A traumatic experience is overwhelming and devastating. Such a sudden, unexpected, or repeated event leaves you confused, dazed, and in a state of uncertainty. Your world has changed and you’re not sure how to find your way back.
The shock, daze, emotional, and physiological reactions you experience means your body is doing exactly what it should. Your mind and body believe you’re still in danger when you’re not and wants to continue to protect you. Therefore, your adrenaline and stress hormones continue to run into fight / flight mode. Or, it may completely shut you down and make you feel numb because you’re not able to escape or fight and instead, must get through until it’s over. This is your autonomic nervous system’s way of helping you survive.
Healing after a traumatic experience is finding your mind and body’s way back to safety and calm. To a Parasympathetic state. Your healing journey may need to include several things such as utilizing your support circle, talking about it, journaling, meeting with a therapist for deeper processing. But no matter what your path to healing involves, it’s important that it creates an environment and dialogue of three key things:
You’re safe, You’re not alone, and You’re okay
Repeat and really breathe this into your body three times to yourself right now: I’m safe (now), I’m not alone, and I’m okay
How do you feel?
- YOU’RE SAFE – You may need to add, “You’re safe now,” to make it feel truer for you, especially if the traumatic experience is recent or if you have a long history of trauma from childhood. More than likely, as an adult, you’re no longer in that dangerous or chaotic environment. Or if you are, you now have the size and strength to protect yourself physically and verbally that you didn’t have as a child.
The word “safe” in therapy means not only physical safety, but emotional and an internal safety as well. You feel safe enough to talk about the event, safe enough to allow the emotions to arise without feeling like you’re going to lose control. Not dismissed, ignored, shamed, or judged for what you’re feeling. Feel understood, as well as feel protected by the environment and those around you. Something as simple as a hug can make us feel protected.
A scary situation puts us in reactive or shut down mode. Leaving us tense, tight, faint, and an inability to think straight. Safety allows us to take a breath, let go, release tension, and allow the blood to circulate with ease. Calm opens the door for emotions to rise and release as well. Allowing tears, anger, and fear. Physical and emotional release IS therapy, and leads to a calm and relaxed state. The mind clears and opens the door to a more rational perspective, understanding, and ease in decision making. Overall, feeling settled in yourself and in your environment again. True healing.
- YOU’RE NOT ALONE – One of the symptoms after a traumatic experience is feeling estranged from others.
It can be so hard for others to understand exactly what you experienced. Although they are supportive, listen, and attempt to understand as best they can, you may still feel alone in your experience.
With childhood adverse experiences, it’s common to feel that you’re the only one. Again, nobody understands or will think I’m odd, weird, bad, or will leave and reject me if they knew. Instead of seeking help or talking about your story, you avoid it. Avoid shame, fear you will be hurt again, or feel weak for not overcoming it, and therefore, hide it from others and yourself. Healing is halted.
I’m here to remind you, You’re Not Alone.
Your traumatic experience is unique. The aftermath experience is shared by many.
When you can find the courage to begin processing your experience, you are allowing connection which only deepens safety. As humans, we need connection just like we need water. You realize you can begin to trust and feel secure within yourself and others. You no longer need to be alone in your suffering. No longer need to hide or where a mask that is trying to say everything is okay. No need to hold on, try to survive, or attempt to control things in your life.
You are free, open, and able to engage with others without fear. You’re not alone.
- YOU’RE OKAY – As mentioned, reactions after a traumatic event can leave us feeling out of control. The rapid heart rate, rapid breathing, shakiness/trembling, nightmares. Even feeling numb, detached, or faint feels as if you’re not in control of your own body. But as was mentioned earlier, these reactions are your system’s way of trying to help you protect and survive. Which means, you’re okay. It’s normal, it’s doing what it’s supposed too, and a good thing that you’re having these reactions. It just doesn’t feel good when it’s not needed, and you feel like you’re losing control.
There is nothing wrong with you, but instead right with you. You’re okay.
Processing your experience with a loved one, friend, or professional like a trauma-informed therapist can help reduce and/or eliminate these reactions and help you find balance and normalcy again. This is also true if your experience was repeated for an extensive length of time such as childhood adverse experiences. The amazing thing about our Autonomic Nervous System, is it also has the capacity to reach a state of calm and ease. The Sympathetic Nervous System and Parasympathetic Nervous System exists for our survival in this world. It’s a matter of learning more about how it impacts us and how we can use it to find peace again.
Important note, if you seek therapy to process a traumatic event that continues to impact you now, it’s important that your therapeutic work involves both mind AND body. Our internal communication involves thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. To leave the body out of our healing journey is to miss a large part of the process.
Click on my contact page if you would like more information about the impact of trauma, steps for healing, and/or a consultation.