Overcoming trauma

The more I learn about psychology, the more I believe that psychological trauma is at the core of almost all psychological problems.
Because trauma hurts us in a way that most other psychological problems can’t. It tricks us into believing that we are broken in a way that can’t be fixed.
This is not true. Everything is temporary and everything that broke can be put back together. It can be incredibly hard work but that doesn’t mean it is impossible.
Overcoming trauma is worthwhile because once we have conquered our traumas we have a strong foundation to stand on.

How memory shapes us
One of the most important things for functioning well is memory. Memory ties into everything that you will ever do. Good memories helps fuel positive emotions while negative memories gives fuel to negative emotion.

A psychological trauma is a rip in the fabric that forms your memory. This often confuses us and might even make you questions your own sense of self.

What is a traumatic memory?
A traumatic memory is a memory that is tied to strong negative emotion. These emotions are often mixed and can be such things as sadness, fear, anger, guilt, shame and despair.

A traumatic memory often forms a chain within your mind to other traumatic memories. This way the memory of one traumatic memory makes you suffer from the combined weight of all the traumatic things you might have experienced.

Traumatic event such as bullying, sexual abuse, physical abuse, rape, war, torture or forced migration are events that cause psychological trauma. When we experience trauma we might develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which is a combination of three types of symptoms.
Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.

Trauma and love
The most common reason for seeing a therapist is the end of romantic relationship. Even if the end of a relationship is something most of us experience many of the symptoms experienced are similar to those people who suffer trauma experience. Techniques for overcoming trauma might be good for overcoming the end of a relationship, no matter how the relationship was.

A solid foundation
Our experiences teaches us how to act. A trauma makes us learn strategies that were helpful for coping with the traumatic experience but aren’t helpful for coping with our current life.

These strategies might make us act in ways that might make it harder for us to heal our trauma. We might reject partners and friends that are helpful and instead focus our energy on people who are harmful for us.

This is done because it might feel strange to be in a scenario where people are friendly towards us. We might have an experience of being rejected or betrayed by the people who love us the most and feel uncomfortable being around people who are “too nice”.

Many people who have suffered trauma also suffer from many other forms of psychological problems, such as depression, social phobia, panic disorder, OCD, ADHD and borderline.

By overcoming trauma we build a solid psychological foundation that makes it easier to overcome other psychological problems.

Break the chain
When we overcome trauma our goal is to break this chain. To start with a single memory and make it loose it’s emotional color. In treatment you go through different traumatic memories and overcome them until the trauma has lost its emotional color. You can always recover no matter how strong the memory is. This is because we use our understanding of the human mind to overcome the experience.

Self help treatment for trauma
Overcoming trauma might be good to do with a therapist since it can be an incredibly emotional process. At the same time it is possible to overcome trauma on your own.

Far from all negative events you experience become traumatic. So in way you already have the tools to overcome trauma even though you might not know it yet!

Techniques for improving wellbeing
Doing work to overcome trauma on our own is only recommended if we first have figured out self-help techniques that improves our wellbeing.

Knowing several techniques is a good first step but the best way is to incorporate these techniques into your daily routine before we start work overcoming traumatic memories.

Here are some techniques that are known to be improve wellbeing and are well suited for people who have experienced trauma.

Mindfulness meditation.
Physical exercise.
Spending time in nature.
Being creative (drawing, singing, dancing, writing).
Spending time with people who are supportive.

Before we start to overcome trauma it is good to start performing activities that help us feel good. When we feel good it is easier to work with traumatic memories. The habit of helpful activities helps us overcome negative emotions. This is crucial because sometimes negative emotions increase when we expose ourselves to traumatic memories.

Techniques for lessening trauma symptoms
Traumatic memories are stored in our body so overcoming trauma is a technique where we need to heal both body and mind. Techniques that use our body are good for helping us cope with traumatic memories.
EMDR is a technique for overcoming trauma that focuses on using the body and mind together to overcome traumatic memories.

Butterfly hug
A butterfly hug is a way to comfort yourself in a situation where you experience discomfort.

Self Administered EMDR
EMDR works by following along with a light source while thinking about a traumatic memory. By doing this the brain can process the memory and loosen the emotional connection to it.

Even though EMDR might seem strange it is an effective technique for overcoming traumatic memories.
Try out EMDR on your own.
Watching the video full screen with headphones.
Think of a traumatic memory or person while watching the video
Remember to breath normally during the exercise.

Overcoming traumatic memories
Words have power. Writing have more power still. When we write we can detach thoughts and emotions from our brain to the outside world.

You can think of thoughts and emotions as post-it notes on a board. Some of these thoughts and emotions might have been stuck on the board for decades.

When we remove the post it notes it might hurt. The glue on the notes has attached to the board and it is a painful process to remove them.

Once we have removed the notes we free up space in our mind. This helps us think and feel better.

Writing a trauma narrative

In therapy a common way to overcome trauma is to write a trauma narrative. A trauma narrative is a story about a traumatic event, how it started, what you felt and how it ended. By writing our trauma down we remove some of the emotions and thoughts related to it.

Start by asking yourself the following question

What should I do if I experience strong negative emotions during the exercise?

Before you start we also want you to think about a good thing you can do for yourself once you are done with the exercise.
Once I am done with the exercise I will spoil myself with:

Sometimes it can be hard to describe a traumatic experience. Here are some things that can be useful to think about.

Write down the name if there is a person who did something to you. We can often have strong emotions tied to the name of a person who hurt us.
Your trauma narrative is your own and you won’t have to show it to anyone if you don’t want to.

Our examples are made up and aren’t based on real trauma narratives.

I was __22___ years old

Time of year:

It started when:

It started when we had a fight. We had been together for a year. We had always fought and I was used to Peter calling me nasty words. But this time it was different. It was like something broke inside his mind. We fought and screamed and suddenly he slapped me.

The worst thing was:
I was so surprised and scared. I’ve thought about it so much and I can’t stop thinking. Why didn’t I leave?
It ended when:
Peter apologised and told me that he shouldn’t prove me. But it kept going for three more years during the remainder of our relationship. So it didn’t really end until I moved out.
These are the feelings I felt:
Scared, Angry, Worried, Confused, Empty, Disappointed, Sad.
These are the thoughts I felt:
It was my fault. I’m so stupid. I should leave now. I hate him. I can’t make it on my own.
This smell I remember/ reminds me of what happened:
We had just had tacos. I don’t like the smell of taco spice anymore.
This place reminds me / I avoid because what happened:
Our aparment in Årsta. I don’t like to take the subway past Gullmarsplan and I never get off there. I would never take the bus 144 or go past the house we lived in.

Now you can write your own trauma narrative. Copy the text or click this link to make your own version. 

I was _____ years old
Time of year:
It started when
The worst thing was
It ended when
These are the feelings I felt
These are the thoughts I felt
This smell I remember/ reminds me of what happened
This place reminds me / I avoid because what happened
Great work with your trauma narrative!

Take a break and do the things you promised yourself you would do now.