As someone who suffered severe childhood trauma at the hands of those she should have been able to trust most in the world, I understand intimately the deep and disruptive wounds that trauma can inflict upon the psyche. My own trauma, and subsequent tumultuous path to finding effective healing, led me to want to help others still struggling with their own distress borne from traumatic experiences.
The wounds that linger from trauma can negatively affect our lives in a variety of ways, from experiencing post-traumatic stress and poor mental wellbeing to self-medication, poor decision making and struggling to find our purpose in life. But these wounds are not incurable. They don’t have to define who we are. Psychological injury from trauma can be healed. We can learn to live content and fulfilling lives brimming with purpose and compassion. We can love and be loved.
Although, we may always carry the scars of the wounds that trauma wrought, scars show us where we have been and that we have healed. Scars do not define where we are going, who we are, nor how we can transform our lives. We are more than our trauma and we deserve to heal those wounds, but first we must be brave enough to start the journey to healing and ultimately the lives we want and deserve.
As the founder of award-winning mental health enterprises, a trauma survivor and someone who has helped many people overcome their own trauma through successful support programs, I thought I would share my top five pieces of advice for those seeking to start to heal their own trauma.
1. Begin the process of reconnecting with your body:
The mind and body are highly connected to each other through our nervous system which is why emotions have physical ramifications in our bodies. We have all experienced the butterflies in our stomachs when we are excited or tension in our muscles when we are stressed. Traumas from the past may disrupt our autonomic nervous system. The part that generates our body’s response to threats to our survival. Sometimes, after trauma, the autonomic nervous system can become stuck in a state of hyperarousal or shutdown, causing unpleasant physical symptoms, such as panic attacks, as well as emotional symptoms.
Through slowly redeveloping our awareness of the mind-body connection and how our emotions are manifesting in our body, we can begin to release fear, anger, frustration, and other emotional responses that remain from traumatic experiences. Freeing yourself from stress and pain by reconnecting with your body can help you reengage in your life and start to heal.
2. Learn to become present for your journey:
Trauma can invoke changes in the brain, particularly parts of the brain associated with emotional processing and memory. When we are present or “mindful”, we are focusing our non-judgemental, compassionate awareness on our experiences. By learning to bring our awareness to the present, focusing attention on our sensory experience and the bodily sensations we experience whilst immersed in our environment, we can learn to accept our experiences with a new calmer perspective and compassion for ourselves and others.
Being present can change the brain’s structure and connections within a period of weeks. Over time and with dedicated practice, being mindful slows down emotional reactivity and increases our sense of our body, bringing with it greater emotional regulation, a strengthening of empathy and resilience to the eb and flow of life.
It takes practice, but learning to be present can help reinvigorate your enjoyment of existence and allow you to fully experience and, if wanted, transform your life. Like with everything, mindfulness takes dedication, and you will get out what you place in.
3. Become emotionally agile:
Emotional agility is our ability to experience our emotions in a way that encourages us to value them and use the information in a way that serves us. Rather than pursuing false happiness and denying the negative emotions that are part of the usual ups and downs of life, emotional agility encourages us to accept both the positive and negative emotions we experience, using the information emotions provide in a beneficial way.
Seeking happiness and suppressing negative emotions can, counterintuitively, lead to us feeling more stressed and disappointed. Developing emotional agility and accepting the spectrum of our emotions, without judgement or the desire to repress them, gives us access to the information the emotions contain so that we can move forward in the way we desire.
Experiencing emotions with mindful self-compassion and accepting the reality of these emotions, allows us to explore questions such as: why do I feel like this? What is this emotion telling me about what is important to me or what I value? This approach, with practise and commitment, can allow us to regulate the disrupted emotions stemming from trauma and give us the information needed to use our emotions in the way that serves us best.
4. Find your purpose:
It can be easy to become lost in the drudgery of life. Compounded by the effort of coping with the aftermath of trauma, the chores and duties takeover and we slowly lose what drives us, leaving us with malaise. A feeling of just surviving, rather than thriving. Rediscovering your passion and purpose can be a journey in itself; one that is important for healing. We all need a reason to continue striving even when things are tough.
There are several potential blocks people have when discovering their purpose, these include: feeling like they don’t deserve a better life, feeling too exhausted from keeping up with day-to-day life, being overwhelmed by their experiences and struggling to identify their passions, amongst others. Becoming aware of these blocks and removing them can help us to move our lives forward in a direction that will bring us joy and satisfaction.
5. Reach out:
Finally, don’t suffer in silence. You don’t have to live with the wounds of your trauma. Help is available in many different forms. Finding someone to guide you on your path to healing can feel scary, but ultimately, it can result in you discovering a life which is calmer, content and more fulfilling.