Healing from Trauma, Part III: Moving Out from the Shadow of Trauma

A man jumps from rock to rock.This article is the third installment of a three-part series. The first two articles are Healing from Trauma: Why Can’t I Just Forget About It? and Healing from Trauma: Now that I’m Safe, What Do I Do?

Once you have grown through the first two phases of healing, you are able to work more fully on creating a life that you desire and a future that you wish to strive towards. The shackles of the traumatic experience begin to fall off and you enter a space where you can define your life in and on your terms.

At the heart of this work is rediscovering old or creating new relationships, such as family ties (either with your biological or self-created family), friendships, acquaintances, professional relationships, and last, though not least, romantic relationships. Due to the healing work that you have done, you are ready to trust again and allow yourself to love others and accept the love of others. Since the suffering of others no longer threatens to unravel or overwhelm you, you have an increased degree of compassion for those who suffer. You can connect with others who are in pain; you can accept the imperfections of humanity and reach out to others. People and relationships are no longer sources of trepidation or fear. The ability to have deep relationships not only rests in your ability to trust others, but also in your ability to trust yourself.

Your sense of self has also transformed through the phases of healing, allowing you to cherish and nurture yourself. Just as a butterfly exits out of stages of transformation, your new sense of self has gone through phases of growth and exits the healing process as a beautiful entity. You view yourself with love, and not as just a victim. You have moved beyond and through a traumatic occurrence(s). You have a deep, unshakeable knowledge that you have grown, despite the traumatic experience.

You have come out the other side and are living well. A sense that you are strong, empowered, determined, and resilient, as well as compassionate towards self and others, accompanies you more days than not. Laughter has returned to your life and your sense of humor is less morbid or macabre. Emotions such as joy, pleasure, contentment, and pure, simple fun also begin to make regular appearances. You can and do actively plan for the future, embracing the possibilities that life has to offer. Despite the emotional or physical scars, there is a hard-won sense of realistic optimism. In general you are satisfied with life and find ordinary life both interesting and enjoyable.

This increased personal growth also impacts your sense of meaning and purpose. It is in the final stage of healing that you are able to develop or reconnect with your spiritual beliefs and sources of meaning and purpose. Having grown through the stages of healing from trauma, you begin the vital process of creating and rooting yourself in meaning and purpose. Keep in mind that there are many avenues through which to create meaning and purpose (for example fighting for a cause, volunteering, or pursuing a hobby or passion) and that spirituality encompasses both organized religion and individual systems of belief or faith.

These three overlapping areas of healing—relationships, self, and meaning or purpose—are bound together by a commitment to move forward; “ever onward” is the refrain of this phase. As you grow into the last parts of this phase, your energy is focused on the ordinary tasks of living, not on surviving or on recovering. To quote Dr. Judith Herman, “She has become more interested in the present and the future than in the past, more apt to approach the world with praise and awe than with fear.” In many ways this phase of healing is never finished, as it is the perpetual quest of becoming immersed in the process of creating a vital, meaningful, and enjoyed life.

As with all of my articles, the information in this article is intended to educate and is not meant as a substitution for individual therapy. Take care and ever onwards!

Herman, Judith Lewis. (1997). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror. Jackson, TN: Basic Books.

© Copyright 2010 by Susanne M. Dillmann, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • kory marshall

    January 5th, 2010 at 4:29 PM

    i firmly believe that building good relationships with people around us and involving oneself in an interesting activity or hobby can really take our mind off the trauma that we struggled to come out of in the first place.it is very easy to slip back into trauma and hence utmost care must be taken by the people around such a person to make sure that a relapse does not occur and social bonding is encouraged.

  • Callie

    January 6th, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    Sometimes moving out of the darkness of the past is so intimidating that it is difficult to see the light of the future. For me it has felt like the most difficult journey that I have ever experienced because for me the dark has become my normal, and the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel just scares me because I do not know what awaits me there. I experienced a very traumatic experience as a teen af few years ago and I still have nightmares. I have a great family and a very strong support system but somehow I am still not able to get through many days without tears and anxiety. I know that this is all a big part of the healing process but it is just so hard that I have wondered before if I will ever be able to get through. it. Somewhere out there is there going to be some type of closure for me? I am still looking but it just does not feel like I am going to be able to find that.

  • ken

    January 6th, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    Coming out of trauma is a very difficult phase in any person’s life, and it would do him/her a world of good if there is someone to guide him/her through this very difficult path…Professional help should be sought after.

  • Susanne M. Dillmann, Psy.D.

    December 4th, 2010 at 1:06 PM

    Ken, you have said it well. Thanks for your comment.

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