Healing From Trauma: How To Move Forward After Adverse Events

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Traumatic events have been studied in detail. Traditionally, society may have defined trauma as a singular event, often due to war crimes, natural disasters, or loss. However, researchers have found that trauma reactions can come from repeated experiences in daily life during which people experience loss of control or danger. For example, abusive relationships, witnessing violence, and divorce can also be traumatic. 

You may feel familiar with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from popular media showcases. However, you do not have to have symptoms or a diagnosis of PTSD to be someone who has been profoundly negatively impacted by traumatic experiences. Unresolved trauma may affect how you cope with future stressors and your views about yourself and others. 

Healing from trauma is possible, and many people find relief from support groups and/or professional mental health services. However, there are a few lifestyle changes and topics to keep in mind if you’d like to start this process at home. 

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How can neuroplasticity help trauma survivors heal?

The brain can recover from blunt trauma, penetrative trauma, and emotional trauma via neuroplasticity- the ability to create new neural pathways (connections) in the brain. Several ways to stimulate neuroplasticity at home include meditation, mindfulness, and visualization. 

Meditation and mindfulness are terms for focusing on the present and stopping to notice your senses. When you practice mindfulness, you can learn how to breathe deeply, focus on the sensations in your body, and ground yourself in the present. Visualization can involve creating pictures in your mind of objects, places, or people that relax you. When these skills are practiced, you can distract from painful memories and dissociation, a common symptom of having experienced trauma. 

An experienced counselor can help facilitate the healing process of neuroplasticity through a therapeutic modality like eye-movement-desensitization-reprocessing therapy (EMDR). This modality uses bilateral brain stimulation to help individuals reprocess memories without feeling emotional impacts. As a brain develops until age 25, traumas under the age of 25 may have significant impacts. If you have experienced complex, repeated traumas, a therapeutic modality like EMDR might benefit you.

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Ways to move forward after hurt

Below are a few options for moving forward from trauma and finding inner peace. 

Opening the window of tolerance

According to Dr. Dan Siegel, each person is born with a window of tolerance when it comes to being stimulated by our experiences. The upper window ledge signifies hyper-arousal, and the lower ledge is hypo-arousal. When a person can tolerate discomfort, it may build resiliency. 

The goal is to exist within the window of tolerance, where there is an optimal level of arousal, purpose, and motivation. Masterpieces can be crafted in the window of tolerance. Within the window of tolerance, physical and mental healing may be possible. However, for some, compounding traumas close the window of tolerance. They may feel stagnant or fluctuate between states of hypo and hyper-arousal. 

Symptoms of hypo-arousal may include apathy, depression, isolation, and low motivation. Hyperarousal symptoms may include anxiety, muscle tension, racing thoughts, and difficulty relaxing. These states can make it difficult to feel tolerant of pain and challenging events, and you may feel unable to move forward in this state. 

With support from a trauma-informed mental health professional, you may begin to reopen your window of tolerance, leading to improved health and increased resilience in the face of stress. A counselor can assist in helping you identify your triggers for traumatic responses so that you can become more aware of your thoughts and feelings toward your window of tolerance.

Forgiveness

Extreme and prolonged anger is often linked to poor health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease. Forgiveness can be challenging, but it might help you move forward. Forgiving someone, yourself, or a situation doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting. Forgiveness is an act you choose for yourself to move forward. If you’re not ready to forgive or don’t feel it is helpful for your journey, that can also be healthy. 

Self-care

When experiencing trauma, your mind might look for an explanation, regardless of logic. When no explanation is given, the brain can invent a story to make sense of what happened. For example, if you have been emotionally abused, you might start to believe that you are the person acting abusively and that you need to do better to receive love. For this reason, abuse can be challenging to escape for many people. 

To achieve emotional healing, it can be helpful to recognize your inherent value through positive self-esteem-building behaviors and regular self-care. Other ways to practice self-care may include creating and reviewing positive affirmations, developing a schedule to take time for yourself, and working on self-love. 

To combat the effects of past abuse, taking time for regular self-care can remind you that you are worthy of love, care, and self-compassion. Recognize the ways you learned to cope that are not serving you anymore, and gently let the desire for those behaviors pass. Remind yourself that you are safe. 

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Are you ready to move on?

Counseling 

You might want to discuss trauma out loud with someone you can build trust with. Some people don’t feel comfortable talking about their traumas with friends or family, so a therapist can become part of a support system while healing. In addition, many evidence-based therapeutic modalities are effective in treating trauma. 

If you don’t feel comfortable attending therapy in person or if you can’t find a therapist near you, you might try online counseling. Online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp allows you to match with one of the thousands of licensed therapists available online. You can meet with your therapist from a safe environment, whether at home or another location. 

If you are cautious about online therapy, you may find comfort in knowing that various studies have proven its efficacy in reducing the symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and phobias. Other studies have shown that online therapy is more cost-effective than traditional therapy.

Takeaway

If you’re living with the memories of a traumatic event or multiple complex traumas, know that you’re not alone. You may benefit from speaking with a licensed therapist. If you don’t feel comfortable with in-office therapy to discuss a traumatic event or any mental health disorders you may be experiencing, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or bipolar disorder, you might consider online therapy. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience helping people overcome traumatic events. Take the first step toward healing from trauma and reach out to BetterHelp today.
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