Healing From Trauma: How To Move On
By Marie Miguel
Updated January 28, 2019
Reviewer Lauren Fawley
Traditionally, a traumatic event has been defined as something singular, with the person going through it experiencing a loss of control or fear for their lives or the life of loved ones. Now, researchers are coming to understand that trauma reactions can come out of everyday occurrences during which people experience that loss of control or danger, such as abusive situations. This is referred to as complex trauma. Trauma comes in many forms - from childhood bedwetting to emotional abuse to war. The adage, "If you were born, you have trauma," is not an exaggeration. You may be familiar with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as experiencing flashbacks to the traumatic event or nightmares. However, you do not have to have these symptoms to be someone who has been deeply negatively impacted by traumatic experiences. Unresolved trauma is insidious, affecting how we cope with future stressors, much of the time without us realizing how we are trying to cope. Oftentimes, trauma impacts the way that we come to think, feel, and believe about ourselves and the world. Indeed, most of our responses to stress have been ingrained since childhood yet they define our adulthood. But healing from trauma is possible. Here is some beginning information about healing from trauma and moving forward.
Neuroplasticity - The Key To Healing
Your brain has an amazing ability to recover from blunt trauma, penetrative trauma, and even emotional trauma via a process called neuroplasticity, or the ability to create new neural pathways or connections in the brain. There are many free DIY ways to stimulate neuroplasticity through learning relaxation, including meditation, mindfulness, and visualization. Meditation and mindfulness are terms for focused attention on the present and stopping to truly notice all the information your senses are giving you at the moment. When you practice mindfulness, your body is able to reach a sense of calm, and deep breathing is often involved. Visualization involves creating a picture in your mind of things or places that are very relaxing for you. When these skills are practiced, your brain can learn to relax the body almost instantly by engaging with these relaxation tools.
Also, an experienced counselor can help facilitate the healing process of neuroplasticity. EMDR (Eye-Movement-Desensitization-Reprocessing) is one of the professional treatment methods used to stimulate new learning based on traumatic memories.
Remember that childhood trauma is particularly damaging when it comes to brain health because the brain is still developing throughout childhood. Therefore, resolving childhood trauma is vital to achieving optimal brain function and mental well-being.
Opening the Window of Tolerance
According to Dr. Dan Siegel, we are 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 we are able to tolerate some discomfort it builds resiliency. The goal is to exist within the window of tolerance, where there is an optimal level of arousal, purpose, and motivation. Masterpieces are crafted in the window of tolerance. Within the window of tolerance, physical and mental healing is possible.
Compounding traumas begin to close the window of tolerance. We can become fixed in, or fluctuate between, states of hypo- and hyper-arousal. Symptoms of hypo-arousal include: apathy, depression, isolation, and low motivation. Symptoms of hyperarousal include anxiety, muscle tension, racing thoughts, and an inability to relax. Neither state is ideal and both are antithetical to true healing.
But with help from a trauma-informed mental health professional, you can begin to reopen your window of tolerance, leading to better mental and physical health and increased resilience in the face of stress. You are stronger than you may currently realize. A counselor can assist in helping you to identify your triggers for traumatic responses so that you can become more aware of your thoughts and feelings towards these windows of tolerance.
Have you ever heard the sayings that anger is like drinking poison and expecting the target of your anger to die instead of yourself? It is true that anger is linked to poor health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease. Forgiveness is difficult but forgiving is not letting a person that hurt you off the hook. Recognize that true forgiveness does not equal forgetting. Forgiveness is for you; it means moving forward so that the pain of the past no longer drags you down. Forgiving those associated with past trauma is a key step in overcoming the effects of trauma.
Let's say you have experienced emotional abuse for many years. When we experience trauma, our minds want an explanation - even if there is not a logical one. When no explanation is given, the brain invents a story in order to try to make sense of what happened. If you have been emotionally abused, you might start to believe that you are worthless - in line with the words of the abuser. You use the lie concerning your value as an explanation for the inexcusable - abuse. This is part of the reason why abuse can be so difficult to escape.
To overcome trauma, you must recognize your inherent value - through positive, self-esteem building mantras and regular self-care. Some other ways to practice self-care are to create and review positive affirmations, develop a schedule to take time for self and to develop self-love. To combat the effects of past abuse, taking time for regular self-care is a must because it flies in the face of past lies concerning self-value. It is important to learn to recognize ways that you learned to cope that are not serving you anymore, especially when it comes to valuing yourself. Perhaps you have used alcohol or other substances to help cope, or you have another type of compulsive or unhealthy behavior. It is common to have other mental health complications due to trauma in your history, such as unstable relationship patterns or depression.
Healing from Trauma with the Help of An Online Counselor
It helps very much to talk about trauma out loud with someone that you can build trust with. It is likely that you have things you have felt you should keep secret for a long time, but those secrets are truly not your burden to bear. You did not choose to be mistreated.
Working with a therapist can also help you to learn new skills, some of which have been discussed in the article. After reading this article, you may have more questions like, "How do I go about forgiving others?", "How do I practice mindfulness in my life?", or "How do I take care of myself?" A mental health professional can help to familiarize you with new concepts and help you figure out how to put them into practice.
Overcoming past trauma can be a difficult journey. An online counselor can tailor a trauma-healing regimen to your individual needs. Contact an experienced counselor today to start your life-changing healing journey!