Some Things I’ve Learned from Trauma

1. It requires specialist counselling. Although it is essential to talk about what happened, and to have your experienced witnessed by another, a counsellor or therapist needs additional training. They need to know what is normal when you’ve been traumatized, and especially when it comes to managing flashbacks, re-experiencing the trauma, and dissociation.

2. You feel you’re going crazy; you don’t recognize yourself. You fly off the handle at the smallest provocation. You react in scary and unexpected ways; and you no longer live on an even keel.

This is not who you were, or who you want to be.  You feel you’ve lost yourself, and you’ve lost yourself forever.

3. You experience emotions you never felt before; and these feelings can be hard to bring under control. They’re overwhelming, intense and can be hard to dial down. And you never really know “what is going to set you off.”  

4. You feel ashamed and embarrassed at the way that you react, and this further undermines your very low self-esteem … for the trauma has already undermined your self-esteem.

5. So much of what you’re feeling cannot be articulated. Rational thinking is shut down when emotions start to rise. The subconscious mind is driving things, and trying to protect you. You can’t explain to others what is happening to you.

6. There are very few people who will truly understand. They will judge the situation and give you trite advice. Unless you’ve walked this road yourself, then you don’t know what it is like. You don’t understand the terror, the despair and hopelessness.

7. Be careful who you talk to. This is crucial for self-care. If you talk to the wrong person, you’ll only feel much worse. Be hesitant and wise before you risk sharing with others.

8. Other people who have gone through something similar to you are you best supporters (beyond talking to a counsellor). They’ve struggled with these symptoms – all the same thoughts and emotions. They know what it is like, and they can normalize reactions.

9. Feeling safe in our own body, in our environment, and with a few trusted people is a prerequisite for processing the trauma, and being able to recover.

10. Recovery is slow. It’s so much slower than expected. It plays havoc with your sleep, and it can compromise your health. Daily life feels like a minefield; there are triggers everywhere. You think you’re making progress then the past hits you again.

But there is absolutely hope. It won’t be this way forever. One day you will look back, and you will see how much you’ve changed.

Why We Can’t “Just Let go”

How often do you hear someone say, “Just let it go”?

As if was easy that easy to “Just let it go”.

You don’t just snap your fingers, or make up your mind. The feelings that you have won’t just quietly lie down. The don’t just frizzle out and, no, they don’t just disappear.

And that’s why this trite phrase tends to annoy me so much.

If you try to block emotions and pretend they aren’t there, you will not solve the problem for the issue’s unaddressed. The feelings are still there – even if they’re underground.

For your feelings are designed to alert you to the fact that something isn’t right: that you’ve been wronged, or you’ve been hurt.

That matters – and it should.

And it is right to feel upset.

What to do About it?

If you can’t “Just let it go” what can you, maybe, do instead?

You can do the opposite. Yes, you allow yourself to feel. You process the emotions by sitting with the pain. You give them dignity, and you invite them to speak up.

Why?

The feelings must move through you if they’re going to be released. So acknowledge how you’re feeling. Don’t deny the way things are.

The Process

You notice what you’re feeling, and describe the way you feel. For example, your fingers might be tingling, or your stomach might feel rough.

It’s going to take time. For sure, this won’t be a quick fix. But it’s all part of the process of releasing intense pain.

Why is this Effective?

The reason is you’ve honoured all the trauma you’ve lived through. And now it’s integrated. It is part of who you are.

No, we can’t “Just let it go”. There are clear steps we need to take. But by doing this hard work, you’ll find you’re able to get free.

What Not to Say When Someone’s Going Through a Trauma

When someone is dealing with a heartache or trauma, there is nothing you can do to make the pain go away. Yes, you can be there for them, and can offer them your presence. And silent empathy can help them feel much less alone.

But there are things that people say that do not help the situation. That’s rarely their intention – for they usually want to help. But when we are in crisis, we are vulnerable and bleeding. Thus, you need to tread more carefully, and think about your words.

