Integrating Trauma

It’s not uncommon to experience a traumatic event early on in life only to suppress it for years and years before confronting it. Memories could have been numbed out with self-destructive coping mechanisms like using drugs and alcohol, eating disorder behaviors, self harming, and more to prevent you from experiencing the full extent of the emotional response. When you start to deal with the trauma head on, it can cause some unsettling physical and emotional responses. Feeling apprehensive about bringing up the experience is normal, you can start to have vivid flashbacks, heightened anxiety, nightmares, and periods of dissociation, but you can also feel relief. Working through trauma isn’t an easy process, but not addressing it can worsen your mental health and have a negative impact on your physical health too.

Re-experiencing the trauma can be overwhelming, not just emotionally, but physically too. The nervous system remembers how you felt at the time of the traumatic experience and that feeling can remain stuck in your body until you release it through: acknowledging the feelings, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, and intentional movement, just to name a few. Some people who have experienced trauma, especially complex trauma, find verbalizing their experience to be emotionally distressing, making somatic therapies extremely beneficial for processing. 

When you start to work with a therapist and uncover trauma memories, a lot of uncomfortable feelings, emotions, and memories can surface. Know that it might feel worse before it feels better when you start the conversation and open up about your experience. Before you dive into the trauma, you and your therapist will work together to establish safety within your own body. Initially, you might feel spacey, have a hard time focusing, dissociate, and experience heightened anxiety.

Along with seeking therapy from a trauma-informed therapist to help you process and integrate the trauma, you can:

  • use safe coping skills
  • let your close friends and family know you need extra support and love
  • release expectations and give yourself time to process
  • remember that it’s okay to let the feelings and emotions come up
  • utilize supportive distractions

Some helpful coping skills and distractions you can use include:

  • journaling – putting pen to paper can help you find clarity in your thoughts and feelings
  • gentle movement – practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditative walks are a great way to move energy through your body
  • spending time in nature can help you feel more grounded
  • breathwork is another tools that help to move energy in the body
  • meditation gives you space to access stillness and practice nonattachment to your thoughts
  • allow yourself time to watch your favorite show or movie
  • making a comforting and nourishing meal for yourself
  • planning an evening of your favorite relaxing activities to do alone or with a friend

Integrating is being able to acknowledge the past while remaining centered in the present. This allows you to gain the necessary resiliency to endure any pain that comes from the past. You might move in and out of periods where trauma symptoms are heightened and more prevalent, but that doesn’t mean you’re not progressing forward. A trauma therapist will be an invaluable resource to you on the journey to recovery and will offer support and compassion during the process.