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How to Cope with Traumatic Memories

We can’t stop traumatic memories from surfacing, but we can control how they affect us.

When we experience a traumatic event, there isn’t always a clear beginning and end. Similar to grief, trauma isn’t linear.

This holds especially true for those who’ve dealt with abuse.

It’s difficult to pin-point the exact moment emotional abuse begins. Abusers are insidious and crafty and slip through our defenses in such a way as to make us believe what’s going on is a natural part of life.

It’s no wonder, years after the abuse ends, when we’ve freed ourselves from their grasp, we still wonder what happened.


My last marriage ended almost exactly five years ago today. I marked the date on my calendar, referred to it on Facebook so it would come up in my memories.

I wanted to remember.

I wanted a reminder I was strong enough to say enough is enough. I won’t stand for this today.

By doing this, it had the effect I intended.

But it also has the effect of reminding me every year around the 1st of February of the horror I lived through just a few short days before.


I don’t need the reminder. My mind and even my body remembers.

It may not be at the forefront of my memories, but it’s there. Once the reminder pops up, I can sit back and sigh.

Oh. That’s what’s been going on the past couple of days.

That’s why I tense at every touch. That’s why I’ve been ready to run. That’s why I can’t breathe.

It’s been five years since the night my ex-husband put his hands on me.

Five years since he terrorized every member of my household and threatened to kill us all.

But it seems like yesterday.

There are parts of me that wish I could erase every memory of that night and make it where it didn’t happen. But I know that’s dreaming. It happened for a reason and serves as a cold reminder that it could have ended much worse.

I could have stayed. Today, I know if I had, I wouldn’t be here to tell you my story.


Traumatic memories don’t always wait until their anniversary to rise from the depths of hell to assault us. Those of us who suffer from C-PTSD or PTSD know a small trigger can cause a flood of memories in an instant.

Coping mechanisms are life saving.

Reorienting yourself to the current time, and place is a great place to start.

  • Where am I?
  • What day is it?
  • What’s the date?
  • How old am I?

Simple questions with simple answers, but important to remind yourself it’s today, not the day of your trauma.

If you’re visually triggered, try focusing on other things in the area.

  • That electrical outlet is white.
  • The lights are on.
  • Watch the fan circle around and around.

Tactile grounding is helpful.

If you have access to a rubber band, place it on your wrist and snap it in place. The snap to your wrist helps remind you to remain present.

Making lists can distract your mind from your trigger as well.

  • Name five things you can touch.
  • Five things you can see.
  • Five things you can smell.

Regret serves no purpose. We are where we are today because of every single choice we’ve ever made. Garth Brooks said it best.

“Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain, but I’d have to miss the dance.”

Today, as I remember to breathe deep, and count the myriad blessings in my life, I know I’ve made wrong choices. But I also know I’ve made right ones and I rest easy in that knowledge. I’m only human. I make mistakes and I acknowledge them.

We can’t live our lives mired in regret. We have to let go and allow ourselves grace. It’s only a mistake if we don’t learn from it.

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