Healing from Trauma - by Brittany Wingfield
“PTSD is a whole-body tragedy, an integral human event of enormous proportions with massive repercussions.”
― Susan Pease Banitt
Thus far, we have explored how Trauma affects the mind and body. Now that we know the effects, this blog is intended to help you understand how healing can start to take place. The memories of your trauma will never be deleted or completely taken away, but it can at least be processed to the point that they do not evoke such emotion and reaction every time the memories are thought of.
Healing from trauma is a huge passion of mine and the very reason I became a Therapist - to be of encouragement to others while they heal. It is important to me that you don't go through your healing process alone. I cannot begin to tell you how much Therapy helped and changed my life in such a major way, and I would not be where I am today without it. I fully and completely believe in Therapy as a healing process.
Have you ever felt angry, depressed, or overall unhappy to the point that it greatly affects your life? Does something in your life feel like a dark cloud that is hanging over you and never goes away? Do your relationships struggle due to your need to isolate or push people away because relationships just feel unsafe? Is there Trauma in your past that could be affecting your daily life?
Give Yourself Grace
This is something that I cannot emphasize enough if you are going to start your healing journey. This process is painful and not pretty. Therefore, it is important that you learn to give yourself grace, before you begin. Be willing to be gentle on yourself as you go through this process, know that you may be a little more fragile and may need some extra self-care. The healing process is often not a neatly put together package that unfolds itself. It can start to feel like things are better and then you have a memory pop up that you didn't previously remember. It may bring about pain that you didn't think imaginable. Because of this, it is important to appreciate yourself for pursuing and sticking with this process and to know that you are not alone in whatever comes up for you.
How Do I Help Myself After Trauma?
Something that I will emphasize throughout this blog is the importance of being in the moment. Being in the moment is one the best ways that you can take in each day moment by moment and not get stuck in the past. This can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish for someone who has experienced Trauma. Getting stuck in memories and feeling unsafe are common responses to Trauma that can get in the way of being in the moment.
Lets talk about flashbacks. We do not have any control of when these memories decide to flash into our head - the same is true of triggers. Therefore, we can find ourselves being pulled into the memories without even realizing. It might be that you find yourself "waking up" and not knowing how long you have been "stuck" in that memory. The point that you realize you've been zoned out is where you can start to work on helping yourself stay in the moment., This skill of being in the moment is called Grounding.
Grounding is a great place to start your healing process because there are so many ways to accomplish it and you can completely cater it to your own needs. I will give you a few examples, but again, it is completely individual. Which means you might have to experiment with it to see what works best for you.
Grounding can fully equip you before you delve into actually working through the traumatic memories. It is important that you are taught grounding skills before you begin any processing. The processing should not be something that is rushed into and its important that the preparation stages are not brushed passed in the beginning. You should expect to have at least 4-6 sessions before you even begin processing your Trauma. To do it the most trauma effective and non-traumatizing way, this is a process that should not be expected to be done quickly. Rather, think of it as training for a marathon, you must learn to run a mile before you can run the whole race.
The above skills are great for when you are at home and need to ground yourself, but they will not take the trauma and its effects away completely. Trauma is deeply rooted in us and because of this, it usually means that we need to delve in deeper. Therapy is a safe place to allow yourself to do this. There are different forms of therapy that can be helpful for dealing with Trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
My favorite and a very effective therapy in dealing with trauma long term is EMDR. To read more about EMDR, click here. EMDR, in short, is engaging both sides of your brain to process the traumatic memory without having to examine every single aspect. It is somewhat like if you are driving a race car through a tunnel of your memories. As you drive by, you are noticing them, but you are not examining and delving into every aspect of them. For many, this feels much more reasonable and manageable than trying to take a microscope to each of their most painful memories.
