In the past, we didn’t realize how deeply emotional trauma affected people. Often, it was assumed when something traumatic happened, the person would just “get over it” as time went on. We now know this is not the case. By taking the time to understand more about the nature of trauma, and learning how to help heal it, we can help ourselves and our loved ones live emotionally healthy lives.
What is Emotional Trauma?
In order to heal trauma, it’s necessary to understand what causes it and how emotionally intense experiences affect us. In the most general terms, we’re emotionally traumatized by events that force us to lose someone we love or by events that cause us to lose trust in the world around us. Death or the betrayal of a loved one may come to mind, and these events do cause this type of emotional damage, but other events also contribute to causing trauma.
As adults, we can become emotionally traumatized through the loss of a job or financial security. The sudden onset of physical health problems can also trigger trauma. Other incidences that can cause emotional trauma include the death of a pet, the loss of a friendship, or the change in a living situation. In fact, any major change in our lives carries the possibility of causing emotional trauma.
The Three Phases of Trauma Recovery
The first step in helping a traumatized individual heal is to help them feel safe. In some cases, this can be accomplished rather quickly, but this step may take months or years in cases of severe trauma. For instance, people suffering from PTSD can often spend a lifetime in therapy just to feel stabilized or safe again. In other cases, a sense of security can be regained within a few weeks.
Even as you aid the individual with regaining a sense of stability in their lives, someone who has suffered from trauma should also be encouraged to mourn their loss. The person’s loss doesn’t always have to do with death, though the passing of a loved one or pet is a common cause of trauma. The loss may concern failing health, losing a job, or a compromised friendship. Whatever the loss, it’s important to accept it and learn how to integrate it into their lives.
Once the individual has integrated the traumatic experience and memories into their lives, they’re ready to move forward. Often, this means redefining themselves in a way that incorporates the traumatic event into who they are. The hope is the person is able to embrace personal empowerment in a way that helps them confront any recurring fears that were instilled as a result of the trauma they experienced.
The Steps of Emotional Healing
The first step is similar to meditation in that the individual finds a quiet place to sit comfortably. Once relaxed, it’s necessary to clear the mind and focus only on the act of breathing, to ground themselves in the present moment.
- Memory Recall
Once relaxed, the individual should recall the traumatic event in as much detail as possible.
- Feeling the Experience
As the memory is recalled, it’s important to let the related emotions surface. As the individual feels the emotions, he or she should describe them and try to understand them.
- Name Each Feeling
The fourth step in trauma recovery is to name each emotion. Instead of simply saying they feel a tightening in the chest, the individual should be encouraged to apply a distinct emotion to it. Perhaps anxiety or fear.
- Embrace Those Emotions
Once there’s a higher degree of understanding, it will be easier for the individual to accept his or her feelings. The individual should be encouraged to love themselves and the emotions they experience.
- Let Emotions Loose
At this stage, it becomes necessary to let the emotions fully run their course. It’s impossible to heal trauma without encouraging emotional release. The individual should be encouraged to cry, express anger, or pursue any other emotional release.
- Understanding the Message
In this step, the individual should look inward to discover how the emotion is connected to the traumatic event. This will give them a better understanding of their emotions and why future events stir similar feelings.
- Share the Experience
By this time, the individual should be able to talk openly about the traumatic event. The healing process is helped when we can share the experience, so the individual should be encouraged to share it with his or her safe circle of friends and loved ones.
- Release the Trauma
Often, it’s easiest to do this by making a symbolic gesture of releasing the trauma. For instance, burning a letter to someone responsible for causing the harm or burying an object related to the incident. These acts bring a vital sense of closure.
Overcoming emotional trauma is a journey. By allowing the process to run its course, and pursuing a strategy of accepting the changes the trauma has caused, it is possible to heal the wounds of trauma. By working through trauma, there is a way to move forward. Everyone deserves to live their best, healthiest and happiest life.
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