How to Recover From Trauma
This is a rather simplistic explanation, but what I hope it can do is break down the major components of recovery.
Also, keep in mind: healing is not a linear process. Every step in the process does not (probably cannot) happen in a sequential order that makes sense. You may spend awhile on step 1, then skip to step 3, or experience step 2, and cycle through them all in that order or a different order. More than one thing can (and probably will) be going on at the same time.
So just because there’s an order to it in the blog post doesn’t mean it’s that cut and dried in real life. It’s not. BUT for that reason I do want you to have some sort of road map.
Step 1: Know what happened to you
This is really the baseline for recovery. You can’t recover if you don’t know what happened. If you’ve completely blocked it out, the challenge is trying to get enough memory back that you can start the work. If you already have those memories, you can start to assemble a narrative; a sense of your story.
For most people, this is a process that may continue for years. Most people – especially those who have experienced ongoing trauma (not necessarily the ones for whom the incident was singular) – remember in stages. It is not necessary to recall every detail, neither in the beginning or ever. Your mind tends to sense when you can handle what. It is often progressive. I remember more details about certain events now than I did when I first started remembering. This is normal.
Step 2: Recognize how the trauma(s) affected you
Again, this is not a linear process. More often than not, you have to work backwards. People usually feel the effects of trauma long before they remember or recognize the cause. People often enter therapy (or seek help) because of the effects of the trauma, and ways that they may be attempting ineffectively to cope with it.
So whether it’s a distorted view of yourself, or inability to trust or get close to others, or any of a hundred other effects trauma can have, recognizing how what happened has affected you – and still affects you – is part of the process.
Step 3: Identify the messages you absorbed
What happened isn’t what harmed you the most – with the exception, of course, of physical assaults or accidents that severely damaged your body or health. It’s the messages you internalized from what happened that has created a mental and emotional loop that trauma survivors struggle to break free from.
Messages like “I’m stupid” or “No one will ever be there for me” can be planted by trauma and create a self-perpetuating cycle with survivors. These are usually what causes the most emotional pain and manifests in some way in the survivor’s life.
Step 4: Seek the truth about the trauma and replace the messages
This is harder than it sounds. Cognitively knowing something, and really believing it deep in your heart, are two different things. A person can logically know that an assault was not their fault – but believe deep down that if they had only been more careful, taken a different route home, done something different, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.
Discovering the truth in a way that makes it real for you, and then replacing those messages, is the way to relieve the emotional pain associated with it.
It can feel very complex and confusing sometimes. But in my experiences, these are the main 4 steps that need to occur – in NO particular order, and oftentimes repeating and overlapping and backtracking. It’s not an easy process. But it’s worth it.