This guide will help you learn how to get out of survival mode from childhood trauma using these 9 scientifically proven trauma therapy approaches.
Unresolved childhood trauma has significant impact on mental and emotional health.
Childhood traumas can be the result of issues ranging from extreme violence and neglect to experiencing feelings of not belonging or being unwanted.
Facing such situation pushes you to learn to compensate by developing defenses around your most vulnerable parts.
You might oscillate between feelings of anger or fear and shame or despair.
You might suffer from chronic anxiety or depression and other issues, such as self-criticism, emotional suffering, and relationship difficulties.
You might even experience chronic pain.
- Understanding Childhood Trauma
- What Causes Complex PTSD?
- Symptoms of C-PTSD
- Stress Continuum
- Attachment Theory And C-PTSD
- Inner Child Healing Exercises PDF
- Survival Mode From Childhood Trauma
- How To Get Out Of Survival Mode From Childhood Trauma?
- 1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- 2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
- 3. EMDR Therapy
- 4. Somatic Psychotherapy
- 5. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
- 6. Working With Parts
- 7. Positive Psychology And Resilience
- 8. Relaxation Techniques
- 9. Therapeutic Yoga
- How Avoidance Can Reinforce Your PTSD Symptoms?
- Pro Tip. Work With a Therapist
Understanding Childhood Trauma
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with traumatic events such as car accidents, natural disasters, or acts of violence and sexual abuse.
PTSD refers to the presence of symptoms, such as powerful emotions of fear or shame, well after the event is over.
Childhood trauma can cause complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD): a form of PTSD that occurs as a result of long-term exposure to traumatic stress during childhood, rather than in response to a single event. (*)
C-PTSD is also referred to as developmental trauma disorder (DTD). (*)
Despite its significant impact on emotional and mental health, C-PTSD is not included in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) used by clinicians, and is considered instead as PTSD given that they share more than 90 percent of the symptoms.
However, International Classification of Diseases, version 11 (ICD-11) identifies complex PTSD as a separate condition. (*)
C-PTSD is a learned stress disorder that can be replaced by a positive mindset and health-promoting behaviors. (*)
Related: How To Heal From Trauma? 5 Steps to Support Your Trauma Healing
What Causes Complex PTSD?
Complex PTSD or developmental PTSD is the result of pain and stress experienced during childhood.
C-PTSD can be caused by the following types of experiences:
* Childhood relationships with parents or caregivers that are frightening and/or unpredictable
* Ongoing or repeated experiences of neglect or physical, verbal, or even sexual abuse or exposure to domestic violence
* Being raised by a parent or caregiver who has an untreated mental illness or an active addiction
* Facing severe social stress caused by bullying or exposure to traumatic events without being supported by a caregiver
Symptoms of C-PTSD
The ramifications of C-PTSD or developmental PTSD, whether cognitive, emotional, or physical, can persist into adulthood manifesting in the following: (*)
1. Cognitive distortions: Inaccurate beliefs about yourself, others, and the world.
2. Emotional distress: Frequent feelings of anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, deep loneliness, shame, unfairness, and depression often triggered by social loss and abandonment.
3. Disturbing somatic sensations: Uncomfortable body sensations, in which psychological distress manifests in the form of physical symptoms.
4. Disorientation: Loss of distinction between the past and the present.
5. Avoidance: Shutting out or pushing away uncomfortable memories, or emotions through denial, dissociation, or addictive behaviors.
Other symptoms might include self-harm, emotional eating or eating disorders, impulsivity or recklessness, excessive risk-taking, and promiscuity, etc.
C-PTSD symptoms might look like other disorders.
A child who has been abused or neglected might appear impulsive, anxious, angry, and/or depressed, which can lead to inaccurate diagnoses of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), body image problems (such as body dysmorphic disorder) or major depressive disorder.
Related: PTSD in Healthcare Workers: How to Heal From PTSD and Manage Everyday Stress?
