We live in a world of traumatized people. Mental and emotional trauma. Poverty trauma. Spiritual and religious trauma. Political trauma. You name it, we have had our bodies and our spirits bombarded by the pain of other people. We are awash in trauma. But what does that mean, really?

Trauma — no matter how you come by it — damages more than just your emotional mind. To experience trauma is to have your mind and your body altered, forever.

When we experience trauma, our perception of self is changed. More than that, the very fibers of our *brains* are changed. That changes the entire landscape of how we build our lives. Can it be changed? Of, course. But not without a solid foundation of patience, compassion, and a commitment to evidence-based knowledge.

What happens during and after trauma?

Before you can launch into a rigorous healing regime, one has to understand what happens during and after the trauma experienced. You are changed from the inside out. Not only is your nervous system overwhelmed. The stories you write about yourself are changed.

Total system overwhelm

Trauma, by its very definition, is a state of emotional overwhelm in which an individual’s ability (or resources) needed to deal with their experiences are unequal to what they are experiencing. Meaning it’s a state of powerlessness in which a person is put into a genuine state of fear. That fear overwhelms them emotionally, and physically in several ways. It’s total system overwhelm that leaves long-term scars.

Stored emotional energy

One of the terrifying things about trauma is the emotional energy it leaves stored in bodies. This generally manifests as tension in pain, starting in muscle systems and expanding into the very nervous system. It’s not uncommon for those with a history of trauma to find themselves dealing with chronic pain disorders (or worse) on the back of their unresolved emotional traumas.

Creating deficiency stories

Deficiency stories are the tales we tell ourselves about our worth and our abilities. Those who experience trauma become skilled craftspeople when it comes to these stories. The longer their trauma goes unaddressed, unvalidated, and unresolved, the better they get at creating narratives in which they are at fault and deserving of what happened to them. Over time, this can become a low sense of self-worth and a loss of personal identity that warps their opportunities and relationships across the board.

Nervous system meltdown

Above and beyond anything else, trauma is a destructive force on the nervous system. That’s where trauma is rooted. The different parts of the nervous system — specifically the autonomic portion of the nervous system — whir into overdrive in an attempt to keep the individual protected. This is the “fight or flight” part of the nervous system, and when it is triggered by trauma it floods the body with cortisol which can cause many complications for the rest of the body (especially the adrenal system).

Orphaned parts

Sadly, with the experience of unresolved trauma comes the orphaned parts of self. This is a heartbreaking part of the trauma experience in which individuals abandon those parts of themselves they associate with the trauma (or the “deservingness” of it). For some, this may look like abandoning their sexuality, healthy relationships, or opportunities that express their deepest skills and desires. As a result, the true self is abandoned.

What does recovery from trauma look like?

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for coming back from trauma, but there are solid techniques that can help you create the space you need to get better. Try these 10 habits to come back from the brink and take your life back from the traumas of your childhood.

1. Distance yourself from toxic people.

If you’ve identified trauma in your life and have started the healing process, you must distance yourself from the toxic people in your life that could hinder this process.

Survivors of trauma need to get away from anyone who creates more of the stress and disharmony they are already trying to escape.

Healing can’t take place in a turbulent environment, it needs peace to grow. Those who lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise manipulate and blame are toxic to your development and poisonous to your sense of self.
One of the most important things a survivor can learn is that you are allowed to remove yourself from anyone who stresses you out — no apologies needed. Cut them free before they do even more damage to your sense of self and well-being.

2. Learn self-regulation and stress-reduction techniques.

Stress has a funny way of forcing us back into the coping mechanisms and the negative behaviors we develop as damaged children. By learning simple techniques like mindful breathing, relaxation, and meditation we can develop the distress tolerance skills we need to undo our traumatic pasts and learn how to stay calm with things push us to the brink.

Simple yoga and meditation can do wonders when it comes to battling depression, anxiety, or feelings of hopelessness. While they’re not a cure-all, they can help us recenter and refocus on the things we need to do to feel better.

3. Seek out support.

Sometimes, it just isn’t possible to heal from the trauma of your past alone. It’s common for trauma survivors to become isolated, but this isolation is counter-productive to your healing. If you want to find your way back to harmony, start by seeking out support and get the strength you need to put the pieces back together.

Connecting with others doesn’t mean you have to talk about the things that happened in your past (though that is often one of the most healing things we can do). It simply means staying engaged in the normal day-to-day activities that keep us plugged in and feeling like we’re an active and engaged part of this world.

4. Get more sleep

There’s not much that a good night or two of decent sleep won’t improve on. Adult and child survivors of trauma often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Managing your sleep routine is crucial for healing the hurts of your past, however. The more sleep you get the more time and energy your physical systems have to deal with the trauma encased in your body.

5. Tighten up your diet.

There are some striking relations between our neurobiological states and the ways we deal with and process stress. When we’re stressed or dealing with painful traumas, it generates an inflammatory response in our bodies not unlike the ones that occur when we suffer a sports injury.

