“The traumatic experience and your reactions to it, can, with time and perseverance, move to a place on a ‘shelf’ in the memory bank of your life.”
Stuck At The Time Of Your Trauma
Too often, when people have lived through a traumatic experience, their sense of the past and vision of the future stops – all that they can see in front of them are continuing pictures of the trauma that has befallen them. They begin to think and speak in extremes, such as ‘I’ll always feel like this!’, ‘I’ll never get over this!’ or ‘I’m permanently damaged!’
Normal Coping Strategies Work Much Of The Time
Most people have to cope with some negative or challenging experiences in their life. However, if these are non-traumatic and there are enough resources, such as a good family network, friends or other support systems, then usually people can deal with adverse experiences reasonably well and adjust to them. The more positive experiences in somebody’s life may also counteract and balance some of the more difficult times. In this situation a person’s sense of safety remains relatively intact even in the light of some adversity.
Trauma Clouds Your Perspective
However, in cases of trauma and PTSD, for the person who experienced the event it can often be as if their energy gets stuck in that one place and continues to stay there from then on. When this is the case, from the time of the trauma onwards all of the person’s subsequent experiences, whether positive or negative, are overshadowed by the trauma. In this way unresolved traumatic events have the power to cast a huge inﬂuence on a person’s present and future life. People often describe this experience with words like: ‘I feel stuck at the time of the trauma’, ‘It is as if most of my energy stayed in that place’, ‘Everything in my life is clouded by the memory of the trauma’. Even worse, the trauma seems to have blocked access to this person’s previous sense of relative safety in their life. Trauma sufferers can become shut-off from their previous feelings. It feels almost as if the period before the trauma never existed.
It Can Feel As If The Trauma Defines You
If you are dealing with unresolved traumatic experiences in your own life, the description so far may well resonate with you. If this represents how you have been feeling, or what you have been saying to yourself or others, it may seem as if the trauma now deﬁnes the way you are, rather than you having any control over it. This is linked to an internal trauma imprint in your memory system that keeps repeating and does not allow you to see beyond the trauma, which can feel right in front of your face, all, or almost all, of the time. This trauma imprint creates ‘tunnel vision’ – all you see now is interpreted through the lens of your traumatic experience. The accompanying feelings of guilt, panic, shame, over-alertness to danger, anxiety and/or depression, can lead to a questioning of the traumatic events. ‘Why me?’. There is often a sense of being singled out by fate. You may wonder if you are cursed or jinxed. This is commonly accompanied by a feeling that things will never get better.
So How Do You Move Forward After Trauma?
Until it is possible to feel connected with life again, your choices and your coping strategies can be very limited. This is common after a traumatic experience. Your problem-solving skills, your ability to make decisions, as well as, your level of concentration, are likely to be diminished too. So, what can be done? It is important for you to know that things can get better. The traumatic event cannot be erased, but in time the distressing emotions and body sensations associated with this experience can be integrated so that it can become a part of your life, rather than your sole focus. It is possible for you to be able to manage your reactions in a way that gradually you will be able to claim back much of your functional life, even though your life after trauma may be quite different to life before. This is understandable, as the trauma has confronted you with aspects of yourself and your life that previously you may not have been aware of. It may help to gently shift your focus – not forgetting the trauma, but starting to see beyond it. The traumatic experience and your reactions to it, can, with time and perseverance, become integrated into your life so that it is no longer disturbing and disruptive to you. While this may feel like a bit of a daunting process to you, with the right therapeutic support and a readiness to engage with the healing process, you can move through and beyond your trauma.