12 steps to overcome psychological trauma

Psychological trauma will have consequences specific to each person. The journey to promote catharsis and lead to the overcoming of trauma is intimate and personal.

The pain experienced , the suffering felt and the psychotraumatic repercussions make it difficult to project oneself into healing , especially when the disorder is old, or even masked by amnesia. However, healing trauma is possible.

How to overcome psychological trauma?

Healing from psychological trauma is possible but requires time and some personal investment. Here are 12 steps to follow to overcome a psychotrauma.

Step 1: talk about your psychological trauma

After a traumatic event, the first instinct that comes is often to wallow in silence. This sometimes becomes long and difficult to assume. Latency generates an overflow of painful emotions from which it is difficult to get out. But to overcome a trauma, it is essential to talk about the suffering felt and experienced, to verbalize, to put words to your emotions.

You have the choice to give yourself to trusted relatives at first. You decide who you want to confide in about your psychotrauma, no one has the right to force you to.

If you do not consider the prospect of talking to your family or friends, you can get closer to associations that set up discussion groups. Totally safe spaces, you will express yourself freely about your traumatic experience while gathering support from the other people present.

These circles grant the possibility of exchanging on individual experiences and therefore of confronting the stories, the resources and the evolutions of each one: it is in fact an essential place to obtain keys and take a step back in order to move forward and go beyond one’s psychological trauma.

Finally, if none of these solutions seem feasible to you, keep in mind that you will find private groups and forums online that will allow you to write and discuss anonymously. Here too, you will have the opportunity to share your experience and to open up about your traumatic story.

Step 2: Ask a loved one for help

Remember to express your request for support and how you want it to intervene. Do not hesitate to be clear, precise and to manifest what does not suit you or hurts you. You can share your traumatic triggers so that loved ones avoid them: do not approach you by surprise or do not shout, etc.

The entourage needs this information, because generally they do not know how to go about it, they are not trained in psycho-trauma.

Indeed, some people are not aware of the consequences of an emotional and psychological trauma and can make you feel guilty, without necessarily wanting to, but by urging you to “move on”.

If it’s too complex to manage and you feel helpless in the face of this type of reaction, you have the right to put the relationship on hold for the time being.

Also, no one can impose a way of being on you or make decisions for you. In this sense, you may be led to sort out, punctually or permanently, in your entourage.

Step 3: consider your emotions

The third step is to integrate your emotions and consider them in the light of the traumatic experience.

Indeed, a psychological trauma leads to an intense emotional charge. And to overcome this, it is necessary to take into account all the emotions linked to the trauma. These impose themselves on you, as if they were neutral elements that send you a message so that you can act accordingly.

But understanding your emotions and their purposes means accepting them completely, even those that seem the most difficult for you to feel. You have to consider them to be able to intervene on them.

It is not always easy to understand what we feel and to correctly identify the affects that invade us.

Simple tools exist for this (the wheels of emotions), offering you a whole range of words to associate with your feelings. Also questions like “How am I currently feeling?” or even “Why do I feel like this” can help you.

Also, you can write every day what you feel: make the connection between your thoughts, the physiological reactions in your body and your emotions. Try to stay neutral in your analysis, don’t try to modify or change what is going on inside you.

Breathe deeply, anchor yourself, accept impartially what you are experiencing: you can improve this experience thanks to meditation, which in addition to helping you develop your states of mindfulness will bring you many benefits in terms of stress regulation , in particular .

Step 4: Understand how trauma works

To overcome a psychological trauma , it is also necessary to be able to understand how the brain and the body react in the face of a violent emotional and/or physical shock.

A trauma is the consequence of an extremely serious event that has put your physical and/or psychological integrity in danger.

It can be unique such as an attack , a natural disaster , the unexpected death of a loved one or even a rape , but it can also be linked to repeated and continuous situations, over which the person has no control, such as professional harassment resulting in psychological trauma at work .

A trauma goes through a first period of acute stress that occurs after the accident. It is temporary. The person is restless, upset, sad. A second phase is possible, but not systematic: it is chronicization : the stress becomes chronic and a disorder then sets in over time, called post-traumatic stress disorder.

A traumatic event will provoke in some victims a disconnection between emotions and memories: they are present, however the scene is so painful and unbearable that your brain has buried them to protect you. Items are inaccessible. We speak in this case of traumatic amnesia, which is a loss of partial or complete memory of the incident.

Always to preserve you, dissociative mechanisms can be put in place when the situation reminds you: depersonalization or derealization, for example.

But the buried trauma risks resurfacing at any time, as long as a trigger activates it: a question, a smell, a place. You will then relive the event entirely, which sometimes causes a loss of control, reinforcing your psychological sequelae.

Step 5: Undergo Psychotherapy to Overcome Psychological Trauma

Psychotherapy is the cornerstone that will help you overcome your psychological injury .

It is necessary to allow you to safely expose yourself to the traumatic memory . To regain control of your life, but also of your emotions, confronting the fear experienced is part of the therapeutic journey.

