to empower your healing (1st ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.