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Trauma Recovery

Are You Suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Unresolved trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur when a threatening event undermines your safety in the world.  This causes your nervous system to enter survival mode.

That event could be any of the following:

  • Sexually, physically, and/or emotionally abusive relationship
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • childhood abuse
  • traumatic childbirth (as a mother or as a baby)
  • Being in combat as a soldier
  • Motor vehicle accident
  • Life-threatening disease or condition
  • Surgery
  • Witnessing a threatening event happen to someone else

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms

If you have experienced one or more of the above traumatic events in your life, you may currently be experiencing any number of negative symptoms.  Read the following questions and see if any of them apply to you.

  • Do you find yourself often hyper alert in your life?
  • Do you feel anxiety when your body begins to relax?
  • Do notice yourself checking-out or dissociating often?
  • Do you feel disconnected from your body?
  • Is it difficult for you to trust others in close relationships?
  • Is sexual intimacy scary or sometimes a struggle for you?
  • Do you react strongly to certain things in your environment but don’t know why?
  • Do you feel like a past abuse holds you back in your life in ways that you don’t want and don’t understand?
  • Does your rational mind know that you’re safe, but your body and emotions do not?
  • Have you lost your radar for what feels safe and/or dangerous for you?
  • Do you struggle with chronic pain?
  • Are you drawn to doing high-risk activities that you puts your life unnecessarily at risk

If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, continue reading below ↓

How trauma effects your brain and impacts your life

How trauma effects your brain and impacts your life

Trauma largely affects the older parts of your brain that instinctively reacts to a threat with either a fight, flight, or freeze response.  This part of your brain is known as the reptilian brain and, to a lesser extent, the limbic (mammalian) system.  If you are unable to fight or leave the threatening situation through flight, then your last resort might be to freeze.

The freeze response is there to help you survive in the short-term.  However, the long-term effect is that your body can easily becomes stuck in this defensive response pattern causing a disorganization between the different key functioning levels of your brain.  In essence, your nervous system and thus your body long stay in a trauma response while your life continues to go on.

This eventually causes your body to be disconnected from your mind.  But, remember that the disconnection is intelligent because it ensures your ability to function in your life.  Though you may be able to function in some ways in your life, you may also sense the shadow of the trauma not very far behind you through the various symptoms described above.

Because of how trauma effects your brain, you might also notice a fragmented sense of who you are.  The basic narrative of your life can feel, at times, patched together and unreliable.

Treating PTSD: the road to recovery

Treating PTSD: the road to recovery

The very fact that you have been through something traumatic and are now sitting right where you are reading these very words is a testament to your courageous and resilient self.  You would not be where you are today if you didn’t have an extraordinary amount of strength inside of you. Congratulations.

The goal with trauma recovery is to be able to trust your own experience in the world once again.  When you are able to trust your own inner-experience, then you can begin to identify and possibly let go of the core belief that has been formed around your traumatic experience(s). This could be that ‘the world is a dangerous place’ or that ‘men are not trustworthy’ or that ‘women will take advantage of you’ or that ‘something bad could happen at any moment’ or that ‘bad things happen to you because you are bad.’

If you like, take a moment to identify what your core belief might be from the trauma that you have experienced.

Trauma recovery asks that you consciously form safety in your life.  Overtime, as your new felt-sense of safety is built and inhabited, you might be ready to let go of that core belief that has been there to dutifully protect you.  You know you are ready to let it go when you are able to assess each situation on its own. You are able to know, trust, and follow your own instincts about what or who is safe in the world.

When you trust yourself in this way, you become free to choose new opportunities that present themselves to you. And you are able to choose new relationships or reengage in old ones in such a way that open you up to all the warmth and kindness that love has to offer you.  Instead of having to limit what you experience in this life, you can be open to new experiences.

If you are ready to begin (or wanting to go deeper into) the recovery process of healing the effects of past trauma, continue to read on to assess where you are in your recovery process.  You can start where ever you are.