Things to avoid when someone’s dealing with a trauma include:  

1. “I know how bad it is; the same thing happened to me.” Everyone’s experience is different and unique so you don’t really know what they are going through, at all. Also, the spotlight is on them, and their experience, right now. It isn’t about you, or all the heartache you’ve been through.

2. “I know it’s bad but, honestly, it could have been even worse.” For a traumatized person this is shocking beyond words. They’re reeling from what happened, and their world’s been torn apart. Don’t minimize the damage, or the sorrow and the pain.

3. “It’ll all work out in the end.” This isn’t reassuring (even though it’s meant to help). The truth is: life’s uncertain. You don’t have a crystal ball. And things might not get better. You don’t know what lies ahead.

4. “I’m sure they didn’t mean to cause you so much grief and pain.” The aggressor’s motivations are irrelevant to them. Their life’s been blown apart by choices someone else has made. They’re paying a high price for something someone else has done. This person is a victim, and their suffering’s undeserved.

5. “I’m sure it would help if you could try and talk about it.” It only helps to talk if the traumatized person feels that they want to talk about it … and they genuinely feel that the listener is someone who is safe and understanding.  

6. “Here’s what you need to do …” This is highly disrespectful and it smacks of a quick fix. A band aid will not help them when we are deeply traumatized. There are layers and layers of damage, and it’s going to take some time to understand the impact this has had upon their life.           

A Night on Trauma

Let’s paint a picture.

It’s getting close to bedtime.

As you start to think about heading upstairs you begin to notice you feel vaguely agitated. There’s a very subtle feeling of anxiety.  

You try to calm your feelings by reminding yourself that life is really good, and everything’s OK today. There’s no need to worry. And there’s no cause for concern.

And you actually believe it. You almost feel secure.

You dim the bedroom lights, and you escape into your book. You soon give up on reading, and are dropping off to sleep when – all of a sudden – you jolt awake again.

You feel as if you are having a heart attack. Your heart is thudding loudly in a stark, dramatic way. Adrenalin is rushing down one side of your body.

Now you’re really hot, and you are sweating profusely. You throw off the covers, and you gasp for air.

Focus on your breathing.” You tell yourself. “Breath in slowly … and then slowly out again. Breath in slowly … and then slowly out again.”

As you begin to fall asleep again, your body jerks awake. Your heart is racing wildly, and your feet are tingling.

You try to relax. You try to focus on your breathing. But this time, it’s much harder. You’re alert; much more awake.

But eventually you manage, and you drop back off to sleep.

About twenty minutes later, you are wakened once again. Your heart is pounding loudly. The adrenalin in rushing.

You might as well get up. You’re going to be awake for hours.

This is what it’s like to live with PTSD. This is what it’s like when you’ve experienced a trauma.

Perhaps the days get better, and you’re on an even keel.

But then there are the nights – when you relive it all again.

“Real healing is hard, exhausting and draining. Let yourself go through it. Don’t try to paint it as anything other than it is. Be there for yourself – with no judgment.” – Unknown  

Turn Back the Clock

I would like to turn back the clock and start my life over.

This time I would have higher self-esteem. I would believe that I am great just as I am. That I’m as good as the next person, and not inadequate or flawed in some awful, irreparable way.

I would believe that I deserve to be loved. For me. Just as I am. Because I am actually a lovely person. A fun person. Someone it is good to hang out with. Someone it is great to be friends with. Someone you would want to have as your girlfriend or wife.

I would believe that I ought to be treated well. That this is absolutely what I deserve. That I have a right to stand up for myself and to say: “You, my dear, are worth too much to be lied to, and deceived, and treated as if you don’t matter. As if your feelings, and self-worth don’t matter.”

Because all of this is true.

I would not have to experience broken sleep. And anxiety attacks, and nights of utter sorrow and hopelessness.

I would not have to experience PTSD, and days of numbness and total devastation.

If I could time travel, I would go back to where it all started, and I would rewrite my story.

