So often the inclination to push the past out of your present moment awareness is tempting. If you can just distract yourself and move on, focus on the present and future, everything will be fine. This sounds proactive and commendable- a true survivor mentality. And all the while, memories associated with traumatic past experiences stick to our unconscious selves. These memories get stored in more than just our minds, they become embedded in our nervous system and somatically, in our physical bodies. You might have tons of self-doubt, lack a sense of purpose or direction, be plagued by unshakeable guilt and shame, struggle with intimacy or relationships, or have difficulties listening to what your body, mind, and spirit tell you it needs.
To move through trauma and an unsettling past, both the body and mind must be addressed.
What is emotional trauma?
Emotional or psychological trauma can occur in the following ways:
- Directly experiencing something extremely dangerous and/or life-threatening
- Witnessing something extremely dangerous and/or life-threatening
- Learning that a loved one has directly experienced something extremely dangerous and/or life-threatening
Psychological trauma can be human-inflicted (a person or group acting violently toward another person or group), or created by a natural disaster (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes).
How does the body respond to trauma?
The physiological and psychological effects of PTSD are called trauma reactions. These common reactions to trauma are the body and mind’s uncomfortable, automatic responses to internal and external triggers. To help you begin to make sense of your teen’s or your own experience, I’ve listed the four categories of trauma reactions below. People diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, experience symptoms in all four categories of trauma reactions.
Categories of Trauma Reactions:
- Re-experiencing: involuntarily re-living the traumatic event through the form of
- Intrusive thoughts or images
- Hyperarousal: haven’t a heightened startle response, constantly feeling on edge, fear and anxiety that the trauma will occur again, shakiness, panic attacks related to the traumatic occurrence (this is a form of anxiety)
- Avoidance: purposely working to avoid real experiences or memories of people, places, things and other reminders of the trauma
- Negative cognitions: having a negative outlook on life, a negative belief in humanity, a negative view of self, or disbelief that life will get better (this looks much like depression)
Regardless of whether or not you meet criteria for PTSD, trauma therapy can help you or your loved one. If you personally struggle with trauma, you know that having even one of the symptoms described above negatively impacts your quality life and ability to experience lasting joy.
Coping with emotional trauma in unhelpful ways:
After trauma occurs, many people try to push the disturbing memories out of their minds as a means of coping. This is our body and mind’s instinctive way of handling events that are too upsetting to process. The problem is that while you may be able to push the memories away and distract yourself from the bad feelings for a short while, eventually the memories and feelings rise back up to the surface.
To manage this challenge some people turn to things like drugs and alcohol, eating disordered behavior, self-harm, or taking life-threatening risks (having unprotected sex, hanging out with dangerous people, going into unsafe neighborhoods, or other high-risk activity that was not practiced prior to the trauma). These behaviors, as unhealthy as they are, do bring short-term relief by numbing the pain away and distracting the body and mind, but again, the painful emotions eventually return.
The good news is that you can recover from emotional trauma and learn valuable skills to replace ineffective and unsafe coping.
You have an innate force within you, ready to heal, grow and thrive.Trauma therapy and PTSD treatment allow you to work through the troubling after effects of the event and build a life worth living.
What will trauma therapy be like? The Stages of Trauma Therapy:
You will not be asked to talk about the traumatic experience right away. First, we’ll focus on safety and helping you eliminate any life-threatening behaviors, build supports, and gain stability. We will look at the ways the trauma you experienced impact you at present-day. We’ll look at how you’ve coped with the trauma and identify goals to help you build a life worth living- a life that feels good and has purpose. Next, we’ll look at the trauma reactions you’re experiencing. We will do skill building, including self-regulation techniques that will help you manage your trauma reactions, panic and hyperarousal symptoms. I will teach you tools that will help you feel less anxious, stressed and depressed. Eventually, we may get to a place where you talk about the trauma- this is called creating a Trauma Narrative. This is never done before you are ready and only once you feel confident in your ability to use all the new skills you’ve learned. It is important in this stage to allow time for grieving and mourning the past. Next, we’ll continue to integrate practices of mindfulness to allow for meaning making, reconnecting to your body (if there has been a disconnection to the body since the trauma), restoring your relationships and place in society, and constructing a life you are proud to live.
Mindfulness meditation, somatic therapy- where we approach how we are holding trauma in the body, breathwork, and yoga, are practices we can incorporate into your PTSD treatment, all which have had beneficial results for many of the children, teenagers and adults with whom I’ve worked.
I’m so glad because you are a survivor and YOU deserve to live the life that you want. I invite you to join me in my office or over the phone for a free consultation to discuss if a holistic approach to PTSD treatment is right for you. I offer trauma therapy at my office in West Lake Hills and via online counseling. Book a consultation today.