It is the best existing tool to integrate your trauma . And the difficulty with your trauma is that it is not easily palpable: it is on the move, neither in the past nor in the present, somewhere in between, and sometimes it reappears. By managing to work on it, it will take the right place in your memory.

Unconscious trauma , masked by complete traumatic amnesia, also requires therapeutic support to reveal the psychological trauma in a safe context. Bringing up difficult events is an intense and often unpleasant practice, the whole body is impacted cognitively, biologically and emotionally. Therapy must therefore be done in confidence, according to appropriate protocols.

Treating psychological trauma with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a first solution. It is one of the most appropriate therapies for these events, it has also been used with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

EMDR is a technique that desensitizes and then reprocesses traumatic information through eye movements. The therapist makes pendulum gestures with his fingers in front of the eyes and the patient follows them without moving his head. At the same time, he describes his psychic activity by reliving the incident. The effectiveness of this therapy is proven.

Other solutions are possible: cognitive and behavioral therapies  (CBT), the use of hypnosis … You are free to make the choice that suits you best, in which you feel most comfortable. The most important thing is to have to deal with a competent psychotherapist, in a benevolent setting in which you are safe and free to share your ailments and your affects.

Therapy is essential to heal trauma, because confronting it yourself can be dangerous, especially since it is not always easy to cleanse yourself of the past.

Transgenerational trauma, for example, is so embedded in family history that coming out of it alone is nearly impossible.

Pathological mourning, which may be suffered by people who lived in a close relationship with the deceased, also requires psychological support .

In all cases, from romantic separation to psychological trauma after an attack , it is a question of transforming the painful experience by learning to exist with, like a part of oneself which finally lights up, which takes its place and carries meaning. This is called resilience .

Step 6: work on your false beliefs

Overcoming a psychological trauma is also working on the consequences that the event has caused in you. Whether it occurred in childhood or adulthood, this injury is sometimes the source of false beliefs about you. These erroneous thoughts about yourself, which you cannot control most of the time, gradually lower your self-esteem and you become convinced that they are true.

However, these are only thoughts… which tell you stories! When this happens, if your head makes you think, for example, that you are incompetent and do not deserve to be there, do not hesitate to question it: Is this thought real? On what concrete element is it based? Is it good or bad for me? How can I modify this thought by a reflection more in line with reality?

If you often think that what happened is your fault, take a step back and take an outside perspective. Imagine the situation is that of a friend or loved one, would you have the same thoughts? Probably not: you would use benevolence and empathy.

If this work of deconstruction is too difficult to carry out, the therapeutic accompaniment will bring you many keys to remedy it.

Step 7: start drug treatment

Psychological trauma can cause post-traumatic stress, the symptoms of which include reliving, insomnia and hypervigilance. But in parallel, co-morbid conditions are sometimes associated: anxiety states, depressive syndrome, addictions or even eating disorders.

These pathologies express your psychic suffering , in addition to serving for some short-term appeasement solutions (taking refuge in food or alcohol, for example).

To calm the related disorders and symptoms, a drug treatment in addition to your therapy can relieve you. Whether it’s sleeping better, having fewer panic attacks, or even balancing your mood, a chemical crutch often proves to be indispensable.

Step 8: manage stress

Stress is an element strongly present in the psychological trauma, which is activated in the event of contact with a trigger reminiscent of the event: a noise, a smell, a place… The therapy will gradually allow you to better manage an anxious state which associates with it, but you can also try to develop strategies to anticipate stressful circumstances .

First of all, do not hesitate to list all the triggers and situations of reviviscence that worry you. If the exercise seems difficult to you, do it in the company of your therapist or accompanied by a loved one you trust. This list will allow you to plan how you will react to cope with and regulate your stress . Some people, for example, will take a breath of fresh air, others will listen to a comforting piece of music. Try to ask yourself the most effective solutions for each trigger.

Then, if you are able, do not hesitate to start a sports practice. Indeed, physical activity causes a whole hormonal release in your body, bringing you relaxation, well-being and harmony.

Choose what attracts you the most, think about what your mind and body crave:

  • Let off steam: try boxing;
  • Reconnect: try yoga;
  • Waking up: walk in the fresh air;
  • Calm down: dive into the water.

Beyond releasing your tensions and balancing your states of stress , sport is an excellent way to reconnect with your body, which is also suffering from trauma.

Step 9: take care of yourself

After a trauma, taking care of oneself is generally not among the priorities of the victim. Difficult to listen to oneself in full mourning or when the wounds are too painful to live. And you obviously have the right to be in his states or nothing seems possible to achieve, not even to breathe.

However, little by little and with all the work you are doing in parallel to rebuild yourself and overcome this ordeal, it is necessary to give yourself the essential minimum that promotes your stability.

Eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep: it is in particular on these elements that your recovery depends in part . Your body needs energy and strength to support your spirit and mind. Do not hesitate to transform these occasions into moments of pleasure and sharing: lunch with your loved ones, have a snack with online support groups, participate in cooking workshops…

As for your nights, why not set up rituals to accompany them serenely: valerian or chamomile herbal tea, a book or a comic strip, a soothing light… it’s up to you to create your cuddly moment, the one that will help you fall into a restful sleep.

Step 10: Reconnect to the Present Moment

Each person is different, each story, each experience, each trauma is written individually. In this, do not try to go too fast, because it takes time to heal from his injury.

Taking the time to move forward and rebuild yourself is essential, so as not to cut corners, to get there gradually, at your own pace. What is done in three months for some will take two years for others. We do not treat the signs of the wound of rejection experienced in childhood as we treat a cold.

The dissociative states that you can experience following a trauma mean that you are not really anchored: your body is there, but your mind is in between…

The complexity of the trauma lies in particular in the fact of constantly coming back to the event in order to move forward: we think of the past, we think of the future, we want to go quickly to end it and we forget to put down roots in the present. Yet it is vital: to be here and now.

To promote this state and encourage you to take advantage of the moment, do not hesitate to stop for a few minutes to deploy all your senses: feel the air in your nostrils, caress the grass under your feet, listen to the noise wind, describe what you see, savor the taste of the coffee you drink…

In addition to allowing you to slow down, mindfulness brings you peace and grounding. You can prolong these moments by practicing meditation on a daily basis.

Step 11: start an artistic activity

Taking the time is a great thing; also putting it to good use in new activities is one of the last stages of your journey.

Investing in a personal project (learning a foreign language, redecorating a room, embarking on a professional retraining, etc.) or finally experimenting with everything you’ve been putting off until now: don’t forget that despite all the suffering you have gone through is also a new life that is beginning for you.

Indeed, you have deconstructed and then rebuilt your functioning, your mechanisms, your patterns, your very identity. From what you have lost, you will now recreate. This sublimation is done through many forms.

Sometimes it is played alongside people, for example by becoming a volunteer in discussion groups or by doing prevention. Other times it is through artistic creation that it takes shape: painting, writing, dancing, sculpture, song… Your creativity can be transformed both into a passion and into a real therapeutic tool at the service of reconstruction after psychological trauma .

Step 12: Living with the Trauma

All the previous steps have mobilized resources that you had within you. Therapeutic support has given you tools to deploy on a daily basis. Healing and overcoming the trauma is not forgetting it, leaving it in a corner and returning to the state in which you were before the event. This is impossible.

Healing from your trauma means no longer feeling overwhelmed by suffering and pain while thinking about it. It’s managing to live with it, accepting things. And this power of resilience that belongs to you is associated with post-traumatic fulfillment of which your individual strength is at the heart.

What are the consequences of a psychological trauma that is not overcome?

When you suffer a trauma, it is important to ask for help from loved ones, but also from health professionals to successfully heal. Without taking charge of this emotional shock, physical and mental repercussions can appear whether we are aware of it or not.

Consequence 1: Getting stuck in a constant state of stress

After having suffered a trauma, it is completely normal to find yourself in a state of stress where several characteristic symptoms are repeated: you experience recurrent reappearances of the traumatic scene, you avoid situations or individuals associated with this emotional shock. However, when the psychological shock is not treated, these patterns repeat themselves even after several months and can ultimately lead to hyperactivity of the nervous system.

Consequence 2: suffer from eating disorders

Compulsive eating disorders are part of the post-traumatic consequences of violence, more particularly in a context of sexual, conjugal and infantile violence. A victim of untreated trauma may develop an avoidance and control behavior towards eating. For example, a victim of sexual violence is likely to gain weight voluntarily in an attempt to forget and/or make people forget the appearance she had during her attack.

Consequence 3: Incur Emotional Wounds

When we are the victim of a psychological or physical shock, we become instantly and despite ourselves vulnerable during this period of stress. This fragility opens the door to emotional wounds that may already be present within you, but only manifest in this opening that shock causes. Other wounds, such as the rejection wound, occur precisely as a result of trauma and reopen during triggering events.

Consequence 4: sinking into addictions

It is estimated that up to 60% of people with addiction also experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, addictive behaviors are, after depression, the disorder most frequently encountered when the emotional shock is not treated. You have this need to lessen what you have experienced through an addiction, which can be of any type: addiction to alcohol, gambling, illicit substances, etc. To forget this shock, you try to trick your brain into letting go of these memories for a moment.

Consequence 5: reach a depressive state

Unfortunately, the constant negative thoughts that post-traumatic stress induces considerably influence the psychological state. You then go so far as to imagine that the future holds nothing good for you. If you are the victim of dark thoughts, it is important to act quickly: tell your loved ones and make an appointment with a health professional, at this stage a medical follow-up is essential.

You may well be suffering from symptoms and wondering where the cause is coming from, as you experience the consequences of traumatic amnesia. Your mind has buried this emotional shock, which unfortunately comes out through these different consequences.