How to Heal Trauma
Have you ever experienced trauma before? Unfortunately, trauma is a common thing to experience in today’s world. Despite being common, it is not something that people like to talk about. Instead, it is shoved, hidden, painted over, ignored, criticized, put down, or put under the taboo label.
This resistance to talking about trauma leads many people to not reach out for help and not know that there are ways and things they can do to achieve healing. They also miss out on information that might change their lives.
For this reason, we are going to talk about trauma today. But not just talk, we will also look into some things you can do that might be able to help you heal your trauma.
This article is for information and educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or advise anything. If you have been through a traumatic experience and are in need of help, please contact a mental health professional.
Keep reading to see how you might be able to heal your trauma and remember to seek out help from a professional when you need it.
The first step or preparation before we start healing is acknowledging that we have something that needs healing. Being aware that something is hurting us, and being aware that it is trauma will help open doors to identify the trauma and find ways to heal it. Trauma is not all the same, and neither are people, so different people will require different tools in order to heal.
If you are not aware that you have trauma or don’t think there’s anything wrong, then you won’t be inspired to take the steps to better yourself. This is similar to the saying “You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped”. In this case, we can change it to: “You can’t help someone or yourself if that person doesn’t know they need help”. They will resist you or even push back on every turn.
How do you know if you have trauma though? There are different signs of trauma, from body language to the way you think but we will not get into all of those right now. If you want to learn more about the signs of trauma you can check out more of Psych2Go’s past articles on trauma on our website or you can click here, here, and here to see three of them. We also invite you to do your own research looking up sources on the internet or contacting a mental health professional.
Although we won’t be going into detail about the different signs of trauma, we do want to leave you with a question asked by Lavendaire, a personal growth channel, so you can start your awareness journey. This question is: What events or memories stick out in my memory?
Is your memory full of beautiful memories or painful ones? Which ones stick out to you the most? If it is a painful, uncomfortable, or hurtful event, it might mean that you have some trauma that you need to heal through.
Sometimes, though, the nature of the trauma is so severe (the severity depends on the situation and the person’s state) that we don’t remember the trauma. How do we know if have had trauma? In this case, we need to look at the body.
Look To Your Body
New research and perspectives, like the book Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., suggest that the body stores trauma. This stored trauma manifests in a myriad of ways depending on the person. In some people, it may look like inexplicable or chronic aches and pains on the back, legs, and head. It can also take the form of physical illnesses like cancer.
Such is the story of Fran Drescher, the actress who played Fran in The Nanny television series of the early 1990s. The actress, who is 64 years old now, believes that uterine cancer that she developed in 2000 was the result of the unresolved feelings and emotions of a rape that occurred to her and a friend in 1985.
In a 2016 interview for Page Six, Drescher said that “I ended up with gynecological cancer, so it kind of ends up being poetic in where the body decides to break down and create disease,” she said.
Trauma in the body can also look like a mental disease. In many people, trauma might look like mental health illnesses or disorders like anxiety, depression, disassociation, personality disorders, etc. So what can you do about it?
We always recommend that you contact a mental health professional for help, especially if the trauma was strong. But, there are a few things you can do by yourself to help you process the trauma.
One of the first things you can do is focus on movement. Remember how we talked about trauma being stored in the body. When you move, exercise, or stretch you are forcing that stagnant energy to move and relieving the pain. Your mind is also forced to be focused on the movement and nothing else, giving you a small reprieve from overthinking and anxiety. Movement will also help you unblock the processing of feelings and emotions.
“Such blocks often occur as the result of trauma, and working through the body can help to foster expression”, says Gail Gogliotti a therapist who writes and works for Urban Wellness Counseling.
Gogliotti, who specializes in dance/movement therapy and trauma, writes in his article a few reasons why we should focus on the body and movement in order to process trauma:
- To encourage feeling safe again
- To increase the self-awareness
- To integrate the verbal and non-verbal experience
- To incorporate thoughts, emotions, and body-felt sensations
- To work with sensation and movement to affect symptoms and promote change
- To promote a focus on the present moment: give attention to what happens in the body as the mind expresses itself
- To regain a sense of control over the body to develop skills to self-regulate
- To decrease stress and increase endorphins, our “feel-good” chemicals
“Using approaches like breathwork, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation techniques, and dance/movement therapy can directly affect symptoms a person might experience following traumatic exposure”, says Gogliotti in his article.
So, what do you learn by working on your body? Gogliotti says that by using movement you learn how to focus on the present moment, you learn healthy coping skills such as breathing, relaxation, mindfulness, and meditation. By moving through your trauma, you can learn how to identify your triggers whether they may be physical, emotional, or environmental. You can also learn how to slow things down to balance yourself and how to integrate your trauma into yourself.
If you are an artistic person, you may consider theater as a form of movement to help heal trauma. In addition to movement, it can also be viewed as an exercise to experience feelings and emotions in a safe way through embodying different characters. If you’re angry, and you happen to be playing a character that has anger as the main trait you can use that opportunity to express your own anger through the character, thus releasing those emotions in a safe and healthy way.
