Most people have had a traumatic experience of some kind. While many of us learn to cope and be resilient in the face of trauma, others may become overwhelmed.
Trauma is an overwhelming experience, and it is our experience and reaction, more than the event itself, that defines trauma. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for posttraumatic stress (PTSD) are specific and involve being exposed to something that threatens life; however, different people have a range of responses to similar situations. What may feel mundane to you could be traumatic to me, and vice versa. No judgment here—we are all wired differently.
Once we’ve encountered a trauma, how do we get through it?
- Seek safety. The first step in addressing trauma is to create safety, on multiple levels. Physically, find a place to ground yourself and feel protected from harm. Then look for ways to actively nurture yourself. Think of a bird flying along and running into a glass window. What does that bird need—perhaps a little shoebox with some water and food, and loving hands and eyes to watch over it? On an emotional level, seek out those people in your life who can tend to you as you would that bird, who offer love, support, caring, and understanding. If you have a network of friends and family, call on them. There are also people and organizations out there to help, serve, and support you. Also, seek support on a spiritual level. Connecting with a higher power or deeper intelligence that resonates with you can be a saving grace. Many gravitate toward nature. Find what soothes your soul.
- Process. Once you feel more grounded, contained, and safe (and you feel READY for this step), you can begin to process the parts of the experience that are still with you. Look to your body and find the movement that helps you get in touch with yourself and your feelings. Find a good therapist or group in which you can talk openly and honestly. As you process, you’ll continue to develop coping skills and strengths and build upon the safety and containment you’ve created.
- Examine. When the bulk of your processing is over, life goes on. The goal is not to forget the traumatic experience but to resolve the emotional charge it holds in the present. Look at any learning or growth that has come from this experience. What insights have you gained? Make a note to yourself of any positive things you have learned that you can carry forward.
When we process one life event thoroughly, we may discover more there—other experiences or things we have learned about ourselves that deserve attention and healing. By now, hopefully, you have good relationships and supports you can lean on to continue your healing journey mindfully, with compassion for yourself and with the knowledge that efforts put toward healing will be helpful for you.
Disclaimer: It is never this neat. These steps will weave in and out of each other. Trauma, like life, can be chaotic, and healing is an art more than it is a science. Following your intuition and building a network of support will help. There is a way through; use these steps to guide you through your healing process.
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa Danylchuk, MEd, LMFT, E-RYT, therapist in Oakland, California
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