Most of us have experienced trauma at some point in our lives, whether not or not we’re aware of it. Trauma is much more pervasive than some of us realize and a much more expansive experience than its traditional definition. We associate trauma typically with the big bad event that emotionally disrupts our lives, but a lot of trauma that some of us experience is often overlooked or unrecognized by ourselves and conditioned into our daily behavior. Trauma can also come in the form of not feeling seen, heard, or valued as a child. It can come in the form of not having our boundaries valued in our family system.
When you experience trauma in your life, it lodges itself in the mind and body. Trauma becomes part of our subconscious, affecting the ways we communicate, how we experience emotion, and the relationships we have with others even when we make the conscious effort to behave differently.
Is it possible, then, to be in a successful and happy relationship even if we’ve experienced trauma in our lives? What do we do if we know we have something deep festering inside of us and this memory or experience prevents us from being emotionally or physically available? Whether it be a big event like sexual assault or harassment, a life-threatening event, divorce, abusive parents or an abusive environment in our childhood, an abusive partner, neglect — to more overlooked forms of trauma that are unknown and unfelt by us, like feeling unseen or unheard as a child — every form of trauma is difficult to process. Often, the trauma itself blocks our sense of memory and our ability to know from where our conditioned patterns originated. Thankfully, today, there have been tons of revealing research and methods to go about healing trauma.
So if you’ve found yourself in a relationship and you’ve experienced your partner triggering something inside of you that you know has nothing to do with them, but that all the same makes you feel extremely emotionally unstable, then chances are you have unresolved trauma. Or if you’ve found that throughout your relationships you’ve been repeating the same destructive patterns with friends, family, or partners, then perhaps you’ve been forming what is called a “trauma bond.” You’re not the only one – all of us have experienced trauma on some level and many of us form trauma bonds without even knowing it. Today, we’ll be talking about how to heal from trauma and move past it so that we can find greater happiness and love in our lives without feeling crippled by the past.
How to heal from childhood trauma:
Childhood trauma can result from a number of factors, including growing up in an unstable or unsafe environment, parents that had a dysfunctional marriage, serious illness, separation from a parent, experiencing sexual/physical / or verbal abuse, experiencing physical neglect, or the loss of a caregiver. But childhood trauma can also take the form of not feeling like you were not seen or heard as a child (having an emotionally avoidant parent or even experiencing emotional enmeshment) or having parents that themselves had unresolved trauma that affected the way they parent.
We are all born into total dependency on our parents. They shape our physical and emotional needs. We learn, through them, how our needs exist in our bodies and how to get them met. Maybe you had a well-intentioned parent who shied away from you when you were sad because they couldn’t handle sadness within themselves, or maybe you had a parent who was an alcoholic or physically abusive. The bond we have with our parents as children is so important that when our needs as a child are not being met, we begin to sacrifice that part of ourselves. We assume a different role that then becomes part of our framework as adults.
As you can imagine, childhood trauma has severe and long-lasting effects. When left unresolved, fear and helplessness pervades adulthood and can leave one unable to know how to regain trust and connect to others in a healthy and communicative way. It is difficult to identify our own pattern of behavior without negative judgment. It is a skill in itself to be able to observe objectively and to practice viewing emotions as they are, rather than taking that emotional experience from the past as a reflection of who we are now. Your conditioned behavior as a result of trauma is not a sign that something is wrong with you. It is just a sign that your subconscious wants to stay in a safe and familiar space.
Recognizing first what your conditioned behaviors are is the first step towards healing from trauma. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know where your trauma originated from, as long as you can unpack your own conditioned behavior through observation. One indicator of trauma brain, for example, can be an obsessive desire to be chosen by others without any awareness of how your body feels about the connection. This happens a lot in the early stages of a romantic relationship — placing all the focus on what the other person feels about you, instead of asking yourself how you feel around that person. This comes from a subconscious place of wanting to feel accepted or valued by the other person.
One of the ways we can begin to heal ourselves is through reparenting. This means teaching ourselves how to meet the needs that weren’t met in our childhood. Discipline is an important aspect of reparenting – through discipline, we can make important promises to ourselves and stick to them. Whether that be waking up early, meditating for 10 minutes a day, or making the promise to do one particular thing in that day – engaging in a sense of discipline can retrain our line of conditioned thought.
Another important aspect of the healing process is self-care. This means any tool that is aimed at keeping your body in physical balance: getting adequate sleep, nutrition, movement (even if it’s a little bit every day), and making time to connect with nature. Developing a sense of joy is also equally crucial to the healing process. Developing the things you enjoy doing and the interests you have — whether that be dancing, singing, drawing, or whatever it maybe – cannot be underestimated. The importance of human connection and socializing with others also contributes to our sense of joy and releases essential stress-reducing hormones.
Finally, regulating your emotions and setting aside the time to engage in meditation practice can have long-lasting effects on the trauma healing process. Meditation allows us to navigate the highs and lows and to develop a new relationship with our thoughts. We learn, through meditation, to separate ourselves from our thoughts and to redirect our attention. Meditation allows us to be more present, to observe without judgment, and to engage in deep, low breathwork which reduces stress.
