When something happens that scares you, and then you do not ever get over that fear, you become traumatized.
Trauma is the experience of disconnecting with a fundamental source of safety. It happens most severely when our attachment is severed to our primary caretakers. But there is truly an infinite number of ways the world can traumatize you, and to varying degrees.
There are lots of theories about what trauma is, and where it comes from. Many believe that it is passed down physically through your DNA. Others argue that it is shared mentally and emotionally, through learned patterns and observations. Most commonly, trauma is believed to be an interpersonal experience we have in which we were challenged and then lacked the skills and coping mechanisms to rise to it. Instead, we fell.
No matter where it came from, if you have some kind of lingering trauma, you will know, because you will feel it. You will feel it physically in your body. You will feel anxiety, tension, fear, terror, sadness or guilt. It will be displaced. It will not have a clear, direct cause. You will overreact to certain things and even when a problem is solved, you will still panic. This is the mark of trauma.
Trauma is not in your head. It is in your body.
This is the first and most important thing you need to know in order to overcome it: trauma is a legitimate, physical issue. You store those emotions, energies and patterns at a cellular level.
Thankfully, we can use the ripples at the top of the water to trace back down to the problem at the bottom, so to say. You can begin to use your body to help you heal.
First, identify where the trauma is.
You do this by feeling into yourself, and noticing where you are tight, or tense. Our bodies harden in order to protect us. When we have a broken leg, our fascia tightens like a natural cast, so that we do not bend ourselves that way again. Similarly, when our hearts are broken, our emotions tighten, so that we do not let ourselves feel again.
Of course, eventually, we have to walk. We have to love. We have to experience life again. We have to slowly soften the pieces of us that are trying to protect us, so that we can move forward.
Healing trauma is not just a matter of psychoanalyzing it. It is a matter of literally working through it with your breath. The next time you feel yourself overreacting to some kind of stimuli, you will notice that your body is starting to tense up, and create a fight-or-flight response. To heal this, you have to force yourself to take deep, soothing breaths, until the part of your body that was once tense is relaxed again.
You will need to self-soothe in different ways. Meditating, breathing, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, using aromatherapy or sound therapy or whatever else works for you.
You absolutely must work to take your brain and body physically out of panic, survival mode.
Second, reinstate a sense of safety.
You are traumatized because something scared you and you are convinced that it is still “out to get you.” This is what happens when we don’t face or overcome something difficult, we assume the threat lingers indefinitely.
The psychological aspect of trauma healing is that you have to literally restore the connection that was severed, in the exact same way that it was broken.
If you are traumatized about relationships, you need to build healthy relationships. If you are traumatized about money, you need to get really good with money. If you are traumatized about traveling, you need to travel again.
We do not find the resolution in avoiding these things forever. In fact, just underneath the fear we often find that they are the things we really want more than anything else.
Third, stop taking thoughts and feelings at face value.
Last, to overcome trauma, you have to stop engaging in psychic thinking. You have to stop pretending you are able to predict what will happen, you know other people’s intentions, or that what you feel and think is absolute truth and reality.
This kind of thinking is what takes a triggering feeling and turns it into a defeating spiral. You take one scary thing and make it into a prediction for what the future will hold.
You are not an oracle. You do not know what’s next, though you are always capable of choosing what you do now. Almost always, the thing you are most panicked about is a thing you do not know is happening for sure. It is usually an assumption, a projection, a fear turned into a terrifying potential reality.
You might think that trauma is something that other, more damaged people have, but that is not true. Everyone is traumatized in one way or another, but it is how we respond to it, how we ultimately grow and develop self-mastery from it, that determines the course of our lives.