Trauma is usually defined as an incident where you experience physical or emotional/psychological damage. How trauma affects you varies greatly based on whether it is physical or psychological. Physical wounds heal, we can see improvement, we can feel it, but when we go through psychological trauma sometimes we inadvertently delay healing.
As someone who has gone through mental and physical abuse for a number of years, I was wounded, damaged, and skeptical of other human beings. After the traumatic period of my life ended I still had gaping emotional wounds that kept me from living a full and happy life. I kept to myself, I was deeply afraid of letting other people close to me. I was constantly anxious. I felt weak, I felt powerless, and when I would catch myself thinking of the years I spent living a lesser life because of my trauma – I felt shame.
The problem with how we teach people to deal with negative feelings and experiences is we tell them to get over it. We tell people to ignore their trauma and emotions, we instruct them to focus on the good things in their lives. However, when we advise our kids to “get over it”, we are essentially teaching them not to deal with their negative experiences and instead carry around emotional baggage that we think they should ignore.
I know people mean well when they tell you to focus on the good – unfortunately, when they do that they are asking you to not heal.
I spent many years lugging around my emotional baggage while not understanding why I acted the way I did, why I attract the people I attracted, why I was anxious and frightened – or why I felt stuck. I lived in limbo for a number of years before I realized my obsession with physical wellness was my effort in trying to heal the emotional wounds I’ve been ignoring.
I didn’t feel whole and healthy – I was tired and exhausted all the time. I dove into yoga, running, and healthy eating to help with the physical aspects of psychological trauma – nothing really worked.
I am not sure if it was through my meditations or prayers that my answers came. I am not sure if it was just age and wisdom that aided in my discovery of my emotional wounds, but it became painfully clear I wasn’t doing what I needed to do in order to feel alive again. I wasn’t even sure if I have ever felt alive up to this point.
I understood that my life depended on ridding myself of the baggage resulting from trauma, and I would have to face the pain head on. I knew that I needed to be in a place to handle the ramifications of bringing up old issues that were lurking beneath the surface. Running from my pain or obsessively pursuing physical wellness without gaining emotional wellness would leave me spinning my wheels forever.
The first thing I did to deal with my emotional trauma was assessed my ability to relive the experiences.
When we face horrific memories we have to be ready to walk through the trauma all over again. We will open up those memories to actually be processed, dealt with, and then resolved. The first step is confronting your experiences, the wounds, the words, all the times I was hurt and belittled.
I had to be honest with myself about my ability to deal with some of these situations, and honestly, it has taken years of going through one experience at a time. I couldn’t face all of them at once, it would have driven me over the edge into an abyss of despair – it would have been too much to bear. For many of us, we should seek out professional help to deal with all of the emotions and pain that will bubble to the surface. Having a person who knows how to help you through the process is important so do not overwhelm yourself.
The second thing I needed to do was allow myself to acknowledge my pain.
We spend so many years acting like we are okay after trauma, we follow the advice of trying to get over it by ignoring it. However, the truth is when we acknowledge our pain we face it head on. We gain control by being able to admit what happened to us and how it impacted our lives.
What I did personally, I went back to the moments that wounded me. When working through my experiences I saw my abusers in my mind, sometimes I would relive the traumatic experience – other times I would just feel the impact of the trauma emotionally. In talking about my experiences I feel I have taken control of my life again.
It was an excruciating process. It is painful to admit that you are still hurt, that you’ve been hurt, and the healing hurts. I went back to emotionally feeling like a child, and I felt bad for this young me who endured so much. I even felt sorry for the abusers who were so wounded themselves that they had to place their pain onto another human being.
I cried, I felt sorrow, I felt lost, I felt the sting of loneliness, I tasted the bitterness and hate for the people who hurt me. I allowed myself to feel all these things for the first time. I spent so many years of my life ignoring the past, making excuses for it, and pretending that I was okay. Finally letting those emotions come to the surface after I’ve shoved them down for so long was freeing. It was also very exhausting.
A day or two after dealing with a traumatic memory, I felt the freedom of actually dealing with my emotions and acknowledging the things that happened – I felt much lighter. I am human, I need to feel the things that happen to me. I cannot just shut myself off from my experiences. When we go through difficult situations we are made to hurt, to grieve, and to move on.
After I worked through my emotions and sat with them for a little while, I began the process of forgiveness.
Some people who have hurt me I still live and deal with to this day – these are the people I am sure have no clue how their actions crushed me or affected my life. However, to fully move on and regain control over my life, I needed to forgive them. The problem with our perception of forgiveness is we are afraid that it gives people license to hurt us again.
I will boldly declare that is not the case! We have the power to lessen their impact on our lives. When we are in a situation to deal with a person who wounded us, we do run the risk of being hurt again, but we have the power to face the emotions, process them, and go through the steps of releasing our pain. We don’t have to give them years of our lives over their reckless words or actions.
I’ve also had to forgive people who were major abusers who did more than hurt my feelings. They hurt me deeply – psychologically and physically. I feared for my life. I couldn’t sleep for months. I was afraid of them finding me and hurting those I loved.
How could anyone possibly forgive someone like that?
Honestly, it was a process. If a person hurts you to that degree, you do yourself huge a favor by not going near them ever again, and then forgive them from a distance. You take the pain they put you through and you let it all go – release it into the universe.
You allow yourself to experience peace in knowing that just because it happened once doesn’t mean it has to happen again. You visualize the trauma moving away from you. Speak your forgiveness out loud so you can hear it – share it with a psychologist, friend, or trusted family member. Forgive the experience for what it did to you.
Perhaps, you can give yourself the freedom of seeing how the experience added to your life.
I am far more discerning, I got involved with domestic abuse shelters, and I understand that society carries an idea and stereotype of what a typical domestic violence victim is, and it’s false. Forgiveness allows you to heal while also opening you up to see how you’ve grown and changed as a human being. You aren’t less from your traumatic experiences, you’ve gained insight, wisdom, and compassion many could not obtain otherwise.
After extending forgiveness to all those around me, I then forgave myself. Yes, I may have not asked for the trauma, but I did spend years holding on to my pain by not sharing my experiences or moving on from them. I had to forgive myself for holding myself back and not living because of my trauma. I didn’t do all that I could have done with my life because I was afraid to live. I was afraid of love and when I did enter into relationships it was with people who didn’t deserve me or my goodness. I had to forgive myself for not seeing my worth. I had to forgive myself for wallowing and being selfish with my suffering. There were a million ways I could have reached out for help, instead, I pushed any pain or uncomfortable emotions down deeper and I lived with very harmful habits and thought processes.
After I forgave all that had happened and those who hurt me, I began to live again.
It is amazing how facing your trauma, in turn, frees you and releases the experiences from your being. Forgiveness doesn’t give you amnesia of the events that happened in your life, but it does allow you to lose the weight of the pain. I carry my memories with me but the shame, guilt, and negative emotions associated with those memories are no longer there.
I now use my experiences to reach out to other people who have walked down the same path as me. I share my story so others know that there is hope for a future. You can go on and have healthy relationships, a family, friendships that are deep and meaningful. You don’t have to live bound to your traumatic past.
In life, we all walk down paths that can destroy our self-image, our trust in other human beings, and kill any hope we may have. My hope was extinguished for a long time. When I faced my trauma, processed the pain and moved through forgiveness, I was finally able to move on.