Stress exists on a continuum: good stress, tolerable stress, and toxic stress (McEwen 2017). (*)
Good stress: The stress response—fight, flight, or freeze—is brief. This stress challenges without overwhelming us. Think of a student who is preparing for an important exam.
Tolerable stress might involve intense fight, flight, or freeze stress response. However, the body eventually returns to normal before there is lasting physical or psychological damage. Think of the death of a loved one from natural causes.
Toxic stress is so severe or chronic. This kind of stress affects the brain and biology in ways that impair health and performance. Think of childhood abuse or neglect.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study is one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect. (*)(*)
Vincent Felitti, head of Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, California, and Robert Anda, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher analyzed the medical records of more than 17,000 patients at a large health maintenance organization, they found that ten commonly reported ACEs predict a very wide range of psychological, medical, and functional problems. The ten ACEs are:
Three kinds of abuse
Two kinds of neglect
Five kinds of household dysfunction
- Parents divorced or separated
- Witnessing a mother or stepmother being treated violently
- A household member addicted to alcohol or other drugs
- A household member suicidal or mentally ill
- A household member in jail
Felitti and Anda (2014) found that about two-thirds of adults had experienced at least one of these early life adversities.
Attachment Theory And C-PTSD
Attachment theory refers to the way young children respond when they’re separated from their primary caregiver.
Secure attachment develops when we can depend on a safe, predictable, and loving caregiver during early childhood.
That doesn’t mean that parenting needs to be “perfect”.
Parents will inevitably misattune to their children on occasions, but these mistakes are essential in providing healthy opportunities for the child to learn that ruptures in connection can be repaired.
The child learns emotion regulation and stress tolerance and develops healthy boundaries.
However, neglect and abuse that accompany complex PTSD form insecure attachment styles:
The insecure ambivalent child was raised by an inconsistent primary caregiver who is at times highly responsive but at other times is intrusive and invasive.
Because the child cannot depend upon the caregiver for a predictable connection, he consequently feels overly dependent and suffers from abandonment anxiety.
The insecure-avoidant child was raised by a distant or disengaged caregiver who is emotionally unavailable and/or rejecting.
This child adapts by disconnecting emotionally, avoiding closeness, and becoming overly self-reliant.
As an adult, he tends to be dismissive of their own and other people’s emotions and finds it hard to enjoy a deeper, more intimate connection.
This child was raised by a caregiver whose behavior is chaotic, and/or abusive.
This creates a sense of alarm and confusion, which makes the child paradoxically seek closeness from the very source of the terror that they are trying to escape.
This is often referred to as “fright without a solution.”
As an adult, he tends to act in an impulsive or aggressive way to manage uncomfortable emotions. Relationships interactions can mimic the abuse they experienced with caregivers, so they either act abusive themselves or choose abusive partners.
C-PTSD is associated with insecure attachment styles. (*)
Related: Attachment Style Compatibility: Are You Secure, Anxious, or Avoidant? – and How to Become More Secure
Inner Child Healing Exercises PDF
Survival Mode From Childhood Trauma
In his book, The Betrayal Bond, Patrick J Carnes Ph.D identified eight predominant ways that trauma continues to affect people over time:
- Trauma reaction
- Trauma arousal
- Trauma blocking
- Trauma splitting
- Trauma abstinence
- Trauma shame
- Trauma repetition
- Trauma bonds
1. Trauma Reaction
This is what therapists call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. After the actual traumatic event, the individual continue to experience the stress of the trauma.
Survivors of trauma may experience nightmares about the traumatic event or experience flashbacks when triggered.
2. Trauma Arousal
Trauma arousal is seeking stimulation in the presence of extreme danger, violence, risk or shame.
Trauma survivors may engage in high-risk behaviors such as skydiving or race-car driving or use drugs to heighten high-risk activities.
When your brain adjusts to arousal, it creates and addiction and you would need the stimulation simply to feel normal.
3. Trauma Blocking
Trauma blocking refers to anything you use to escape the uncomfortable feelings, such as use of alcohol, drugs, watching mind-numbing TV, emotional eating, compulsive working, etc.
