This is Part THREE, in a four part series exploring Trauma.
Part ONE - Trauma
Part TWO - How intergenerational and historical trauma has affected parenting
Part THREE - Healing
Part FOUR - Trauma and self-regulation
“Your Trauma is Valid.
Even if other people have experienced “worse”. Even if someone else who went through the same experience doesn’t feel debilitated by it. Even if “it could have been avoided”. Even if it happened a long time ago. Even if no one knows. Your trauma is real and valid and you deserve a space to talk about it. It isn’t desperate or pathetic or attention seeking. It’s self-care. It’s inconceivably brave. And regardless of the magnitude of your struggle, you’re allowed to take care of yourself by processing and unloading some of the pain you carry. Your pain matters. Your experience matters. And your healing matters.”
Many of us try to avoid acknowledging the pain of our past but it is an essential part of recovery. However, forcing yourself to revisit these experiences before you are ready can result in more trauma. You must feel psychologically and emotionally prepared and be willing to seek the required support if needed.
Trauma affects us in more ways than one. When our bodies perceive some form of danger, whether it be a risk of death, an extreme loss of connection or an absence of power, it boosts our nervous system into “flight or flight”.
The fight or flight response, also known as the acute stress response, refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of a real or perceived threat. The response is triggered by the release of hormones that prepares the body to either stay and “fight” or find safety, “flight”.
This response plays a critical role in how we deal with stress in our environment. The stress that has been created in these moments can either be helpful or harmful. When our bodies are “ready for action” we are more able to preform under pressure and in an actual life threatening situation we would have the ability to do what needs to be done to survive. But when our brains are constantly receiving these distress signals over time, through repeated activation, the stress response takes a toll on us.
The “acute” stress response initiated by a trauma is usually short lived but these events can leave us emotionally shocked. Following trauma, our bodies and brains can remain in a heightened state of stress, a constant state of high alert. Even after the “acute” symptoms of trauma have faded we can be left with problems that linger.
Trauma leaves its imprint on the brain.
Studies have found that the amygdala, a small, almond-sized part of the brain is one area heavily affected by trauma. The amygdala is the brains ‘alarm centre’, and it is also the brains ‘emotional centre’. When the amygdala is left in overdrive we tend to react emotionally to even the smallest things.
“The mind and the body are like parallel universes.
Anything that happens in the mental universe
must leave tracks in the physical one.”
Trauma doesn’t just affect the mind. During trauma different parts of our nervous system kick in - like the sympathetic nervous system, which controls our ‘fight or flight’ response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which causes us to shut down and conserve energy. These systems also control things like our digestion and heart rate. This is why trauma is associated with not only our mental health but also our physical health as well.
Trauma generates emotions, and unless we process these emotions at the time, they become stuck, internalised in our body as energy, shaping our mind, body and spirit. If left unresolved trauma will continue to affect our lives until we UNCOVER it, PROCESS it and RELEASE it.
Whether the trauma happened yesterday or years ago,
we can move forward by incorporating practices into our lives that support healing.
Self-care for healing childhood trauma
The healthiest response to a traumatic event is to process what has happened and the emotions attached to it in the moment, as it first occurs. But that’s not always possible, especially as children. Emotions like shame, rage, anger, and sadness are painful and are often viewed negatively. Expressing these emotions is not usually socially acceptable and confronting those involved is not always an option. Instead, we suppress what happened, bury it inside and hope that in time it will go away.
But to heal from trauma, we have to complete the process that should have occurred when the incident happened.
Inside each of us is a child, a wounded child. To protect that child from suffering, we try to forget the pain. But forgetting the pain results in more pain. Reconnecting with our inner child can help us reconnect with some of the reasons behind our adult beliefs, fears, reactions and life patterns. When we begin to understand them, then healing and transformation can occur.
“The cry we hear from deep in our hearts , comes from the wounded child within. Healing this inner child’s pain is the key to transforming anger, sadness and fear.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Acknowledging and interacting with our inner child is an extremely powerful way to connect with ourselves. What would you say if you could spend a moment with your infant self? Or the child you were at 2, 4 or 6 years old? It is important that at some point we take the time to reconnect with that little girl or boy inside.
To connect with your inner child:
Reflect on the timeline of your childhood
Look through photographs of when you were a child
Write a letter to and from your inner child
Automatic writing and journalling
Reflect on your childhood and the things you liked to do as a child
Engage in meditation and creative visualisation
Listening and communicating with your inner child through therapy
Take your time, go slowly and be gentle with yourself.
