How Do You Begin to Process Trauma

Trauma. The word is everywhere. Trauma appears to lurk around from social media to our daily news. But what is trauma? And what can you do to start healing these wounds?

Every person on this earth has probably experienced some form of trauma. There is no way around negative experiences that happen in a lifetime. But when a traumatic event impacts your sense of safety or violates your boundaries emotionally or physically, it may be difficult for your brain to process. When the brain is unable to process trauma, symptoms begin to appear.

What Does Trauma Look Like?

Imagine unprocessed trauma as a bunch of loose papers in a filing cabinet. They may disappear for a while, but eventually, those papers return to the front of the cabinet. Trauma, similarly, floats around the brain until it’s triggered and brought back into real-time for your body and mind to replay, over and over.

Stress disorders create a framework for diagnosing symptoms experienced after traumatic events occur. Symptoms that arise within a month are diagnosed as an acute stress disorder. When symptoms begin 1 to 6 months post-event, they fall into the post-traumatic stress disorder classification. Common symptoms include:

  1. Recurring, intrusive memories of the event(s)
  2. Nightmares
  3. Out-of-body feelings
  4. Not feeling like the world is real
  5. Avoidance
  6. Negative self-concept
  7. Isolation

Responses to attachment and developmental trauma are commonly characterized by turbulent relationships and role reversals like parentification. Symptoms of complex trauma include both presentations of attachment wounds and single-incident trauma.

Unprocessed trauma impacts mental and physical well-being, disrupts relationships, and creates unwanted stress responses. While you may be hesitant to unlock this experience, remember that there are many ways to safely process trauma.

Find a Witness

A therapist might feel like another expense, but mental health providers are skilled witnesses. Not only are they trained to hold your story, but they also guide people toward recovery every day. A trauma therapist will be there with you every step of the way. At any point, if things become too uncomfortable for you, they will help you become grounded and process and work through the discomfort.

Find a Safe Space

Whether in a therapy session, a support group, or working independently, find a space where you can freely experience your emotions. A sense of safety is likely the first violation to occur during trauma. If you’re working at home, avoid setting up your safe space in areas of the house where the trauma occurred.

While bedrooms are a source of comfort for many and telehealth’s favorite locations, sexual assault survivors sometimes have strong feelings about their bedrooms. Be gentle with yourself.

Create a Mindfulness Routine

You may find that addressing your trauma leaves you feeling flighty, jittery, or tired. Give yourself a post-session mindfulness routine to reground. Try engaging all of your senses by drinking a glass of cold water, noticing the texture of grass under your feet, listening to the sound of leaves, appreciating the taste of a cookie, and looking at the changing colors in the sky. By adding a mindful routine, your body will more quickly revert to calm when memories or intrusive thoughts come to mind.

Attending to your trauma history is a long and complex process. You may not feel like you’re progressing, especially at the beginning. Remember, you heal a little more each time you show up for your mental health. Whenever you remember a coping skill, your brain creates a new file for your cabinet. And soon, your body will understand that you are safe, and there will be peace.

If this blog speaks to you and your therapy goals, reach out to our counseling center. Your story is worthy of being witnessed, and your healing process deserves the structure of a trained professional. We’re here to walk with you on this journey of healing and empowerment through trauma therapy.



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