Related: Stop Self-Sabotage: How to Tame Your Inner Teenager and Heal Your Inner Child?
4. Trauma Splitting
Trauma splitting is when victims learn to dissociate or detach from the uncomfortable reality of their trauma.
For example, someone may focus on another reality by imagining themselves doing something they liked while they are being abused to separate themselves from their painful reality.
Splitting may also take the form of amnesia. The survivor may not remember significant facts about the trauma.
Sometimes different personalities will form. This is called multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder.
Related: Parts Work: 10 Ways to Deal With Childhood Trauma Splitting
5. Trauma Abstinence
Trauma abstinence refers to compulsive deprivation that trauma survivors engage in, especially in times of high stress, or shame, or anxiety.
This is usually caused by family neglect, which then becomes self-neglect in adults.
Survivors may deny themselves basic needs like eating, medical care, or heat. They may also avoid sexual pleasure or avoid spending money.
They may also sabotage success opportunity and perform “underachieving” jobs compulsively.
6. Trauma Shame
Trauma can leave a feeling of being defective or flawed and that if other people knew what they were really like they would leave.
Survivors of trauma may try to compensate by setting high standards for themselves to meet in order to earn acceptance from others. These standards are often painfully high and when they fail to meet them, they add to their existing shame.
7. Trauma Repetition
Trauma repetition means repeating behaviors and/or seeking situations or people to re-create the trauma experience.
Trauma survivors may find themselves in the same situation, with the same type of person again and again without making the connection with their original trauma.
Another way trauma survivors reenact their original trauma is by victimizing people in the same way that others victimized them.
Trauma repetition is an effort to bring resolution to the traumatic memory. By repeating the experience, the victim can respond differently and eliminate the fear. However, reenactment, usually, end up intensifying and deepening the traumatic wounds.
8. Trauma Bond
Trauma bond is a highly addictive attachment to the people who have hurt you. You may blame yourself for the abuse. You many even convert them into non-abusers by trying to help them understand what they are doing. (*) These relationships are about insane loyalty and attachment.
This attachment can cause you to distort your own reality and distrust your own judgment. What’s worse, it’s a guarantee of more pain. (*)
How To Get Out Of Survival Mode From Childhood Trauma?
There’s no single therapy approach that works best for healing C-PTSD. A combination of psychotherapies are used by therapists, including CBT, DBT, EMDR therapy, and somatic (body-centered) psychotherapy.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective types of counseling for PTSD.
CBT helps you recognize the relationships between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and assists you in replacing distorted or distressing thoughts with more accurate and positive beliefs.
There are two forms of CBT that are frequently applied to treat PTSD: exposure therapy and cognitive processing therapy.
Exposure therapy helps you desensitize yourself to the trauma by repeatedly talking about your traumatic memories until you feel less overwhelmed by them.
This method also uses relaxation methods and breathing exercises to help you calm down your mind and body, while exposing yourself to your traumatic memories.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) helps you correct any cognitive distortions around your traumatic memories and guides you to incorporate new, more accurate beliefs.
For example, if you believe that the abuse you experienced as a child was your own fault, you can challenge that belief by recognizing that you were just a child – you couldn’t have done anything wrong.
Related: How to Challenge and Change Your Negative Core Beliefs?
Practical Exercise 1 – Exploring Your Inaccurate Beliefs
In your journal, write down negative beliefs attached to your childhood trauma. Common negative beliefs might include:
- I am unlovable
- I am unworthy
- I do not deserve to exist
- I am helpless or powerless
- I cannot trust anyone
Challenge these beliefs by recognizing that as a child you couldn’t have done anything wrong.
Work with a therapist on challenging any beliefs you find hard to change.
Replace negative beliefs with positive ones:
- I am lovable
- I am worthy
- I deserve to exist
- I am strong
- It is safe to love and trust now
2. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT, originally developed as a specific type of CBT for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, has been found particularly beneficial for C-PTSD.