There are many self-care strategies that support healing. The great thing about self-care is that we are in charge, and can choose the strategies that resonate with us. Healing is an intentional practice. When you feel ready, try this visualisation:
Find a quiet, comfortable place where you wont be disturbed. Close you eyes and begin to slow your breathing. Bring your awareness into your body and connect with the earth by imagining yourself as a tree with roots extending down into the ground.
Think back to a moment that really upset you. It may be attached to thoughts that you find yourself pushing out of your mind or emotions that stir some discomfort. Take yourself back to what happened, the time, the place, the people you were with and recall as many details as possible.
How do you feel? What do you notice stirring within you? It may be physical sensations or emotions. Each of the things you experience offers you a little insight. Try to describe what you feel in detail, label your emotions and hear what comes through without judgment. What is your body communicating to you?
Sit and observe what you are experiencing as it flows through you. Don’t try to change it, don’t attach to it or try to hide from it. Acknowledge it and allow your body to naturally respond in which ever way it needs to. You may feel the urge to yell, scream, punch (the air or a pillow) or cry. Expressing our emotions is the key to releasing them and letting them go.
You may like to journal or you may like to share your experiences with someone else. Talking and writing are great methods of release. You could even create your own ritual by writing a letter and then instead of giving it to the person you could bury it, burn it or send it out to sea. As you do, visualise the energy of the trauma leaving your body in the form of physical release.
Find a lesson
The people who hurt you and caused you pain are often deeply hurting inside. That does not make it right but it helps us see beyond our emotions.
Take a step back to see what wisdom or message your experience has got to share with you? What can you take from it? When we can take that which hurt us and use it to help others, we transform trauma into passion with purpose.
As children, we learned to treat ourselves the way we had been treated and the way we observed our parents treating us, themselves and each other.
Healing from trauma involves learning to love ourselves. We need to learn how to take loving care of ourselves, loving self-care. We need to care for the child inside each of us, “our inner child”, the way we NEEDED to be cared for. This is called “re-parenting”.
“Love is the most healing force in the world;
nothing goes deeper than love.
It heals not only the body,
not only the mind,
but also the soul.”
Never force or try to rush your healing process.
Be gentle, you are meeting parts of yourself you have been at war with.
Many people who have experienced trauma feel disconnected, withdrawn and sometimes find it difficult to connect with others. Connecting with others DOESN’T have to involve talking about trauma, but it is important that we all have someone that we can share our thoughts and feelings with, someone trusted, who will listen attentively without judgement.
If you don’t have that support it’s a good idea to speak to a professional, seek guidance from a spiritual teacher or even look for a local or web based support group. It can help to talk to others who understand what you are going through. Recovering from trauma takes time, and everyone heals at their own pace. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of inner strength!
Continue reading Part FOUR - Trauma and Self-Regulation
This information is purely based on experience. The author is not a healthcare professional. This material is intended to be educational and not for diagnosis, prescription, or treatment of any health disorder. This information should not replace consultation with a competent medical practitioner or mental health provider. The author is in no way liable for any misuse of the material. We strongly urge you to use your own judgement, undertake your own research and do what you feel is best for you.
About the author
Jen has been an educator for nearly 2 decades. She holds a Bachelors Degree in Applied Social Science and Early Childhood Education.
She is a Mental Health First Aider and certified Mindfulness Instructor.
Jen is the founder of LovePedagogy. A platform established to support, guide and inspire heart centred parents and educators. LovePedagogy is the philosophy that we teach children more through who we are, than through what we do, so it is our role to be the best adults we can be. The foundations of this are love, personal growth, healing, mindfulness, reflective practice, listening to your inner voice and self-care.
Bauer, B. D. (2017, June 26). Writing A Letter To Your Inner Child. Watkins Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.mentalmovement.co.uk/writing-a-letter-to-your-inner-child/
Butler, G., & Hope, T. (2007). Manage Your Mind. New York, United States: Oxford University Press.
Jacobson, S. (2017, August 3). What Does a Traumatic Experience Do To Your Body and Brain? Retrieved from https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/what-does-a-traumatic-experience-do-to-your-body-and-brain.htm
Richmond, C. (2019, November 29). Emotional Trauma and the Mind-Body Connection. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/emotional-trauma-18/emotional-trauma-mind-body-connection
Luna, A. (Unknown). 25 Signs You Have A Wounded Inner Child. Retrieved from https://lonerwolf.com/feeling-safe-inner-child/
Raab, D. (2018, August 6). Deep Secrets and Inner Child Healing
Research shows that being in touch with your inner child is healing. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-empowerment-diary/201808/deep-secrets-and-inner-child-healing
Robinson, L., Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2019 June). Emotional and Psychological Trauma. Healing from Trauma and Moving On. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm