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Healing Trauma: Proven Strategies for Reclaiming Your Life

“Trauma is not what happens to you but what happens inside you”
― Gabor Maté

If you have experienced certain types of trauma in your life, you are likely very aware. The impact of a large scale event such as an assault, a severe accident, or violence leaves an indelible mark that can result in symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and paranoia.

If your experience has been more along the lines of death by 1000 cuts, you may not see yourself as someone in need of trauma healing. In addition, you perhaps don’t understand why you struggle as much as you do. This is because trauma is not just about the singular shocks that shatter our lives; it’s also the silent wounds, the neglect, the subtle betrayals that accumulate like grains of sand. The lingering impact of these past experiences shape our present, often causing mood disorders, relationship challenges and low self-esteem.

Trauma healing, no matter whether due to a large event or ongoing hurt, is a journey of self-discovery and reclaiming our inherent well-being. It’s about understanding the ways in which past experiences have shaped our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, and finding compassionate ways to heal and move forward.

The good news is that trauma can be healed. However, it requires times, commitment, and a willingness to face what we may have been turning away from for a long time.

What Really is Trauma?

We live in a world that often misunderstands trauma, reducing it to dramatic events splashed across headlines, or even labelling everyday annoyances as being “so traumatic.”

More importantly, everyone reacts differently to these events. What one person experiences as traumatic, another may absorb and move on from quite quickly. There has been a tendency over the last few years to use the word ‘trauma’ quite loosely. It has become popular to talk about our traumas and show them off as badges of honour. Along the way, we have really lost the original meaning and truth of what trauma truly is.

As Dr. Gabor Mate says, trauma is not the event itself but rather what happens inside of you as a result of that event. Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event that overwhelms our ability to cope.

How Trauma Affects Us

Trauma isn’t just a memory or series of memories. Its impact ripples through our lives, affecting our:

  • Mental Health: Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, and low self-esteem.
  • Physical Health: Chronic pain, sleep problems, digestive issues, immune system dysfunction, and even increased risk for certain diseases.
  • Relationships: Difficulty trusting others, fear of intimacy, communication problems, and isolating behaviors.
  • Daily Functioning: Difficulty holding a job, maintaining stable relationships, and engaging in activities once enjoyed.

Healing Trauma

Healing from trauma is a deeply personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but a combination of the following approaches has shown great promise:

1. Therapy:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps identify and change negative thought patterns related to the trauma.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Uses bilateral stimulation (like eye movements) to help process traumatic memories.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: Gradually and safely confronts the trauma to reduce its power.
  • Trauma-Focused CBT: Specifically designed to help children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.

2. Somatic Therapies:

  • Somatic Experiencing: Focuses on releasing trapped trauma from the body through gentle movements and awareness.
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Combines talk therapy with body-centered techniques to address trauma’s impact on the nervous system.

3. Mindfulness and Meditation:

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): Cultivates present-moment awareness to reduce stress and reactivity.
  • Meditation: Various techniques to quiet the mind and develop inner peace.

4. Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies:

  • Emerging research: Studies are showing promising results for using substances like MDMA and psilocybin in combination with therapy to treat PTSD and other trauma-related conditions. These substances can help individuals access and process traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Important Considerations: It’s crucial to note that psychedelic therapies are still in the research phase and should only be pursued under the guidance of trained professionals in a controlled setting.

5. Self-Care:

  • Prioritize rest, healthy eating, exercise, and activities that bring you joy and relaxation.
  • Try to avoid using alcohol and drugs, as these can exacerbate the traumatic response.

Your Unique Path to Healing

As you can see, there’s a lot we can do in recovering from trauma. Sometimes it can be tough to know what will work and how many of these tools to bring into your life. Extensive research has shown that CBT, EMDR, and prolonged exposure therapy are particularly effective for treating PTSD and other trauma-related conditions, however newer therapies such as somatic therapies and mindfulness practices have also show to be very beneficial in reducing trauma symptoms. Experiential therapies such as Internal Family Systems (IFS) are also proving to be transformative in healing trauma.

Remember, healing is not linear. It’s a process filled with ups and downs, setbacks and breakthroughs. Be patient and kind to yourself. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a therapist specializing in trauma. They can provide the guidance, support, and tools you need to navigate this journey.

It’s likely that a combination of these tools and approaches will be most effective for you. Experiment, explore, and discover what works best for your unique healing process. With time, patience, and the right support, you can reclaim your life and find peace, joy, and resilience once again.

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