How trauma changes us

Trauma has the capacity to change you. Most of us have experienced a trauma that has reshaped us in some way. Anything that causes us extreme distress, emotionally and psychologically, is trauma.

Trauma has a lot to do with loss. You might think your life is going to look a certain way, and when it doesn’t turn out that way it can feel like a loss. We tend to get attached to the way we think our future will look, and when it changes, it’s important to give ourselves the space to grieve the future we expected and hoped for.

After you go through something traumatic – whether it’s a job loss, the dissolution of a marriage/relationship or being bullied – you will likely come out of that trauma with some apprehension towards the feelings and emotions that were a part of that experience. We often feel alone when we’re going through something awful. Once we get through it, we tend to expect the worst and be on high alert. After trauma, we know that we can get hurt again or bad things can happen, because they have before.

For example, a lot of my clients who had a partner who was unfaithful in the past believe that they will be cheated on again. Others believe that bad things in general will happen to them after going through something traumatic. Either way, we tend to come out of trauma more anxious and less willing to take risks. If you’ve taken on some anxiety from a trauma that you experienced, seeing a therapist can be helpful to process and let go of the past, and to rebuild trust that the same thing most likely won’t happen.

Trauma is very much like touching the oven when it’s hot – you touch it once, you get burned, and you never want to touch it again. Therapy can remind you of when things worked out, showing you that it isn’t all bad because of one or a few traumatic experiences.

Here are some tips that can help you heal:

Feel through it

When trauma is fresh, your brain wants to think about it. So let yourself think about it, experience the emotions and distress. Feel through it by calling a friend to talk about it, journaling, speaking to a therapist, and letting yourself cry or be angry. It’s so crucial to partake in the grieving process so that you can let go and heal.

Distract yourself

If the grieving is getting in the way of anything, distraction works. Distraction is a short-term solution, but it can be helpful in the early stages of dealing with trauma. To distract yourself, do something that involves cognitive and or physical activity/stimulation. As soon as you feel yourself ruminating over what happened, change your state. You can try going for a walk, taking a bath to relax or even washing the dishes. The point is to set your mind to something else so that you’re not feeling worse by feeling too much, too often.

Ask yourself what you’re getting from holding on

Thinking through something over and over again can provide a false sense of control. Ruminating keeps you in the pattern of thinking up all the things you could have done differently, and how you (or someone else) might have been better off if you had done something differently. But ruminating can’t help you change anything. It only ruins your current state and makes you feel regretful and miserable.

Whatever happened is over now, and there is nothing you can do to change the fact that it happened. So stop punishing yourself by replaying what happened over and over again. If you’re unable to let go on your own, speak to a professional for help to work through the trauma.

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