We’ve come a long way since therapists prescribed to their patients to punch their pillows when angry as a cathartic way to release negative emotions. While it helped bring up the emotion, they left out a critical piece in recovery: connecting that emotion to the logical side of our brains. What the person felt was not relief but disassociation.
What we know today in neuroscience and psychotherapy research is that when a traumatic event occurs, the brain goes into dysregulation. That is, the body and the mind become disconnected. Our survival or emotional part of our brain kicks in and calls the shots while our logical or thinking part goes silent. It’s an acute physical reality just like when someone might get their shoulder disconnected in a sporting or work-related accident.
Stuck in Trauma Time
The person who experienced trauma is said to be stuck in “trauma time” and may also be emotionally reactionary when something triggers them, which is called a “trauma response.” When a person continues to feel trauma, the brain stays in a disassociated state until they are able to re-integrate the two parts of the brain again.
Sometimes, this state can be years… as with chronic stress or continually being in unsafe situations including financial insecurity and domestic abuse or neglect.
When a person is finally safe, physically speaking, the work of re-integration can take place. Very often, a person still feels unsafe when they are physically safe because their somatic experience is still in the trauma state even though they cognitively understand they are, in fact, safe.
This situation is why it’s difficult for people with trauma to even seek help. They are still reacting to the trauma as a habit of protection. Someone needs to guide them to a place of safety and recovery. People who have experienced trauma are in state of shock, have incurred PTSD, and have emotional dysregulation.
Trauma recovery work can be done with a trained therapist or a safe friend who co-regulates and calms the person who is experiencing trauma to get them back to a re-integrated state of wellness.
The two methods that have proven remarkably successful are cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness awareness.
There is a huge difference between feeling emotions and processing through them for recovery. There is no benefit to re-telling a trauma story to feel the pain, misery or self-pity, or to make oneself a perpetual victim. This practice will never set a person free.
Choosing a Victorious Narrative
The critical step is to feel the emotion they had at the “trauma time” and then to choose a victorious narrative where they are strong and resilient despite the trauma that occurred. They can say something like “I feel hurt, despair, fear, betrayal, sadness, anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, shame, etc. (bringing as many emotions out from the time of the trauma that can be uncovered) and I now choose to feel resilience, strength, power, physical safety, love, protection… because I overcame the abuse, neglect, etc.”
This will decrease feelings of helplessness and increase feelings of resilience.
By doing this, the person will be using logical thinking (CBT) and mindful awareness in their new narrative and it will bring the emotional connection to the trauma down and bring the thinking part of your brain up so they re-connect.
They will be able to remember the event but have now written a narrative where they are the victor not the victim. Despite the things that happened to them, they are now safe and protected because they are choosing to find safety and protection within themselves and with choosing safe people around them.
They are the creator of their story. They are re-wiring their brain, creating new perceptions, and releasing themselves from the trauma.
It also helps greatly to have on-going tangible experiences that confirm one’s physical, emotional, and mental strength, whether as an individual pursuit or in a group.
Yoga is one of the best examples since it not only calms down the brain stem, it helps train a person to live in the present and with the changing of positions, it teaches that nothing is permanent.