Processing Trauma: When to Do Trauma Processing and When to Not

man with trauma

Did you know that 70% of US adults have experienced a traumatic event in their life?

Trauma is something most people will have to deal with at some point. Whether it’s caused a major car crash or being bullied at school, it can affect your life and change who you are.

But, if you process trauma, you can find ways to recover from it, or at least cope with it. It doesn’t have to always be at the center of your life.

If you’re processing trauma, take a look at our guide to make sure you pick the right time.

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What Is Trauma?

If you’ve had a distressing experience in your life, you can develop trauma. This is basically negative responses that you feel because of a past event, which in return can affect your daily life. You may feel unable to cope with your feelings or life in general, causing you to feel hopeless and lost. 

Living with trauma is incredibly difficult. Luckily, there are ways you can process it and learn to cope, but it needs to be done properly.

When’s the Right Time for Processing Trauma?

If you’ve experienced trauma at some point in your life, processing it can be very hard. Even in trauma therapy, you often won’t be asked to bring it up for some time until your therapist thinks you’re ready. 

Processing trauma in therapy involves bringing the story to the surface, which can feel like you’re reliving the event. If you’re not ready, it can be incredibly distressing and even retraumatizing, so you need to be careful not to rush the process. At the beginning of therapy, you might not even be able to talk about your trauma.

This is because the emotions aren’t often stored in an area where you can verbally express them in a logical manner. Instead, they’re stored somatically. That means they’re more present in the body and throughout your nervous system and vagus nerve. To really understand and process trauma, all of these systems have to be brought into play.

Start With the Foundations

No professional therapist will ever start trauma work by having you retell your trauma story. Instead, they’ll begin laying foundations to help you feel safe and more in control. You’ll be given coping mechanisms to reduce your alertness and fight or flight response, helping you deal with the stress that the trauma has created. 

Find Areas of Strength

Even if you’re feeling at your weakest, there will be areas of strength and resiliency within you that can help you recover from trauma. A good therapist will pinpoint these and bring them to the forefront.

Being resilient (able to bounce back from a situation) isn’t a trait that you either have or don’t have. Instead, it’s something everyone has at different levels. If you’ve experienced trauma, your levels will be lower, but they’re still there!

Just by seeking out help with your trauma processing, you’re showing resiliency. 

This resiliency, alongside other resources you have, will be worked on with your therapist. This will help you regain your sense of self and feel better able to manage your life, even with the trauma. The key here isn’t to forget what you’ve been through, but to learn how you can live with it.

Feeling the Stress

If your trauma brings up negative feelings, such as stress or anxiety, you need to learn how to deal with these. Your therapist can help you by letting you live through them in a safe environment and creating coping mechanisms. 

It may sound strange to trigger negative feelings, but it helps to create vital trauma processing techniques. By letting yourself feel the emotions, you can regain control over them and eventually stop the natural negative responses. If you’re triggered in everyday life, you’ll be better able to deal with it. 

Facing Your Trauma

When the time comes to process your trauma, you need a strong connection with your therapist and a relationship of trust that’s been built up over time. You also need to be able to control your own emotions when negative feelings inevitably arise. The tasks you’ve done before have been to build your strength and stamina so that you can do this, letting you properly delve into your past. 

Sometimes, the resiliency and strength you’ve built up are enough to go back out into the world with a new sense of control. You may not even have to bring up or process your trauma! 

Other people will have a need to go over the trauma until you have full control over what’s happened. How to process trauma isn’t the same for everyone, so don’t go into therapy with an idea of how it should be. 

Living With Trauma

No one can escape pain in life, but you can learn how to live on with it. This is what living with trauma is like. It will never leave as it’s a part of you and your life, but it won’t control you anymore. 

You’ll be able to live free of the emotional constraints that trauma forced upon you. It’ll become a part of the many, many events that shape you, but it won’t take over your story.  

Begin Your New Life

If you’ve decided its time to embark on a journey of processing trauma, that’s a huge step and you should feel very proud of yourself! It’s not easy to step up and say you need help. This is the beginning of a journey that will help you reclaim your life. 

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