I would go back to the days when those first seeds were sown. Where the lies took root. When the doubts crept in. When I started to believe that I wasn’t worth much.

I would hug that child and reassure her that she was loved. That she was beautiful. Special. Deserved the very best in life.

She would hold her head high – not because she was proud – but because she was knew she was loved, and she loved herself.  

But I can’t time travel, and I can’t turn back the clock.

But I can start again – in this new day – TODAY.

No, it’s not too late to start to love myself.

This second time round can begin right now.

7 Signs That Tell You They Don’t Value You

Whether it’s a friend, or your partner or spouse, it’s horrible to feel that they don’t value you. It can really undermine your self-esteem.

But so often we push down all the signs that are there – because it’s very painful to be treated in this way. We don’t want to face the truth that they’re treating us like this when we care about them, and always treat them with respect.

So here are some signs we should pay attention to …

1. They aren’t interested in what you have to say. Perhaps they appear sweet when you are around, but they don’t really care about your opinions. But what they think, and the views of certain others, always seems to matter, and are taken seriously. They also show a glaring lack of empathy when you want to share something that’s important to you.   

2. They rarely follow through on what they say they’ll do. They break commitments, and the change the plans you’ve made, and often they will do this at short notice. It is clear you’re being treated as a low priority. They don’t keep their word, and are not there for you.

3. They don’t invest the same amount of effort as you. When they need something from you, they are quick to get in touch – but when you need help, they usually don’t reciprocate. It is you who has to fit into their schedule and their plans. It feels as if this other person always calls the shot.

4. Their words and their actions are out of synch. They tell you that you’re great, “such a very precious friend” – yet they can’t find the time to hang out with you. Or they tell you that they love you, then they treat you like you’re trash, or they chat up other people behind your back.

5. They are takers – never givers. You are the one who has to pander to their needs, and you end up feeling drained as you get nothing in return. Honestly … is this a relationship, or are you being used?

6. You feel as if they’re in a competition with you. They aren’t interested when life goes well for you. In fact, you sense they’re threatened, and they’d rather things went wrong. So, you have to play successes down – because it makes things tense or sour. Yet it’s a very different story when life work out for them!

7. They lie to you (even if it’s just small lies). You are genuine and real in your relationship with them – but they withhold information and important facts from you. Perhaps they tell you they had a coffee with a colleague after work … but fail to mention it’s a woman … and this isn’t the first time. Or they tell elaborate lies, and you start to feel suspicious. Or you feel you’re being kept out of what’s happening in their life.

Even though it can be painful to notice what’s going on, we need to face the facts, and to tell ourselves the truth. And perhaps this is the time to start honouring yourself, and to start requiring more from the people in your life.

Don’t put up with this mistreatment, and this lack of respect.

Find the Good

I came across a story in a book recently where the author was asked for some wisdom to live by. As an obituary writer, she has learned quite a lot about really matters when you look back on a life.

All of us have made some bad mistakes along the way. And some of those mistakes have been really serious. The ripples of our choices can extend so very far.

But one thing she has noticed – despite the hand we’re dealt, and despite the pain and heartaches we all face in different ways – is it’s nearly always possible to find the good. There is always something positive among the negatives

Of course … we may need to dig deep, and it may take quite a while, to get a fresh perspective on traumatic life events.

It takes a lot of work to find the diamonds in the coal.

But, still, it can be possible to find some beauty there.

Something to Think About

If you were on your death bed, and were asked to give advice – or create a pithy haiku – as you left this world behind, I wonder what your final words would be?

The author in the book decided on a single phrase. The wisdom she’d pass on can be summed in these words … Simply stated it is: “Find the good.”

In all the pain and suffering, and the challenges we face, perhaps this is enough. Perhaps this helps us to live well.

So what do you think your haiku might be? I’d love to hear from you!      

Icicles in my Heart

It can be hard to find hope when you’ve been through torment

When life feels bleak and hopeless

And you’re tired of everything.

It can be so very hard to hold on to hope.

