Updated: Mar 15, 2019
I have worked with so many people seeking relief from traumatic experiences and traumatic relationships. They describe having intense dreams, panic, and ruminating thoughts. Most disturbing is that many have a commanding voice whose presence never goes away that is associated with the trauma. So where do we start?
For some, they are re-living the past every single day and are ready to jump in and confront all the experiences and thoughts. For others, they have repressed the trauma to cope to the extent that the only reason they know something happened is because of their automatic body responses (like flinching when touched). These folks are weary of digging into the past, for very good reason. The goal is to move at a pace that feels right with your mind and body. You should never be too overwhelmed and have some capability of leaving our work in the therapy room so you can return to your life with a sense of containment.
In my experience as a therapist, I see that pacing can be the most challenging aspect of healing our wounds. I don’t believe there is a one size fits all approach. We work together to track your symptoms and bring awareness to all parts of self involved in the work. Some parts may be extremely eager to engage, while other parts don’t see the benefit of revisiting the past. And even more, there may be unconscious parts of self that completely shut down any processing at all. It takes time in therapy to explore your internal system and understand all parts of self involved in your decision making process to resolve inner conflicts.
Most importantly, you MUST feel safe in the therapy room with me as your therapist. Depending on your attachment trauma, this may take time to establish. Let’s be real, this could take years to establish. If your trauma is that a caregiver hurt you, then you have every reason have strong defenses and test your therapist over time. It’s ok to be who you are, just as you are, and wherever you are at in your process.
Some general good tips:
1. Begin when you have time and it feels right. Do you have time and mental space for deep reflection in your life right now? Are you burnt out in therapy and need a break? This work takes commitment and I recommend engaging only if there is some external stability.
2. Don’t do it alone. You may be so fortunate to have trusted friends and family to support you while doing this work. However, I more specifically mean that it’s good practice to feel connected to your higher self energy to help you. Self energy is introduced by Richard Swartz, founder of Internal Family Systems model, as a part of self that has these eight characteristics: calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness. Be aware of when you feel this and develop a practice to help you access it. And of course, trust that you can ask your therapist to help you and that they will receive your feedback.
3. Have patience. The unconscious doesn’t reveal all itself at once or else it could be too internally destabilizing. This is a process of growth and transformation to be applied for the rest of your life and is cyclical. For example, you may have already done work on one aspect of a trauma, let’s say in a relationship, but it cycles back around again, maybe in a slightly different way, when you start a new relationship.
4. Be prepared for family of origin work. A traumatic event likely compromised some core belief systems that will extend to your family. So you may come to me because you had a car accident and developed PTSD, but during processing a connection to the lack of safety in the relationship with your mother shows up. This is very normal.
5. Be open to the unknown. Ask yourself if you are open to finding out things about yourself that you never knew. In other words, are you ok with opening up new memories? This can happen. Sometimes it can be destabilizing and we work together to bring stability through grounding techniques. Most often, the new memories bring context that helps you learn more about yourself and heal.
6. Trauma work isn’t re-living the events. First, we will work together to have one solid foot in the present and one foot in the past. Think of it like this, we are going back to our parts of self stuck in the past and updating them on your new empowerment and agency in your life.
7. Slow is fast! We jump around in our minds so much that we miss our automatic defenses. I will slow down your process to note your body sensations and drives. I encourage sitting with what is present in the moment to reveal underlying desires and fears.
8. In the darkest moments in our lives, there is also great light. It’s paradoxical, but I have witnessed people having immense realizations of resiliency, self-love, and connections with divinity in this work. These realizations will help heal the shame you carry from the trauma – creating a deeper trusting connection with yourself.