How To Overcome A Traumatic Experience
When we talk about overcoming a traumatic experience, the first thing to consider is the difference between trauma and a traumatic experience. A traumatic experience is likely to cause you trauma. Rather than overcoming the traumatic experience, you can work through the trauma.
Trauma happens when you live through a situation or situations in which your brain thinks your life is at threat. The self-preservation behaviours that arise from the traumatic experience are the trauma. There are three types of trauma.
Acute trauma occurs after a single incident in which your life was, or you perceived it to be, in danger. Examples include but not limited to terrorist attacks, natural disasters, abuse, or a sudden death. Trauma happens when the experience is so overwhelming that your body gets stuck in the survival response. The threat response maintained by your autonomic nervous system is normal, natural, and necessary in some situations. The purpose is to help you survive by aiding a physical reaction or shutting you down to prevent psychological collapse. Sometimes, when the threat is gone, the autonomic nervous system continues to react as if it is still present.
If your brain does not process the acute trauma, you might experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Although the symptoms of acute stress alone are not too distinguishable from PTSD.
Chronic trauma is a post-traumatic stress disorder and is a brain and body stuck in the freeze threat response. This type of trauma happens after multiple traumatic events, such as repetitive abuse or war.
The fight-or-flight response is your natural way to survive threatening situations. When the amygdala in your brain senses a threat, it quickly (before you even have conscious awareness) prepares your body to run for its life or fight for its life. When your autonomic nervous system recognises the threat as too great to fight or flee, it will use the freeze response. Your autonomic nervous system will shut down your emotional and psychological system to protect your soul. When your brain is persistently in the freeze response, it will perceive everything as a threat, so even safe people and spaces feel threatening.
Complex trauma is another post traumatic stress disorder. C-PTSD is typically diagnosed when the traumatic events happened again and again over a long period, for example, childhood abuse. The cause of the traumatic experience is usually someone close to the person, for example, a parent or caregiver.
C-PTSD happens when someone cannot see an escape, so becomes permanently paralysed with fear AND when the treatment is less obvious, such as with childhood neglect. The child’s need for love and acceptance are not met, resulting in C-PTSD.
Overcoming a Traumatic Experience
Moving beyond your traumatic experience/s is about helping your autonomic nervous system recognise safety today so that you can process your experience/s. It is important to find somebody that you can trust. When you build a therapeutic relationship with a therapist, you have a safe space to work through your experiences. Support groups provide an environment with other survivors to share your story and coping strategies.
Many trauma survivors turn to unhealthy habits, such as alcohol or drugs, to shut out the trauma. A key to overcoming your trauma is to face it and give yourself permission to feel. Therapy will help you find healthier coping mechanisms and body work such as yoga will help you get comfortable feeling.
All experiences and feelings are unique and personal. There are no wrong feelings and you do not need to have the same feelings as another trauma survivor to ‘have trauma’. However, a common feeling is shame. A feeling that no trauma survivor deserves to feel. Sometimes the shame prevents people from reaching out for help and explains the need to build the relationship before sharing your story. A therapist will help you move away from this feeling and support groups will give you the solidarity of others that have similar experiences and feelings to you.
Dealing with Trauma Every Day
Processing the traumatic experience/s and managing the trauma are separate things. Trauma presents a little like anxiety. You can use some recommended coping mechanisms for anxiety, such as breathing and thought stopping, to deal with your everyday experiences of trauma. Whilst you use therapy to work through your traumatic experiences with a person equipped to support you and guide you.
Somatic therapy, EMDR, EFT, massage and hypnotherapy are different therapies recommended to help with trauma. In an ideal world, you would take a personalised pick and mix of different therapies as you work through your trauma. Some clinics offer this; however, it is not always financially viable. The most important thing for you right now is to find an experienced person qualified to work with trauma that you feel comfortable and safe working with.