The term dialectical refers to a synthesis of opposites.
The primary dialectic within DBT is the polarity between acceptance and change – it’s only when you accept who you are that you can change and grow.
DBT therapy focuses on the development of mindfulness, distress tolerance and emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Within the context of DBT, mindfulness focuses on developing your capacity to observe your own mind while cultivating acceptance.
This acceptance helps you recognize that you don’t need to escape or suppress uncomfortable experiences and thoughts.
Related: 4 Steps to Practice Mindfulness Safely and Support PTSD Recovery
DBT emotion regulation skills help you reduce suffering related to ineffective reactions to your emotions, rather than escaping them.
Emotion regulation encourages you to reflect on your thoughts and emotions before jumping to reactions or behaviors.
Related: Anxiety Relief: How to Treat Anxious Symptoms and Thoughts Effectively?
DBT distress tolerance skills help you handle painful emotions in a healthy way without needing to resist or changing them.
DBT interpersonal effectiveness skills emphasize assertiveness, boundaries, and coping with conflict.
It encourages you to address conflicts gently by refraining from put-downs or name-calling, respecting yourself and others, apologizing when you have done something wrong, and being truthful.
Practical Exercise 2 – Radical Self-Acceptance
The following exercises will facilitate self-acceptance:
Accepting reality involves anchoring your mind in the sensations of your body, observing your breath is one way to help you do that.
Start noticing the subtle sensations of your breath coming in and out of your nose and the rise and fall of your belly.
You can practice breath awareness while sitting or walking.
Once you feel comfortable, start engaging your breath practice to help you deal with difficult feelings and calm yourself down.
Practicing a half-smile can help you change your mental state and cultivate a serene feeling in the moment.
Start by relaxing your face and slightly turning up your lips.
You can start practicing the half-smile while you’re feeling calm, and eventually engage the practice while reflecting on a difficult event.
Sometimes feeling the body can stir up uncomfortable sensations, emotions, or memories. Explore the concept of loving and accepting the pain. However, if this practice ever becomes too difficult, know that you can also pace yourself by sensing a body part and then bringing your awareness back out to your external environment.
Doing a body scan with the intention of accepting every sensation in your body will help you with radical acceptance:
* Sit in a comfortable and take a moment to tune into each area of your body, increasing your awareness of your sensations and the experience.
* Focus on your breath and relax every part of your body.
* Bring acceptance and love to each part of your body by imagining rays of love permeating your body going through your feet, your legs, your pelvis, your belly, your back, your chest, your arms, your hands, your shoulders, your throat, and your head.
You can place your hands over each part of your body.
To further develop a deep appreciation for yourself, use positive self-statements.
Try saying, “I love myself just as I am in this moment.”
You can get more specific and extend this acceptance toward your defenses and vulnerable emotions by saying “I love myself even though … I hurt myself sometimes, I push people away,” and, “I love myself even when I am … ashamed, sad, afraid.”
Related: The Power of Positive Affirmations: Daily Affirmations for Healing, Wealth, and Happiness
3. EMDR Therapy
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a therapy approach developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro.
EMDR therapy helps you identify triggering memories, emotions, beliefs, and sensations and process traumatic events.
The desensitization phase helps you remain aware of your present moment while simultaneously recalling memories of the traumatic event.
Dual attention is amplified using stimulation in the form of eye movements, tapping, or tones that alternate between the left and right sides of your body.
During the reprocessing phase, traumatic memories are processed along with the negative beliefs associated with them and later replaced with positive beliefs.
Scientists believe that the bilateral eye movements performed in EMDR may replicate the rapid eye movements (REM) during the dream stage of sleep, which is believed to help our brains process the events of the day, including our emotions and beliefs.
EMDR therapists may also use bilateral tapping as a bilateral stimulation, often on the top of the client’s hands. Tapping has its roots in EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which helps unlock the unprocessed memory and release the painful emotions related to it.
EMDR does not remove the memories in their entirety. After all, painful experiences once properly processed help us learn a lesson and grow wiser and more empowered.
Rather, EMDR reprocesses painful memories in a way that helps us feel no longer triggered by those memories.
How Many Sessions?
Most therapists recommend 6 to 12 sessions of EMDR lasting between 60-90 minutes per session and those with severe or multiple traumas may need more.
Single traumas that have occurred in a healthy adult could be reprocessed in as few as three sessions.
An adequate break between sessions is required to allow the mind time to recover. Most clients have EMDR therapy one to two times per week.
4. Somatic Psychotherapy
Somatic psychotherapy is a set of therapy approaches that focus on the body rather than the mind.
Reasoning and logic alone might not be sufficient to treat trauma. Traumatic events not only lead to negative beliefs, but also to physiological changes, such as tension and rapid heart rate.
They help you engage body awareness to release the psychological and physiological impact of traumatic events.
Related: Recovering From Trauma and PTSD: 6 Practical Exercise to Support Healing After Trauma
Practical Exercise 3 – developing somatic awareness
The following exercise will help you cultivate awareness of your body without judgment:
* Sit in a comfortable position and take a moment to tune into each area of your body.
* Bring your attention to your breath. Notice any areas of tension, heaviness, or constriction.
* Next, Bring your attention to your feet, legs, and pelvis. Notice the sensations in your muscles and on your skin.
* Take a deep breath as you bring your attention to your torso. Notice any sensations across your abdomen, lower back, chest, or upper back.
* Bring your attention to your shoulders, arms, and hands. Notice any areas of tension or relaxation.
* Last, bring your attention to your neck, throat, and face. Notice the general sensations of your head.
* Now, take a final moment to notice your body as a whole.
* In your journal, write down your notes about your experience.
This awareness exercise helps you deepen your curiosity about your sensations, relax and release holding.
5. Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Mind-body therapies work by regulating your autonomic nervous system (ANS).
Your ANS consists of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system states.
The vagus nerve plays a central role in ANS regulation because it connects your brain to your digestive system, heart, lungs, throat, and facial muscles.
Vagus nerve stimulation helps you calm down when anxious and feel nurtured by your capacity to rest and feel nourished, by keeping your digestive system functioning optimally and your immune system in check.
Your vagus nerve passes through your belly, diaphragm, lungs, throat, inner ear, and facial muscles. Therefore, stimulating your vagus nerve is done through stimulating these areas of your body.
Practical Exercise 4 – Stimulating Your Vagus Nerve
The following strategies will help you stimulate your vagus nerve from the comfort of your home:
Because the vagus nerve passes by the vocal cords and the inner ear, vibrations of humming help soothe your nervous system.
Choose your favorite tune and notice the sensations in your chest, throat, and head.
Slow, conscious breathing is one of the fastest techniques to soothe your nervous system.
Vagus nerve stimulation happens when the breath is slowed down from the typical 10 to 14 breaths per minute to 5 to 7 breaths per minute.
This is one of the best vagus nerve stimulation techniques.
The diving reflex slows the heart rate, increases blood flow to the brain, which reduces anxiety, and relaxes the body.
To stimulate the diving reflex, splash cold water on your face from your lips to your scalp line.
6. Working With Parts
“Parts work” is an approach to healing that recognizes that you develop different parts of yourself to hold unwanted or unacceptable feelings and memories.
Parts can reflect younger developmental phases of your life, such as the wounded child or a rebellious teenager, and it can also represent an internalization from your family of origin, such as the critical parent from childhood as your inner critic.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz identifies three kinds of parts:
Exiles: Exiles are the parts of yourself that you cut off from conscious awareness in an attempt to distance yourself from painful memories and emotions, such as rage, shame, fear, loneliness, or grief. Often these parts reflect the wounded child
Managers: Managers are the overly rigid and self-critical parts of yourself that attempt to protect you from vulnerable feelings by staying in control.