Theater also helps people learn how to step into others’ shoes, and see different perspectives. Although you may not be ready to do it at this point, seeing through other people’s eyes and learning how to understand what they went through can aid you in healing by helping you with forgiveness of others and yourself.
Another way to explore your trauma through your body is a therapy called somatic experiencing. In somatic experiencing practitioners and therapists use a framework called SIBAM to help clients incorporate their trauma.
According to VeryWell Mind, SIBAM stands for sensation, imagery, behavior, affect, and meaning. In the first part of the therapy, the client is asked to sit and feel the sensations of the body. Once the client identifies what they feel, the practitioner then asks the client to imagine a scene and then asks them what comes up as they go through this guided imagery.
In the behavioral part, the practitioner is asked to observe the patient’s body language and movements as they go through the experiences. Affect is identifying how you display your emotions to the outside world and, meaning, the final part of the therapy consists of how you viewed the therapy as well as identifying what the experiences you went through mean to you.
Trauma affects the nervous system severely. On top of living in a world that already stresses us and doesn’t allow us periods of rest, trauma compounds on that making the person suffering from trauma hypervigilant, hyperaroused, hypoaroused, or keeping the person in a constant state of fear.
MHS, a mental health services website, states that this occurs when the trauma pushes the nervous system past its capacity to regulate itself.
“Traumatic events push the nervous system outside its ability to regulate itself”, says MHS in a blog article, “For some, the system gets stuck in the “on” position, and the person is overstimulated and unable to calm. Anxiety, anger, restlessness, panic, and hyperactivity can all result when you stay in this ready-to-react mode”.
On the other hand, the body can go into complete shock or “down”, and stay in a hypoarousal state.
“In other people, the nervous system is stuck in the “off” position, resulting in depression, disconnection, fatigue, and lethargy”, says MHS, “People can alternate between these highs and lows”.
When it comes to the nervous system, the way you manage it is by learning how to regulate it. One way that you can help your nervous system relearn how to regulate itself is through breathwork.
The Guest House, a treatment center for people people who have suffered trauma, says that breathwork uses specific breathing techniques to relax the body, unblock trauma, and give pain an outlet to be released out of the body.
“Trauma can be expelled through breathwork by releasing the tension and pent-up energy that is deeply rooted within the subconsciousness of the person”, says The Guest House.
In another article, the Guest House says that “Tuning into the breath helps us activate our parasympathetic nervous system, bringing the rest of our nervous system to a calm state”.
Controlled breathing sends the brain a signal to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is the system that helps the body calm down after a fight, flight, or freeze response. In a fight, flight, or freeze response our body gets ready to defend itself and it is on a high state of alert, which is the state that we go into when we experience trauma.
Being in this state for long periods of time or experiencing something that keeps us in this state even after the fact, causes our bodies to deregulate. This deregulation ends up creating other problems in the body and mind as a result.
Breathwork promotes a slowing down of the hyperactivated system and a restart to the underactive system. This in turn helps the body learn how to regulate itself again. But, breathwork is not for everyone.
The Good Therapy does not recommend breathwork for people with a history of aneurysms, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, vision problems, osteoporosis, or any recent physical injuries or surgeries. It is also not recommended for people who experience severe psychiatric symptoms or seizures or who take heavy medication.
This is because breathwork can induce hyperventilation and altered states of mind. Other ways that you can work to balance your nervous system are meditation, yoga, and movement. If none of these options feels like you, you are welcome to do your own research on other alternatives.
Just like the body, the mind also needs a way to release the traumatic energy. A few ways you can do this by yourself are journaling, art, and music.
Journaling is a way to help you release all the pent-up energy that your thoughts create, into paper. It also helps you mentally work through situations and emotions, giving you new perspectives especially when you go back to read it. No one knows how it works but putting words to paper seems to extract the heavy energy out of the mind, leaving the writer calm and peaceful afterward.
Art can be another great way for expression as you can do whatever you want with it and use as many mediums as you see fit. You can create whatever you want while putting all of your emotions into it. Which helps in getting them out of you similar to journaling. It also helps you focus on the art itself instead of spending your time knee-deep in negative thoughts.
Some other ways you can heal trauma are with programs led by therapists neurofeedback, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Neurofeedback is a type of therapy where professionals map your brain functions to see which part is out of balance and then retrain that part of the brain by providing specific treatment.
EMDR uses the movements of the eyes to help shift emotions and thoughts in people when they are remembering or focusing on a traumatic event. It helps open the mind to healing by shifting the way the person thinks. Although there is more to EMDR, this is the basic summary of what EMDR does.
Throughout all of this work, you are able to get a sense of understanding of what happened, why it happened, understanding of the other person or situation. Understanding why someone does something or why something happens does not mean that the actions were right but you can get to a point where you realize that it was not your fault.
You can start having compassion and forgiving yourself as well as releasing the shame and guilt. You can also look at your own assumptions or opinions that may or may not have been correct.
Compassion is the feeling that comes up when you see someone else suffering and feel motivated to help or alleviate that suffering. As you go through your own healing you start taking action to alleviate your own suffering. There comes a time when you can look back and comfort that past self that went through that trauma. You may even work on rewriting it or retelling the story in a different way that empowers you.
