There is no ideal method for handling trauma. Each person moves at their own pace and is uniquely prepared to deal with pain and sorrow. Sadly, there is no way to hasten the healing process after trauma. The human situation is inherently difficult and rife with sorrow. The good news is that emotional suffering always gets easier as time goes on. This is more than just a cliché, since neurological research has revealed how the brain functions to mend emotional traumas. Old experiences gradually get pushed to the back of the line because your brain is designed for survival and is always scanning for new threats and information, which allows it to focus your attentional resources on what is fresh and possibly significant. When I explain this idea to my clients, they frequently say, “This can’t be true; I’ve been in the same emotional anguish for so long, and my terrible incident happened years and years ago.” I inform my patients that attempting to avoid experiencing emotional pain, ignoring it, or fleeing from it are all natural reactions. However, doing so maintains the emotional agony present in the mind and active. As a result, these previous memories do not go to the back of the queue and the brain continues to believe that there is an active threat. If there is no threat, why are they making such a big effort to not think or feel anything, the brain wonders. We eventually cause longer-term misery by vainly attempting to avoid experiencing emotional discomfort.
According to studies, avoidance habits and the onset of PTSD are related. In other words, a person is more likely to acquire PTSD if they actively avoid thinking about a terrible experience, refrain from going back to a distressing location, and stay away from any potential triggers. It’s crucial to understand the primary distinction between experiencing trauma and developing PTSD. A traumatic incident is time-based, whereas PTSD is a chronic illness that causes recurrent flashbacks and the terrible event to be relived. Additionally, there must be a significant level of continuous anguish and life impairment to meet the criteria for PTSD.
Studies have contrasted people who have gone through the same traumatic experience, such as experiencing a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Following traumatic occurrences, the following were found to be protective factors against developing PTSD, meaning individuals who engaged in them did not have more severe symptoms over time:
Maintaining contact with and receiving assistance from significant others in your life.
Letting loved ones know about the trauma.
Claiming to be a survivor rather than a victim.
Use of humor and upbeat feelings
Finding a purpose for the trauma.
Assisting others in their recovery.
Having the conviction that you can cope and manage your emotions.
Nobody can stop the anguish and suffering that are intrinsic to the human condition; it is unavoidable. There will be enormous losses that we will all have to endure. But we can stop suffering from coming on top of pain. I sometimes compare this to stubbing your toe and then punching yourself in the face out of frustration because you stubbed your toe to my patients.
By allowing yourself to experience the thoughts, feelings, and sensations related to loss and trauma, you may stop adding more suffering to your existing anguish. This does not mean to overwhelm oneself or purposefully evoke memories and triggers at random times of the day. Instead, embrace these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts when they do appear. I am aware that it can be difficult to understand the idea of inviting pain. Who wants to welcome pain, after all? But suffering has a purpose. We are taught that fire is detrimental to the skin by the discomfort we experience when touching a hot stove. The suffering we feel after experiencing a traumatic event is there to serve as a guide for us in the future and to help us identify any lessons that can help prevent further loss.
Establishing a daily timer for five minutes is one activity you can do. You are to be receptive to any trauma-related ideas, feelings, or sensations during these five minutes. To my patients, I liken this to opening “office hours” when any ideas, emotions, sensations, and visuals are welcome. For the remainder of the day, if unpleasant internal experiences come up, you can notice them and kindly tell yourself that they can return after work hours, but right now you have other commitments that require your attention. This cognitive defusion exercise takes practice and to increase the effectiveness of this skill or other you can reach out to learn more information or schedule your first appointment today.
If talking isn’t your cup of tea or you would like to get relief of your symptoms faster, then take a look at EMDR therapy and how it can help with trauma whether it has turned into PTSD or not.
The information provided here is not intended to be a substitute for professional health and mental health care or consultation. Individuals who believe they may require or benefit from treatment should seek the advice of a psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.