What is trauma?
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Trauma can be big, or it can be small. What seems to be a big trauma for you may not be traumatic for me at all. Just as unique as we all are, so are the traumas we experience. The way we see and view the world will help determine how we decide what is dangerous, what is safe and what is a threat to us.
Whatever you have faced, whatever traumatic experiences you have encountered in your life you are not a lone. Your emotions and traumas matter! In order to begin the healing process, it is important for us to understand and make sense of the trauma, find some self-compassion and self acceptance of the event, and then to re-story our interpretation of the event.
Making sense of the trauma:
Think about a time when you’ve been involved in some sort of “out of the norm” experience; maybe you witnessed an intense car accident, or maybe you were in an intense car accident. What was your initial response once the dust settled? Typically we tell our friends and family all the details about the event over and over. We do this for two reasons…
- It helps us process what we just went through and witnessed. If we were in a bad car accident we often don’t realize how intense it was in the moment because we sometimes go into a survival mode or fight or flight mode. In this state it’s difficult for us to account for all the details of the event because we are too busy trying to survive! So when the dust settles we try to piece everything together that happened and this helps us make sense of everything that happened.
- Second, we feel the need to tell the details of the story over and over to help us gain some control back. When we experience a traumatic event we often feel out of control and are in a state of chaos. Gaining some control helps ground us and helps us find stability.
Self-Compassion and Self-Acceptance:
Self-compassion and self-acceptance help us heal and produces feelings of love and hope. The use of judgment and criticism keeps us stuck in a negative mindset that perpetuates our uncomfortable feelings of shame and guilt. If we had some responsibility for a traumatic event (maybe we did or said something that had a negative impact on someone) we can easily become stuck in this negative downward spiral of self-loathing.
When we are critical and judgmental of ourselves we keep ourselves down and in the position of the victim. If we are down and out, the last thing we need is another kick to the ribs! Providing yourself with compassion and acceptance is the beginning of true healing. If you find yourself laying on the ground bruised and in pain, offer yourself compassion and empathy to help yourself up. Life is hard as it is, we don’t need to be adding to our discomfort! Tell yourself, “I know what I did was not okay and I regret what I did, but I am not defined by those mistakes. I am someone who was struggling and didn’t know how to handle the situation. I forgive myself for those mistakes”.
We have no choice but to accept our reality; avoidance does not make the pain go away.
Once you have moved though understanding your trauma, and showing yourself some compassion and acceptance, you can now move to the third step of healing; the re-story. Remember, we only have control of ourselves in the present moment. That means, in the moments we experienced or played a role in the trauma, our behaviors made sense in that moment. It is not an excuse for the negative behavior or experience, but it is an explanation for the behavior. One of my favorite phrases is this – “all human behavior makes sense within context”. With this mindset, we can begin to understand how we work and why we behave the way we (and others) behave.
The re-story sounds like this; “When I was young I didn’t know what I know now. Now that I am older and more mature, I realize how much pain I was experiencing as a child. That pain lead to feelings of depression, loneliness and fear. Today I am able to look back on my past with compassion and acceptance and I can learn from those experiences. Now I know how to regulate my emotions and I am now stronger and happier because of this.”
With acceptance and compassion we can break free from our painful and traumatic past. There is freedom after suffering if we love ourselves first.
A letter from my professor:
In one of my classes in graduate school, my professor shared a letter with the class that he wrote. I think this letter is beautify written and is something I reflect on regularly.
“When a person goes through trauma they must face it head on. They must evaluate, what did the trauma do to me? How does this make me feel? What did I learn from it? Now mourn it. Take time and mourn it. And put it away! Like a death it’s over…your life is not. When abuse destroys the soul it destroys everything in ones life undoing relationships, planting seeds of inferiority and unworthiness. It begins to shape the way we think about ourselves, the way we act and the way we act out. Mourn it. It’s a death, let it go. That person is dead, mourn them.
And in the distance is a new soul that is beautiful, that is strong, that is good. You are full of possibility and and so worthy of being loved. The most precious possession that ever comes to someone in this world is the power of new possibility. Take back the power and create your new possibility.”
~ Dan Sagert
If you are suffering you are not a lone. If you are facing trauma right now just know that you are brave and there is hope in your pain!