EMDR focuses on dual attention to therefore help the client not become fully immersed in the memory that they are processing. As I have mentioned many times throughout these past few Trauma blogs, it is important that the person not re-experience the entire memory, as this can be re-traumatizing. Therefore, it is important to keep the person present in the room while they are also looking back into their memory. It is important that the person know they are safe in their Therapist's office and not fully engulfed in the memory of the Trauma.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a commonly used Therapy and works well with more issues than just Trauma. It is similar to grounding in that it is a therapy that needs to be used in conjunction with another Therapy such as EMDR. CBT is a therapy that focuses on how our perceptions and thoughts affect our behavior and emotions. When we have a negative belief system that we have established, such as "the world is against me", this can affect the way we live our life. If we have this belief system, we then look for signs that the world is actually against us and we are not able to see anything but negativity. Because we then don't see any of the good that is occurring, we often reinforce the belief system that the world IS actually against us. CBT works to challenge these beliefs and create healthier thoughts and perceptions.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT focuses on Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, and Emotional Regulation.
Mindfulness is similar to Grounding in that this practice helps bring us into the moment with our thoughts and our body. Bringing ourselves into the moment to observe our thoughts without judgment is important, as we can sometimes be in the habit of attaching negative judgment to any thought that we have. It can also help bring awareness to what we are feeling within our body. Meditation is often associated with Mindfulness, as well as Yoga. It is simply becoming aware of the moment and what you observe. Helpful apps for Mindfulness are: "Calm" and "Smiling Mind." They are both on the IOS App Store and help you become more mindful through meditative exercises.
Distress Tolerance is also similar to Grounding in that you are noticing uncomfortable feelings that you have without dwelling on them. Therefore, you are notice the feelings and self-sooth through taking your mind off of them and focusing on something else. A common technique in distress tolerance is becoming in tune with your 5 senses as mentioned above.
Emotional Regulation emphasizes the fact that negative feelings are not bad or something that we should avoid or bottle up. It is common to want to avoid negative feelings. To help in regulating emotions, it is important that you first know what emotion you are feeling. Therefore, it is important to name that feeling when you have it. Many hold the misconception that there are right and wrong feelings to have. However, this is not true. You feel what you feel and there is nothing that can change that. Emotional Regulation also focuses on helping someone find an activity each day that they can look forward to. This can help to alleviate negative feelings for a short amount of time and give the person something positive in their life.
Somatic Therapy is another therapy that can be helpful with Trauma. Like EMDR, Somatic Therapy requires special training. Therefore, if you are looking for a Therapist that uses Somatic Training, they should have gone through Training for it. Somatic Therapy essentially focuses on the body and how it processes Trauma. Our body is a great source of feedback for us and it is something that is important to listen to. A Therapist that works with Somatic Therapy focuses on things such as breathing, how we hold our shoulders, the way we move our body when we are telling an emotionally charged story, and much more.
As mentioned in "How Trauma Affects the Body", it is often difficult for some to be in touch with their body after they have experienced Trauma. This disconnection can be to the point of completely dissociating from one's body. A body scan can be a great place for one to start if they are wanting to become more connected to their body. This simply asks one to examine their body and notice any sensations that they feel from their head to their toes. Once they become aware of any sensations, the person is asked to notice that sensation without judgment. This can be a difficult exercise for someone who is completely dissociated from their body, but once they have practiced it and are willing to be more connected to their body it becomes easier. This can also be a difficult and triggering activity for someone who has experienced sexual abuse, as the body may experience sensations that bring back the traumatic memories. In this type of situation, it is important that this activity is done in a safe environment, ideally with that person's therapist.
There are many different Therapies that can be used to help deal with Trauma, and many times, a combination of them are used to help someone heal from their Trauma. Overall though, Therapy can be one of the most effective and long-term ways to deal with Trauma. It can be overwhelming, extremely difficult, and exhausting in the midst of dealing with the hard stuff, but the rewards that come of it can be irreplaceable and make the painful times in therapy completely worth it.
One thing that I really want to emphasize is that Therapy is the most effective when you are actually READY to deal with the Trauma. No one can tell you that you are ready, instead, you have to decide that within yourself. If you do not feel ready and are not wanting to acknowledge that effects that the Trauma has had on your life, Therapy won't be a helpful process for you. However, as soon as we are willing to say, "enough" and put your past behind you, this process can be extremely powerful! Take it at the pace that feels comfortable to you. This is going to be a tough journey and you want to make sure that you are ready for it.
Are you ready to say enough and begin your healing process?
Brittany Wingfield// 720-336-0913//
“Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life."
- Akshay Dubey
Read Previous Trauma Blogs