A trauma specialist that is skilled in different therapy approaches can additionally be helpful for those looking to heal. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), for example, is a form of trauma therapy that incorporates elements of cognitive therapy with forms of movement, engaging both the left and right side of the brain and helping to release traumatic memories lodged in the body and subconscious. Those that do EMDR have found that it deeply releases something within them that cannot always be released through talking about the specific trauma or experience.
How to heal from sexual trauma:
Sexual trauma can be defined as experiencing a non-consensual encounter with someone (rape, for example) or experiencing childhood sexual abuse. It is debilitating and has complex repercussions in our intimate relationships, often leading to PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which can develop from any type of big trauma. PTSD is characterized by extreme levels of anxiety, nightmares, and flashbacks that can persist for a prolonged amount of time.
In relationships, sexual trauma can be particularly hard to navigate because, during a sexual encounter, the victim may experience the same anxiety, panic, or dissociation they felt in the past if they are triggered by something that reminds them of their trauma. This can be terrifying because they are engaging in consensual sex, but feeling body disassociation.
It is possible to heal from sexual trauma and enjoy sex again. The first step is becoming aware and realizing there is a sexual issue. Sexual concerns are hard to face because many are unclear what role, if any, past sexual abuse could be playing in their current problems. These issues can also be personal and embarrassing, so they’re often denied or ignored.
Talking through your emotions with a therapist can be invaluable because it allows emotional validation and space of safety. It is important, too, for all victims of sexual trauma to know that it is NOT your fault, even if the abuse was consensual and your body showed sexual arousal during the assault. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in addition to EDMR, can be invaluable ways to move past trauma by teaching skills to cope with anxiety and the “fight or flight” response. Mindfulness, which includes meditation practice, also helps to regulate anxiety and fear.
One method of healing that you can do yourself is “toning” the vagus nerve, or what is known as polyvagal theory. The vagus nerve is a bundle of nerves that originates in our brain and stems all the way through our major organs. It powers up our bodies involuntarily. Because most of us live in stressful environments, trauma victims can develop hyperactive “fight or flight” mode, or experience their body in an overdrive sympathetic response. The result is feeling constantly in a hyper-vigilant or hyper-aroused state. You can tone the vagus nerve by singing or chanting, laughing, breathing from deep in your belly, engaging in physical movement, or engaging in yoga practice. These are all good ways of cultivating the body’s ability to recover from unconscious stress.
How to heal from relationship trauma:
Relationship trauma that exists through our past romantic relationships has a deep effect on the relationships we have with others in the present and our ability to be happy within ourselves. It could be a divorce, infidelity and betrayal, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or even having repeated mistreatment from your partner. Toxic relationships can alter the way your brain functions and lead to an endlessly destructive cycle of toxic relationships. These types of relationships freeze our emotions and make us feel stuck to express those feelings in a new relationship, which hinders our ability to move forward, heal, and find love.
When a partner repeatedly cheats on you and promises never to do it again, or repeatedly lies and gaslights you, making you feel at fault for everything wrong in the relationship – this is a form of relationship trauma. Or if a partner financially controls your money, or coerces you into sexual activity, your brain will find ways to defend and protect itself in order to survive. What results are symptoms of PTSD. Again, the same methods described above will help to go about the healing process. The things you can do in addition to engaging in therapy (Cognitive-behavioral and EDMR) is starting to reparent yourself through meditation/ finding joy / self-care / physical balance / and human connection, in addition to engaging in a practice of toning the vagus nerve to reduce stress and anxiety.
Many of us also develop what is called “trauma bonds” which are rooted in emotional addiction. Trauma bonds are based on neurotransmitters that we are used to feeling in our body, like fear, rejection of anxiety. This creates a push and pull dynamic in the relationship as if we’re riding an emotional rollercoaster with little to no personal boundaries. What results is a relationship that lacks emotional depth, feels codependent, and makes us feel unsafe. You can begin to heal such trauma bonds by having an open conversation about your family with your partner and being honest about what patterns you may have learned from them, practice keeping promises to yourself individually, and becoming aware of your own mental habits through meditation and self-awareness.
How long does it take to heal from trauma?
How our brains deal with traumatic events has more to do with the healing process than time itself. If you make the effort to want to change your conditioned behavior or change the negative feelings you experience by seeking professional help and reparenting yourself, then the healing process will begin. All of our memories have the power to be reconstructed and harnessed in a positive way.
Experiencing trauma in any form can allow us deeper opportunities for healing and can hold great wisdom. It can awaken us to who we truly are: individuals in charge of our own life experiences. Through engaging in the process of healing, trauma can give us a greater sense of conscious awareness, empathy, resilience, humility and humor, a deeper spiritual connection to ourselves, and a clearer understanding of our life purpose. If you need more help with this or gaining more clarity on your relationship, book a coaching session, and my team and I can help you with understanding and helping you get the love life that you deserve.
Remember, you are always loved.
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