How I Use `Expansion’ to Find the Right Path After Trauma

For those who experience trauma in the pre-verbal stage of childhood, life seems more challenging than for those who have not. As such a child, I carried the longings and hopes natural to all children, yet I was instinctively cautious and I lived with a sense that “something terrible is going to happen.”

Each of us has our own unique story about how this situation played out. The particulars of my story are not relevant, for every one has their own story. What is potentially of interest to others is what I have learned about the journey.

Trauma is Cumulative – Early Trauma Magnifies Later Trauma

I experienced more than a one-time big “earthquake.” There were aftershocks from that early trauma, followed by other “earthquakes” from other causes, some with their own aftershocks. The trauma was cumulative – each earthquake made me more vulnerable to later ones, and thus more likely to experience things that, for others, might have been small earthquakes as large ones.

A Long Quest for Help

I went to therapy for many years. I’ve spent more years in therapy as a client than as a therapist! I tried many kinds of therapies and healing techniques. Some were pretty mainstream, some far on the extreme. I was so tired of feeling bad that I was willing to try almost anything that promised hope of feeling better. The things I have learned and needed to unlearn could fill books!

Establishing Realistic Expectations Helps

With maturity, I saw I was not helping myself by seeking a “happily ever after” fairytale kind of better. A fairytale life is rare for anyone even in the best of circumstances. With the amount of distress and pain I carried for so many years, it was impossible. Eventually I began asking about the happy picture-perfect moment I was seeking – what happens after the movie ends, a day, a year, a decade later, when the painful realities of all living beings muddy the picture? My goal shifted from an endless quest for a perfect picture to living as richly and meaningfully as I could with the realities I had. This process did not happen overnight.

Getting Beyond All the Helpers

But even with this rather modest goal, I still found it difficult to find the path right for me. There are so many helpers and strategies for healing out there, all pretty confident they are the right path. It took me a long time to figure out how to choose a path.

 Recognizing an Approach That Doesn’t Work

I had several sessions at one point with a body-oriented kind of healer. I think her heart and intentions were in the right place, but I see now that she did not have adequate theory or skills to work with someone like me. She led me in guided visualizations and meditation that took me back in a powerful way to frightening feelings and sensations.

The first few seconds of these techniques were always good, as I relaxed and got connected to my inner self. But after that I felt like I had been thrown into deep and “dangerous water in which I could not swim.”

I came out of those sessions feeling exhausted and shaken to my core, with no resources to cope with what I had just experienced. I had an inner sense of contraction, a feeling that my connection to hope and life had been squeezed even smaller than before.

Worst of all, I came out of these sessions feeling that this big dark emptiness inside would never go away, no matter how many times I tried to “breathe in light, breathe out negativity.” So when I went home, on top of the pain I carried into those sessions, I carried new weight, a sense of inadequacy for not being successful in what I was guided to do and hopelessness about anything ever getting better.

How I Use `Expansion’ to Find the Right Path After Trauma

Odelya Gertel Kraybill, Ph.D.

Dr. Odelya Gertel Kraybill was born and raised in Israel. Her personal journey as a trauma survivor has led her to become a trauma specialist and therapist. She was a Fulbright scholar and focused on trauma studies in three graduate studies programs in the U.S. Odelya has lived in and worked with trauma survivors in Israel, Lesotho, Philippines and the U.S. She is a graduate adjunct faculty member at the George Washington University art therapy program and is widely recognized as a blogger on stress and trauma integration at Visit her on Facebook.


APA Reference
Gertel Kraybill, O. (2015). How I Use `Expansion’ to Find the Right Path After Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 5 Aug 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Aug 2015
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