And although you may not necessarily get involved with the other person that caused that trauma, you can also start having sympathy and compassion towards them.
Forgiveness is a large part of healing because it helps unload the burden of anger, guilt, and shame. Being forgiving does not mean that you’re waving away the actions of the other person or justifying them. According to psychologists, forgiveness is a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
This will free you from putting all of your energy into that one person that doesn’t deserve any more of it and help you redirect that energy towards yourself and your life. Despite the benefits, forgiveness is hard. It’s alright if you aren’t ready to forgive now or ever. Don’t let others shame you into forgiving when you’re not ready. It is a process that takes time.
What has this experience thought you? What did you accomplish or gain because of this?
Trauma, in a way, forces us to work on ourselves and helps us see things that we never had been able to see before. Or experience new things that we never thought possible or that weren’t even on our radar. You will also learn about different subjects like the human mind, psychology, maybe even spirituality.
You learn about yourself and others. You learn what you’re capable of, and what you can do better. You learn how to appreciate yourself more and treat yourself better.
Transformation happens when you are able to shift from the state of being that the trauma forced you into, to a new, more positive one that has integrated all of your experiences and has learned from them.
In this transformation, you are able to rewrite your story through the eyes of love and rewrite your limiting beliefs. Healing and the transformation that comes with it takes time, and at moments you may feel that you are either stuck or repeating the same things.
Don’t give up, it can be hard but according to all of the people who have been able to heal after going through trauma, it is worth it and you can do it too.
How are you healing your trauma? Was this helpful for you? Let us know in the comments and don’t forget to follow our YouTube channel for more about psychology.
Abusos sexuales, éxito televisivo y una lucha contra el cáncer: las mil batallas de Fran Drescher. (2020, October 3). ABC en Español. https://www.abc.es/play/series/noticias/abci-abusos-sexuales-exito-televisivo-y-lucha-contra-cancer-batallas-fran-drescher-202010030050_noticia.html?ref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.abc.es%2Fplay%2Fseries%2Fnoticias%2Fabci-abusos-sexuales-exito-televisivo-y-lucha-contra-cancer-batallas-fran-drescher-202010030050_noticia.html
Blanchfield, T. (2021, November 2). What to Know About Somatic Experiencing Therapy. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-somatic-experiencing-5204186
Brain Forest Centers. (2021, May 10). Everything You Need to Know About Neurofeedback Therapy. Brain Forest. https://brainforestcenters.com/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-neurofeedback-therapy
Gogliotti, G. (2021, October 27). Using Movement to Heal Trauma. Urban Wellness. https://urbanwellnesscounseling.com/movement-trauma/
GoodTherapy Editor Team. (2018, June 22). Breathwork. The Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/breathwork#:%7E:text=Rebirthing%20Breathwork.&text=The%20goal%20of%20Rebirthing%20is,circular%20breathing%E2%80%9D%2C%20inhibitions%20surface
House, T. G. (2018, January 15). Calm Your Nervous System With Controlled Breathing. The Guest House. https://www.theguesthouseocala.com/calm-your-nervous-system-with-controlled-breathing/
House, T. G. (2020, May 18). How Breathwork Can Help Your Trauma. The Guest House. https://www.theguesthouseocala.com/how-breathwork-can-help-your-trauma/#:%7E:text=Trauma%20can%20be%20expelled%20through,body%2C%20and%20soul%20diminishes%20trauma
How Does Trauma Affect the Parasympathetic Nervous System? (2020, March 2). MHS: DBT and Mental Health Services. https://www.mhs-dbt.com/blog/parasympathetic-nervous-system-and-trauma/#:~:text=Traumatic%20events%20push%20the%20nervous,ready%2Dto%2Dreact%20mode
Lavendaire. (2020, February 13). How to Heal Your Emotional Trauma & Past Wounds | Healing Workshop 💖 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Ml86PhDYoY
Taylor, D. B. (2017, June 15). Fran Drescher: There’s a “poetic correlation” between my rape and my cancer. Page Six. https://pagesix.com/2017/06/15/fran-drescher-i-got-cancer-because-i-was-raped/
What is EMDR? (2020, June 29). EMDR Institute – EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING THERAPY. https://www.emdr.com/what-is-emdr/
Daila, this was a brilliant piece and well researched. I found your list to be perfect for anyone who can’t move past a traumatic experience (Pre-COVID estimates by were 70% of the US population had faced at least one traumatic event) Reference – https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Trauma-infographic.pdf In my case, I’ve learned how to be mentally tough to handle all situations at my best. Healing and becoming tougher to face what’s ahead works really well together. Thank you so much! ❤️
Thank you so much! I’m honored and happy that you feel that way. My aim with articles is to help and inform as many people as possible. I’m glad it’s up to standards.
I need to talk to somebody, you see I’m still in middle school so I’m quite young but I suffer with trauma still today my dad is a narcissist and he doesn’t realize the things he does to me I’m extremely insecure by the way I dress do to him I don’t know what to do.. i’m feeling all of my classes because I can’t get them off of my mind
Hi Lakelynn. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Do you have a counselor at your school or another family member that you can talk to?