Firefighters: Firefighters work on repressing exiles as they attempt to emerge. To do that these parts use substances, self-harm, or dissociation to distract you from your underlying emotional pain.
The goal of IFS therapy is to develop your relationship to the Self – your own source of wisdom or inner knowing.
When you’re living from this center, you are able to regulate the other parts of you and feel calm, confident, and compassionate.
Read More Healing The Fragmented Self: 8 Ways to Deal With Childhood Trauma Splitting
Practical Exercise 5 – Find Your Inner Safe Place
An inner safe place is a great way to soothe yourself and feel emotionally secure.
1. Recall one or several moments in your life when you felt safe.
If you cannot recall any such moment, then imagine the safety and comfort you would want to experience.
2. Now, imagine a place containing all the qualities you associate with safety.
This place can be real or imaginary.
3. Give this place boundaries that allow you to which beings are permitted to enter this place.
4. Once you feel a total sense of well-being in your inner safe place, establish a cue or a small gesture that you can use in the future to conjure this place.
5. Finally, return to the room with your full attention.
Invite Your Helpful Inner Beings
Once you have found a safe inner place, you can invite your helpful inner beings in your safe inner place or simply to get support and encouragement when you need it.
These inner beings can be real from your present or past, and they can also be imaginary, like a superhero, a fairy, an angel, etc.
7. Positive Psychology And Resilience
Positive psychology focuses on strengths rather than deficits. It recognizes your ability to be resilient despite your traumatic history.
Resilience is a set of strategies that are learned and practiced. These strategies include:
* Cultivating a growth mindset that helps you use positive and negative life events to grow as an individual
* Staying connected to your community
* Working through difficult emotions
* Taking responsibility for your life and believing that you have the capacity to shape the course of your life
* Supporting your physical health through exercise, proper diet, and good sleep quality
* Expressing yourself through journaling and creativity
Practical Exercise 7- Using Available Resources
As you heal your wounds, it is helpful to be aware of all the resources that are already available – everything that is helpful now and has proved helpful in the past.
These resources are especially helpful for people who believe they are incapable of handling their symptoms.
Write down everything that ever helped you in the past when you were not doing well.
Make sure these things are healthy, don’t include things that are destructive, such as cutting yourself.
The following are some examples:
- Images that brings you joy
- Pleasant scents
- Soothing music
- Movements that boost your mood (jogging or dancing, for example)
- Soft texture that you enjoy touching
- Inspiring words, like a saying, a short story
- A calming affirmation, a mantra, or a prayer
- Telephone numbers of people you can call when you’re in distress
Keep this list where you can easily access it when you’re experiencing intense emotions.
8. Relaxation Techniques
Some of the most common and well-researched relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), visualization, and diaphragmatic breathing.
These practices focus on calming down your body.
In PMR, you sequentially tense and relax muscle groups throughout your entire body (e.g., arms, legs, torso, neck). (*)
Visualization involves recalling memories of times when you felt relaxed, which helps your body respond accordingly and relax.
Slow and rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” helps calm you down if your body, especially when it is in a fight-or-flight state.
9. Therapeutic Yoga
Therapeutic yoga helps you explore physical postures within a context of mindfulness, conscious breathing, and somatic (body) awareness.
Therapeutic yoga focuses less on the outer look of a pose and more on supplying yourself with an environment that feels emotionally and physically safe, minimizing the use of mirrors, and setting a tone of self-compassion.
Assuming standing postures such as warrior pose or downward dog helps you explore strength-building.
Restorative postures such as the child’s pose help you practice the art of surrender and letting go.
What’s Next? How to Heal From Childhood Trauma and Transform Pain into Purpose
How Avoidance Can Reinforce Your PTSD Symptoms?
People experience unending list of unpleasant events, such as hunger, thirst, cold, overheating, aches and pains, having an angry parent, being bored, experiencing teasing or rejection from peers, failing at attempted tasks, experiencing loss of any kind, etc.
Every action that results in reducing or eliminating any of these unpleasant experiences is quickly learned and maintained as a “go-to” response.
