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12 Steps to Recover From Traumatic Experiences

Updated on September 27, 2017
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Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.

Understanding Trauma and Its Effects

Trauma describes emotionally painful experiences and situations that are overwhelming. This could result from events that cause physical, emotional, and psychological distress or harm such as: fighting in wars, accidents, rape, assaults/attacks, crime, natural disasters, and witnessing traumatic events.

Common physical and emotional reactions to such distressing events include:

  • Shock or denial of events
  • Anxiety, fear, and panic
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Re-experiencing the trauma through nightmares and flashbacks
  • Loss of interest in previous activities
  • Change in appetite
  • Unpredictable emotions—easily angered or upset
  • Edginess or agitation
  • Withdrawing or isolating self
  • Headaches, stomach aches, nausea

While people deal with trauma in different ways, these twelve suggestions can help you take steps to reduce the negative impact of the trauma on your life. You can become a resilient survivor and move forward, as you put the traumatic events behind you.

What is Trauma?

Traumatic Experience Poll

Have you experienced significant trauma in your life? I experience trauma through ...

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1. Deal With the Emotional Pain

You might find the emotions resulting from the traumatic events overwhelming. It is important that you acknowledge these feelings, instead of trying to suppress your emotions, and the painful memories.

Take time to deal with the intense feelings you continue to experience. You might need to express emotions, such as sorrow or anger that you feel to someone who will give you the empathy and support you need.

Furthermore, if you experience persistent feelings of distress including symptoms of depression; feelings of hopelessness, or suicidal thoughts, it is critical that you seek professional help from a person who has experience in treating trauma.

Also, some experts explain that many trauma victims struggle with shame associated with their distressing experience. In the video below, Dr. Brené Brown, shame researcher, suggests that people who have experienced abuse and trauma reach out and tell their story. She points out that shame cannot survive when it's secrecy is removed and it is met with empathy.

Becoming a part of a support group beneficial as you connect with others with shared traumatic events. Involvement instills hope in your heart as you discover that you are not alone.

2. Talk About Your Experiences

You need to tell your story, but in telling your story, you decide what and how you want to tell it. Share your thoughts and feelings with people, for example, family members and friends, who care about you, and who will listen.

Sadness is one of the emotions that you could be experiencing, but take steps to return to your normal routine. When you talk about your experiences to empathic listeners, they won't mind when you describe what happened over and over. They understand that this is a part of your recovery process.

Surviving Interpersonal Trauma Part One

3. Promote a Support Network

Getting the support of others will help you cope. Don't isolate yourself, but make connections and develop friendships that are mutually beneficial. Healthy relationships should be the basis of your support, where you can receive the help and encouragement you need.

4. Be Patient With Yourself

Your recovery will take time, so you give your time to grieve and mourn your loss. When you move through the grieving process, recognize that the emotional reaction to loss varies. So don't compare yourself with others, give yourself time to adjust, and move to recovery.

Just like there's always time for pain, there's always time for healing.

— Jennifer Brown, Hate List

5. Re-establish Your Routine

After your traumatic experience, you are likely to find that you don't have the motivation you do many of the things that you enjoyed before. But take steps to keep your normal routine as much as possible.

These routines could serve to take your focus off the distressing experiences you had and assist you to move back into the flow of regular activities. Importantly, as you plan and complete meaningful activities each day, you experience more and more purpose in your life.

Start with activities that you enjoyed before the experience. While it might be difficult initially, with persistence, for example, continuing your daily walk, you could find that the enjoyment you once experienced returns.

6. Change Negative Self-Talk

Your thoughts affect the way you feel and act. When you experience traumatic events, common reactions to these events include intrusive thoughts and images.

These persistent could lead to you having a negative view of the world, as you experience problems trying to concentrate on activities that are important to your life. This means that you will need to take specific steps to replace self-defeating self-talk to more self-enhancing thinking.

You could, for example, find that you are telling yourself, "I will never be well again." You will need to challenge this thinking, and replace it something like, "While my life might not be the same as before my traumatic experience, I will adapt, grow, and thrive,"

Continue to challenge and replace self-defeating thinking that has no basis in reality. Then you will find that you feel better, your confidence improves, paving the way for you to bounce back from you distressing experiences.

7. Forgive the Perpetrator(s)

It could be that your traumatic experience was caused by the actions of others. You need to choose to forgive. This could take time for you to work through, but it is very important to let go of resentment and bitterness in order to move on.

It is essential to realize that forgiveness doesn't mean denying your feelings of sadness and anger, or condoning or excusing what happened. It is making a choice to let go and deciding that you will not allow the person to continue to victimize you.

When you forgive, you free yourself to recover and grow. In fact, research indicates that forgiveness leads to improved emotional and physical well-being.

“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”

— Oprah Winfrey

8. Keep a Journal

You could find journaling your thoughts and feelings beneficial in your process of recovery. Start writing about specific aspects of your experience as they come to you, then describe how you are feeling about these experiences.

Journaling your thoughts over a period of time could help you make sense of what you experienced. Insights on your trauma could assist you to move closer to the closure necessary to bounce back from your traumatic experiences.

Being positive does not mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative

— Unknown

9. Maintain Your Spiritual Grounding

Your spiritual well-being is an important part of your overall contentment and even happiness. As you experience the physical and emotional reactions that result from the traumatic events, reach out and draw strength from God, whose resources are far greater than what you possess.

Through your faith in God, you can find meaning and a new perspective on life after the traumatic events you experienced. You can keep your faith in difficult times, and experience God’s empowering goodness for your recovery.