Seeking safety: establishing positive resources in your life

Seeking safety: establishing positive resources in your life

Developing Outer-Resources:

  • identifying and leaving abusive or unhealthy relationships
  • recognizing addictive behavior and get support to overcome it
  • finding a living situation that is stable and secure
  • eating a balanced and nutrient-rich diet
  • sleeping a minimum of 7 to 8 hours each night
  • becoming financially secure and stable
  • establishing a regular exercise routine
  • getting your body the help it needs (e.g. going to the dentist or doctor for regular check-ups)

Developing Inner-Resources

It is important to have many positive experiences in your body that are completely separate from the painful sensations from the trauma.  This is an indispensable part of recovering from trauma because these experiences provide a solid anchor that you can come back to within yourself over and over again, not matter where you are or who you are with.  Also, this anchor will serve you later when you are actively processing the trauma and you need a place to rest in yourself.

Here’s the key: you already have this anchor inside yourself, otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to survive.  You cultivate conscious awareness of the resources that are already there in you and begin to build upon them.  For instance, perhaps the safety and love that your spouse generates is a resource for you to build upon. Or perhaps you’ve always loved the water and feel like it has been a welcomed refuge for you.  That could be another inner-resource that is already there inside of you.

What are the inner-resources inside of you right now?

4 ways to help you build resources to recover from trauma

4 ways to help you build resources to recover from trauma

1.) Use group support

Group support can mend the isolation and shame that trauma often causes.  It can be life changing to hear your own story reflected in the stories that others tell. Groups should feel safe and caring.  There are many different kinds of groups to choose from: 12 step groups (Al-Anon, AA, SLA, SAA, etc), men’s group, women’s group, psychotherapy process groups, and support group for specific areas of trauma such as survivors of sexual abuse.

2.) Begin a mindfulness practice

A mindfulness practice asks you to stay in the present experience of your body.  This is vital because it challenges the fight/flight/freeze response which has demanded that you to leave your body.  This could be yoga, mindfulness meditation, tai chi, or martial arts to name a few.  This is different from physical exercise because these practices require your constant inward attention. If practiced consistently over time, this inward-focused attention will translate to you being able to firmly stand upon a reliable anchor inside yourself.

2.) Receive regular massage & bodywork

There are many different modalities of massage and bodywork.  Likewise, there are a variety of practitioners. Research some about which approach speaks to you and then locate a practitioner whom you sense you can trust.  Or you can go about it the other way: find a practitioner that comes highly recommended and find out if their approach works for you. Receiving regular bodywork can go a long way to instill a sense of worth inside of you. It can also help you with feeling safe in your body. An experienced practitioner should know about the effects of trauma and can help you stay grounded in your self. If you’ve experienced physical trauma or sexual abuse, then try a gentle approach such as Craniosacral Therapy, Feldenkrais, Rubenfeld Synergy or Somatic Experiencing.

3.) Start talk therapy

You have a story that needs to be told.  A counselor can help you make sense of your life narrative. Talk therapy begins the process of directly dealing with the trauma through the cognitive and emotional portion of your brain.  Because of this, traditional talk therapy doesn’t address the trauma’s impact on the sensorimotor portions of the brain, and therefore can only take you so far.  If you have experienced relational trauma, this form of therapy can also be beneficial because you are forming a safe therapeutic relationship with your therapist.  Talk therapy can also be helpful in managing the symptoms and behaviors that have resulted from past trauma in your life.

4.) Consider a body-centered approach to counseling

The body has its own story to tell. All the approaches mentioned above don’t work to actually resolve the trauma itself because they don’t give a safe place and clear intention for your body to process the trauma.  Your body and the non-thinking part of your brain know exactly what the need to do in order to thaw that freezing response and find the resolution that it has always longed for.

However, it takes a lot of safety and trust in the therapeutic relationship for this to happen.  And it also takes a profound honoring of your inner experience of your body.  Your body doesn’t express itself as your thinking minds does; your body express itself through inner-sensations, emotions, impulses, images, and movement.

For you to resolve your past trauma, you must give yourself a safe place where your body is allowed to tell its story.  And that story may be different than the story your thinking mind will tell about the trauma.  It can be important to temporarily let go of your thinking mind in order for your body to get to tell its story.  As world-renowned psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk M.D says, “the body keeps the score.”

True resolution from trauma is when the experience of your body integrates with the narrative of your cognitive mind, and the struggle and disconnection cease.  Your body and your thinking self are valuable parts of you and integration happens when they work together in such a way that gives your life the intimacy and fulfillment that your heart yearns for.

→ a mindfulness-based approach to counseling helps resolve past trauma Call 503-349-2281 to make an appointment Email us