Yet you manage to keep going

You find the grit and strength to keep on pushing forward

To show up for yourself.

You push on through the darkness.

Through the feelings of despair

There’s someone, or there’s something, that tells you it’s worthwhile.

That you shouldn’t give up yet.

That you must cling on to hope.

And then, one day, it happens

The ice begins to melt

The sun’s rays start to warm you

You feel your heart again.

You find that you are weeping

Because it’s been so hard

But though it’s been a nightmare

You realize:

You’ve survived.

One day you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through, and it will be someone else’s survival guide.”

Supporting Those who’ve Experienced a Trauma

Often we feel helpless, and we don’t know what to do, when someone has experienced a trauma in their life. But your presence and support can mean a lot more than you think. You cannot stop the pain, but you can show them that you care.

Here are a few tips to help you with this:

1. Realize that the trauma can resurface any time, despite them working hard to process everything that happened. So, we may still need support for these unexpected triggers. Expect that this will happen, and be ready to reach out.

2. Tiny random acts of kindness can go a long way. These say you really care, and that their suffering matters to you.

3. Be hesitant and cautious with physical touch. Trauma puts us on our guard so we may have a wall around us – and we need that space and distance to cope with daily life. So touch can feel intrusive, and even threatening.

4. Don’t ask too many questions; hold back and give them space. They will open up and speak when they are ready, and they want to. It can be re-traumatizing if the person’s forced to share. Probing questions will not help them. Let them take things at their pace.

5. Don’t attack, criticize or blame the victim for what happened. They’re completely traumatized; their life’s a living nightmare now. They need support, compassion, and heart-felt empathy.

6. Help the person to unwind and to feel relaxed again. We tend to over-react; self-regulation is a challenge. We’re on a teeter totter, for the other shoe could drop. Here, investing in their interests (like music, art or reading) can help to ground the person so they feel calm and safe.

7. Emotions can run high, and can be unpredictable. They can crash, and hit a low, and suddenly be suicidal. Watch carefully for signs of desperation and despair.  Be present, and just listen – and help to hold the pain.     

No-one is more treasured in this world than someone who lightens the burden of another.”       

10 Signs you may be Carrying Unresolved Trauma

Some symptoms of unresolved trauma include:

1. You find it hard to experience joy. You want to feel alive and experience joy, but somehow that feeling continually eludes you

2. You fill up your life with distractions. Whether it’s binge-watching TV, or it’s snacking when you’re stressed … There’s always a way of avoiding painful feelings – for staying in the present feels too scary and hard.

3. You’re afraid of your emotions for they feel out of control. They hit you unexpectedly, and feel so intense. Or, you may find it hard to feel anything at all.

4. It’s impossible to turn your mind off. You’re always on alert. You never reach that place of calm. You’re always vigilant because you know things can go wrong.  

5. You’re afraid to trust anyone at all. You would love to be able to fully trust again. To take down the walls and be vulnerable and real. But it’s never going to happen as the risk is too great.  

6. You’re constantly berating, and putting yourself down. To the outside world you may appear confident. You look like a person with a healthy self-esteem. But behind the scenes you’re always putting yourself down, and you feel like you’re flawed, and will never make the mark.

7. You give to other people, and are there for them, but you find it very hard to get help for yourself. You don’t believe that others will really understand, or will really want to help, and be there for you.

8. Your potential remains dormant as you always doubt yourself. You fear you won’t succeed or will fail at what you try. So, in the end, you just don’t try, or you self-sabotage.  

9. Life feels like a struggle, and it never eases up. Everything is so much effort. Everything feels difficult. It takes everything you’ve got to just make it through the day.

10. You feel like a fraud, like you’re wearing a disguise. It’s like you dupe the world by this act – which is your life. So the praises and the compliments can’t penetrate your heart – despite the fact you know that they’re genuinely meant.

When we free ourselves from the imprint of past trauma, we can invite far greater closeness, aliveness and possibility into our lives.”

  • Lisa Bowker