However, some unpleasant experiences are so strong, as in the case with PTSD, that avoidance is not an option.
Most of the time what PTSD victims do to cope with the mess in their heads and life is not working. Their avoidance behavior, although gives them momentarily relief, is in fact keeping them stuck.
In fact, avoiding or reducing the unpleasant feelings they experience after a trauma can take most, if not all, the victim’s energy and resources.
As a result, the trauma victim experiences reduced functioning, weariness, depression, and even suicide.
Avoidance, over time, can also spread to other areas of your life.
For example, if you have been assaulted, naturally you’ll be afraid of the man who assaulted you, but over time, you might also begin to fear all men, or all men with similar characteristics. This is what we call generalization.
Intellectually you know that not all people are the same and that other situations are not dangerous. Nevertheless, you feel afraid. They have become connected to the danger you experienced during the traumatic event.
In other words, the more you avoid, the more you confirm the idea that whatever you’re afraid of is a danger and should be avoided.
What do you think you need to do to overcome your fear?
You need to do the opposite of what you might feel like doing. That way, your brain will learn through experience that the particular situation is safe.
Dissociation is a learned behavior some neglected or abused children rely upon to “tune out” and cope with a threatening environment.
In adulthood, dissociation can become a well-maintained behavior through which you push the scary, painful, or confusing feelings. You might feel that it’s just too much to think about what happened.
Symptoms of dissociation exist on a continuum. It can be relatively mild, such as feeling foggy, numb, or cut off, having a hard time talking about experiences, or feeling constantly tired and having difficulty concentrating.
More intense symptoms might include feeling out of control or having lapses of memory.
To heal dissociation, you need to develop the capacity to differentiate between the past and the present and recognize that traumatic events happened to you and that they are over now.
Cultivating mindful awareness of the “here and now” is one way to bring your attention to the present moment and heal dissociation.
To do this, you need to adapt to adversity by recognizing injustice, unfairness, suffering, or evil as it exists in your life and the world.
Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, observed that those prisoners who were able to retain a sense of meaning could maintain hope and were most likely to survive the atrocities.
Practical Exercise – Cultivating Mindful Awareness Of The “Here And Now”
The following practice will help you mindfully bring your awareness to the present moment:
* Find a safe place and sit in a comfortable position
* Allow yourself to collapse. Allow your shoulders to go forward and your gaze downward.
* Take your time, and notice how you feel in your body. Notice what emotions or thoughts arise.
* Then, slowly, lengthen your spine back up. Lift your torso and your head until you are sitting tall. Lift your gaze to look straight ahead of you. Do you notice any openness or expansion? Notice what emotions or thoughts arise now.
* If you find it hard to stay upright and feel an impulse to collapse again, then repeat these steps a few more times until you feel that staying upright comes easily.
Related: Best 15 Inner Child Exercises: How To Connect With Your Inner Child (& Heal Your Childhood Wounds)
Pro Tip. Work With a Therapist
There is a lot that you can do to support your healing journey.
But healing your childhood trauma alone can be an overwhelming thing to do on your own, especially when the emotional turmoil has been repressed for a long time.
Consider working with a therapist to support you on your healing journey.
To find a mental health care provider near you, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or you can use online therapy.
Online therapy is much affordable than in-person therapy, but can be equally effective. (source)
I recommend Online-Therapy.com for affordable online therapy. (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link. You will get 20% off your first month using this link)
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book The Complex PTSD Workbook, © 2017 by Arielle Schwartz. All rights reserved.
- Trauma and shock (apa.org)
- Emotional and Psychological Trauma – HelpGuide.org
- What is trauma? Types, symptoms, and treatments (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Understanding the Impact of Trauma – Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Trauma | Psychology Today
- Treating PTSD: A Review of Evidence-Based Psychotherapy Interventions – PMC (nih.gov)
- Treatments for PTSD (apa.org)
- Unlocking PTSD: New study reveals why trauma-focused psychotherapy treatment works — ScienceDaily