Find the peace that comes through your faith and greater insights on your purpose, and receive inspiration to bounce back from your traumatic experiences.
Find the peace that comes through your faith and greater insights on your purpose, and receive inspiration to bounce back from your traumatic experiences. | Source

10. Practice Self-Care

Pay attention to your physical and emotional health, that is, see your self-care as a priority. Start establishing routines to take care of yourself. Eat balanced meals and be sure to include fruits and vegetables in your diet. Also, get adequate rest and sleep. You will find that sleep improves your concentration.

Keep physically active. This means engaging in physical activities even if you don't feel like doing so. Practice relaxation regularly, so that it becomes easy to do, and you can use it to help you manage your stress. Relaxation techniques can help you to cope with the tension and panic that come with the emotional reactions from the traumatic experience.

Listen to good soothing music to relax you, and ease any stress. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Even with your distressing experiences, there are still things you can be thankful for. Be open to learning new things, and continue to grow.

Relaxing Instrumental Music

Summary of the Trauma Recovery Process

Focus Words
Practical Steps
Expected Results
Emotions
Don't suppress your emotions, acknowledge them. You could need professional help.
This helps you to work through trauma.
Communication
Talk about your experience with people who will listen with empathy.
Helps in your recovery process.
Support
Get support from others.
Caring individuals can help you cope.
Routines
Re-establish your routines
Routine gives a sense of purpose and takes your mind off distressing situations.
Self-talk
Change negative self-talk
Positive self-talk improves your emotions.
Forgiveness
Forgive those cause you pain (where appropriate)
Forgiveness frees you to move forward
Well-being
Nurture your emotional and physical well-being.
You are more resilient when you practice self-care.
Faith
Promote your spirituality - spend time in prayer and meditation.
You can draw strength and courage from God's great resources.
Resilience
Use the tips in this hub to find ways to cope effectively.
Adjust to change, learn to adapt to changing realities.

11. Get Professional Help

You might need help from a qualified mental health professional, which could enable you to deal with the after-effects of the trauma you experienced. It is important that you get help if you are experiencing such symptoms as severe flashbacks, or if you are suffering from anxiety due to trauma.

A trained counselor could help you make sense of what happened to you and assist you to deal with the strong emotions you are experiencing. The treatment approach will depend on a number of factors including the type of trauma you experienced. One of the therapies used is cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) which could help you to change your thoughts and feelings about the trauma you experienced.

12. Bounce Back!

The resource, Reach in, Reach Out: Finding Your Resilience explains that having experienced traumatic events or other challenging situations, there are things that you cannot change. But you can adjust to these changes and move through tough times successfully.

While you may be still be affected by the trauma you experienced, you can recover from the setbacks by finding effective ways to cope. Practice building resilience by:

  • Finding purpose in life
  • Establishing your personal vision
  • Cultivating self-awareness; know your strengths, limitations, and needs, reach out for help
  • Practicing being flexible—then, it will be easier to adapt to changes in your life
  • Developing problem-solving skills

Find the resilience in you to move forward after your traumatic experiences.

Trauma Recovery Poll

What has been the most effective way of dealing with the trauma you experienced so far?

See results

References and Further Resources

Hendriks, A. Cohen, J. A. Mannarino, A. P. Deblinger, E. ( n.d.). Dealing with Trauma: A ATF-CBT Workbook for Teens. Accessed April 10, 2014.

Victims of Crime.org (2011). Reach in, Reach out: Finding Your Resilience. Retrieved April 10, 2014.

© 2014 Yvette Stupart PhD

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    • Purpose Embraced profile image
      Author

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks so much lambservant for your insightful comments. Thanks also for sharing your experiences with PTSD, and your testimony that you are bouncing back quickly from the triggers.

      God's resources are so much greater than ours, so your sharing how he is helping you to cope with PTSD is timely. Thanks for sharing.

      Blessings.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Excellent hub, Purpose. I suffer from PTSD and it's been a very long road. I remember my first therapist telling me my feelings wouldn't kill me. That was revolutionary to me. I am still learning that lesson, but I have come to a place of quality recovery. I am experiencing that word resiliency. I love the comment about shame cannot survive with empathy. I still have triggers, but I bounce back quickly.

      I could not find a single answer to your last poll. I guess I would have to say "All of the above." But really, I think when I let God back in and actually turning to Him my life got much better. Forgiveness was huge. If you don't forgive bitterness will destroy you. It nearly did me.

      Thanks you/

    • Purpose Embraced profile image
      Author

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks DDE. I'm happy you found the suggestions helpful.

      Denise, thanks for your insights. It is very important that people who experience traumatic events get the help they need.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Trauma has a profound effect though we may not realize it. Taking the time to think about what is happening to us can help us to pinpoint things that have affected our physical and emotional well-being. Just looking through the list of things made me stop and think, "Wait a minute, I have had trauma in my life." Thankfully, I was able to get the professional help needed to heal, and now can help others.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Helpful points to deal with such situations you made every point sound less dramatic.

    • Purpose Embraced profile image
      Author

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks MsDora. With all the traumatic events occurring globally, we all need a knowledge about trauma. This will help us to respond sensitively to those who experience trauma. Also, the knowledge could be helpful to us if traumatic events occur in our own lives.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      We ll need these very useful reminders on dealing with and recovering from trauma. They usually come unexpectedly and your article outline helps us to remember at least some things to do. We can always refer to the source as needed. Thank you very much. Voted Up!

    • Purpose Embraced profile image
      Author

      Yvette Stupart PhD 3 years ago from Jamaica

      Thanks FlourishAnyway. I'm happy you found it beneficial. People worldwide experience traumatic events through crime, natural disasters, accidents and so on, but they can recover.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This hub provides a real benefit. There are so many people who have faced trauma and bounced back from it over time.