We all have painful moments in our lives. Most of us like to put on our emotional blinders and move forward as if those moments didn’t happen. Trauma changes the actual structure of our brain, though, and it’s a lot harder than we’d like it to be to glide through our lives unscathed by those traumatic experiences. When you’re unable to tolerate all those burns from your past, you fall into denial and dissociation. There’s a part of you that shuts down, becoming some distant vague memory that doesn’t feel real. You may see it in fragmented flashbacks, unable to put the pieces together, or you may not be able to recall it at all. Nobody wants to remember their trauma. It’s overwhelming. It reminds us that we aren’t safe. Remembering your trauma is like dealing with an unstable marriage – the predictable, secure present that lives with the deastating, ever-present past.
Because trauma alters your ability to organize your present and future life experiences, it’s as if every new encounter is tainted by the past. The world is now experienced with a different nervous system. We have neuroplasticity, allowing the “neurons that fire together to wire together”. If your past experiences allow you to feel safe and loved, your brain engages in exploration, play, and cooperation. If your past experiences show you that you’re unwanted and that the world is an unsafe place, your brain develops a heightened sense of fear and abandonment. Most who are traumatized are unable to enjoy the little things in life. How could you when your brain in constantly on high alert? Some feel identified by their trauma. After years of abuse as a child from a loved one, that child may grow up and have an inability to decipher between pain and pleasure. They may feel shame regarding the connection they maintained with their abuser, becoming emotionally numb and unable to feel a true connection with anyone else. Their trauma may become their sole purpose, providing them the only connection of feeling fully alive. You can break that cycle, and integrate all of these memories into your overall experience, allowing you to welcome your past inside like an old friend, living in harmony for the rest of your lives.
Break down your body’s natural reaction to memories by learning how to deal with the hyperarousal. Take a slow breath in, exhale as slowly as possible – your heart rate slows down on the exhale. This is where your focus should be. You will notice the parasympathetic brake on your hyperarousal. Focusing on your breathing will give you the energy to feel alive and engaged. Increase your self-awareness by being aware of what’s happening in your mind and in your body – fully notice. Sit in the uncomfortable. Refrain from pushing it away – you can tolerate more than you think you can. Call on your relationships – more specifically, call on your healthy relationships. Don’t have any? Form some. Find some sort of connection with someone not negatively associated with the pain you’re trying to navigate through. Relationships are a powerful, natural defense mechanism against trauma. I cannot stress this enough – go to therapy! Find a trauma therapist that you feel is a fit for you – someone you feel safe with. There is such power in having a non-biased, trained person on your side to collaboratively walk with you on your healing journey. Take your stress hormones and do something with them. After abuse, it’s likely that your natural response will be to freeze. Learn how to use your stress hormones to defend yourself – take a class, feel powerful, own yourself. Be kind to that traumatized you that keeps knocking on your door. If I asked you to think back to the most painful time in your life and to look at that past version of yourself, what would you see? Now, if I told you that we were going to open a time portal and step into that moment, what would you say to younger you?
Together, we can #endthestigma
For more, read “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD – “the road to recovery is the road to life” (p. 225).