This inflammation can be addressed by tightening up your diet and focusing on a healthy balance of nutrients that gives your brain the fuel it needs to get past the pain. When we feel uncomfortable or in pain, it can impact our mood and the way we deal with people and situations in our lives. Minimize your mood swings and symptoms of depression by giving yourself a well-balanced diet.

6. Allow yourself to get close to people.

Trauma forces us into survival mode, a suspended state of animation that monopolizes and uses up all our energy. When you’re in survival mode it’s hard — if not impossible — to get close to people. Experiencing trauma before the age of 10 makes you prone to isolating yourself and cutting off the relationships that give you the love you so desperately need.

Nothing melts shame faster than allowing the full weight of your heart to be seen by another person.

You can counteract this behavioral coping mechanism by allowing yourself to be vulnerable and loving with others. Find a small handful of friends (or a lover) and double down on your connection with them.
When you allow yourself to be loved and you give love in return, you send the message to your inner child that your pain is in the past and you are worthwhile as you are. Give the love you need in your life to the right people and you’ll see it returned tenfold to you.

7. Realize you’re safe now.

Distanced from the traumatic events and people of our past, we have to remind our inner children that they are no longer in danger.
Unresolved trauma leaves us in a constant state of “fight or flight”. This state can lead to long-term physical issues and is one of the contributing factors to PTSD. Childhood trauma has such a dramatic impact on our continued physical health and the longer we refuse to address it, the worse those effects become.

Spend some time alone with your inner child and spend some time comforting her. Reassure her that she had no part to play in the events that happened and let her know that she’s safe now in your loving care.

Until we resolve the hurts sustained by the broken child that lives inside of all of us, we cannot move forward to blossom into the powerful adults we were meant to be. Reclaim your power by realizing that you’re safe now from the things that once hurt you so deeply.

8. Find a trauma specialist.

Facing and resolving the pain of the past is not something that we can always do alone and it’s not something that can be managed simply with the help of a few good friends.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to find a specialist when dealing with childhood trauma; but it’s important to make sure you’re finding the right person to help you resolve past issues.

Trauma symptoms vary from case to case and as such need to be assessed by qualified and experienced trauma professionals. Finding a therapist who has experience treating trauma like yours can take time, but cognitive-behavioral therapists and EMDR professionals are a good place to start.

Take your time and don’t rush into anything that doesn’t feel right. A professional can help you get to the root of your problems, but you need to be ready to open up and need to know what direction you want to head in.
Healing is hard but living eternally in pain is harder. If you think you need more serious help, reach out for it.

9. Find an experienced specialist.

Considering the wide array of physical symptoms that come alongside childhood trauma, it’s crucial that you also find a medical doctor who can help you with your physical healing as well as your mental and emotional healing.

While a therapist might be able to send your thoughts in the right direction, a medical professional will help you get your body going in the right direction which can make the healing that much easier. A functional medical provider will be able to evaluate your health as a whole and will work like an investigator to piece together the puzzle and identify the missing pieces that trigger your emotional and physical imbalances.

Doctors can help us save time and money when it comes to resolving our childhood traumas by pointing us in the exact direction of healing. If you don’t know where to begin, a trusted medical professional can give you the right tests and treatment methods you need to get back on top of things.

When you feel better physically, you have more strength to engage in the mental and emotional war of healing and resolution. This puts our overall wellness in clearer focus and makes our efforts to heal more effective and less costly in the long run.

10. Get honest about how you’re surviving.

Stop and take an honest look at your life as it stands right now in this moment. Allow yourself to recognize all the ways you have attempted to keep yourself safe and be brutally honest in recognizing all the coping mechanisms you’ve built up over the years.

Notice what mechanisms you used to get through your childhood and analyze their value in your life today. Do they still fit you and the goals that you have for your life? If they no longer serve you, then chances are they’re taking away from the person that you could become.

Maybe you use anger, aggression, and intimidation as a means to control the people around you, or maybe you’re so untrusting of others that you’ve developed a self-reliance that is self-destructive at its core.

However it is you’ve managed to survive all these years, take a good hard look and don’t be afraid to be brutally honest. The truth will out, whether you like it or not. The sooner you open up to it, the easier the going will be.

***

Your trauma doesn’t have to define you. Is it a part of you? Yes. Is it a part of your story? Yes. But it’s not the end of the story. You get to decide what happens next. You get to write the rest of your story — right now until the very end.

What will you choose to write? Will you give yourself, the hero of this story, a happy ending? The future you deserve? Or will you bend and fold, when there’s still a world of chance and opportunity in front of you.

You didn’t give yourself the trauma, but you get the chance to change the role it plays in your life. Choose yourself. More importantly, choose something better for yourself and the world around you.

© E.B. Johnson 2024

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