Healing after trauma
Updated: May 18, 2022
Many people are afraid to heal because their entire identity is centered around the trauma they’ve experienced. It’s not bad or wrong that this happens, and it doesn’t mean anyone is broken. Having a trauma-based identity can happen when our experiences and emotions have been invalidated over and over again–we just need someone to listen to us, to believe us. We just need to feel safe.
When that happens, though, we have no idea who we are outside of trauma and that unknown can be terrifying. At the same time, there is a desire to be whole, to be happy, to have a peaceful, joyful life. So we're start trying to “get better” or “be better.” That language can often feel shame-induced from being told or shown that who we are is not acceptable or lovable, that something about us is missing or fractured until we get it figured out. This keeps our nervous system is operating in trauma response mode. For many people, myself included, I've seen this turn into an addiction to “personal growth” and “self improvement.” It creates a miserable, never-ending cycle.
What is a trauma response? That means being in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn is what feels normal, and we get there easily. Being in a state of safety and peace feels unusual or even threatening. When you couple the self-improvement cycle with an unaddressed trauma response, most of the work gets focused on simply managing or living with the trauma response, so people feel they are doing a lot of work but never “getting better.”
You don’t have to know (meaning, dissect, intellectualize, discover more red-string connections) your trauma. That won’t help. What DOES help, is healing your body’s trauma response.
“Trauma treatment is not about telling stories about the past. Trauma treatment is about helping people to be here now, to tolerate what they feel right in the present.” - Bessel van der Kolk.
Yes, that often (but not always) means having to confront the trauma and talk about it while also caring for the response your body is having in that present moment. Creating new situations of safety while your body is in fight, flight, freeze, or fawn is what will begin to teach your body that you are safe and that it is safe for you to feel safe.
If you feel stuck because everything you’ve tried has revolved around telling stories about the past, you’re not alone (because this happens to lots of people) AND there is legit another way.
Experiencing a healing relationship that focuses on creating experiences of safety will get your nervous system out of “trauma response” mode and into “peace and happiness” mode, while giving you the space to safely feel uncertain about it. When we feel safe, things like being open to new ideas or trying new things, having the energy and excitement to follow our curiosity, feeling grounded and secure in setting boundaries, and feeling clear and centered in new relationships are all a lot easier because you don’t have to work to overpower your nervous system anymore.