Trauma brings the most vulnerable parts of ourselves to the surface. Most people think of trauma in terms of large events that have a great deal of visibility, such as a major car accident, a natural disaster, or military service – but it’s important to also recognize trauma that occurs on a smaller scale that can be equally as painful. For example, growing up in a household where there was constant fighting, feeling abandoned by friends, going through a tough relationship breakup, chronic feelings of discouragement or emotional neglect, repeated disappointments, difficulties overcoming life barriers, unresolved goals, and more can all be considered trauma.
For many people, we don’t always recognize our experiences as “traumatic” because they may feel “normal” to us. We have to be careful about normalizing our painful experiences, as it can sometimes invalidate our pain or make us feel as though we don’t deserve healing. At River Oaks Psychology, we believe that each and every person is deserving of living their most empowered, most fulfilling life. To achieve this, we often have to explore our experiences that may have caused trauma so that we can reclaim control and change the things that hold us back in life.
Often, working with a therapist is the best way to safely explore our past trauma. No matter the size or nature, all trauma is valid. Every person deserves to have a completely safe, nonjudgmental environment to talk about painful experiences. Therapy provides that environment where you can simply process what you have gone through to better understand how it has impacted your life today. Aside from therapy, there are many things you can do to work on recovering from trauma. Below are some examples of what you can do alongside therapy to make progress toward recovery.
Journal. Expressive writing is a great way to independently process past experiences and cope with symptoms of trauma. It can be highly therapeutic to get your thoughts on paper. Writing helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings about what has occurred and it can even help you reframe your perspectives or see things in a new light.
Remain grounded. Experiencing trauma can make us hypervigilant and acutely aware of our surroundings. We may be more prone to defensiveness or we may find ourselves experiencing a high degree of anxiety. Remaining grounded is so important! Practicing mindfulness or meditation in your daily life can help calm your nervous system and re-wire your brain so that you can begin to regain your sense of inner peace.
Maximize social support. Experiencing trauma can feel lonely at times. You might feel like no one understands what you have gone through because your trauma was a personal experience unique to you. Due to these feelings of loneliness, it can be difficult to heal from trauma without social support. In fact, most people recovering from trauma say that having a strong support system has been one of the most critical parts of the recovery. Stay close to the people who you feel safe, connected, and authentic with. Having these close relationships will be a huge part of your healing journey, especially because it will allow you to receive help from people in your life when you’re feeling particularly triggered or overwhelmed on certain days.
Set boundaries. For those in your life who are not understanding or supportive to you, it’s important to set boundaries. Social boundaries are the invisible lines that we set between ourselves and others to help protect ourselves and avoid feeling hurt from the behaviors of others. Aside from social boundaries, you may also want to set boundaries between your work life and personal life. Setting boundaries when it comes to holidays can also be helpful. You may also want to explore boundary setting as it relates to how much time you volunteer or give to others. Healing from trauma is exhausting, and you have to protect your energy.
Reevaluate your core values. Recovering from trauma may also prompt you to reevaluate your core values. Your core values are the things that are most important to you. They may include things like family time, relaxation, pursuing a career path, doing hobbies with your friends, prioritizing time for religion, or engaging in art projects or crafts. Your core values can be any number of things and there is certainly no right or wrong way to define your values. This is important for recovery because sometimes trauma makes us lose touch with our values. We feel hurt and broken and we sometimes have to rediscover who we are.
Make a change. Experiencing trauma can leave us cycling through the same problems over and over. Our trauma may have diminished our ability to take control over things that are bothering us. We may find ourselves stuck in patterns that are not serving us well. Change can be difficult, but sometimes even making the smallest changes can reignite our hope and belief in a positive future. Explore the things that are bothering you the most in your life. How can these be changed or modified? What is one small change that you can make today?
Lean into self-expression. Learning to be our full, authentic selves is an essential component of trauma recovery. Experiencing trauma can make us feel smaller, as though we have to hide ourselves in the world or retreat inward toward our pain. It’s important to recognize our pain, but it’s equally important to remember that we are allowed to express ourselves fully and take up space in the world. Trauma can diminish our voice and it’s so important for us to practice recognizing our own inner voice again. Try expressing yourself verbally with others, but also through writing stories, creating art, playing music, dancing, reading poetry, and more.
Take care of your body. Remember that you still need to take care of your physical needs. Trauma can feel exhausting. The way that we take care of our bodies – through proper nutrition, sleep, and hygiene – has an enormous impact on our mental health. Stay hydrated, eat a variety of foods, maintain your sleep routine, exercise or at least engage in some physical movement, and allow your body to rest when needed. Your mind and body will thank you!
You deserve to heal from trauma. If you’re experiencing painful memories, flashbacks, panic attacks, guilt or frustration from past experiences, a diminished sense of self-worth, depression or anxiety – or any other number of trauma symptoms – please reach out to us. We would be honored to work with you in a safe, confidential environment where we can gently explore the things that have caused you pain and create real progress together toward healing and empowerment.
Written by Lauren Presutti