Trauma can be caused by a range of events and can be as great or small depending on the person experiencing it. Historically when we think of trauma, we think of large events that cause a major effect such as war, natural disasters, accidents, health complications, abuse, violence, and more.
Before we go into how to cope with trauma, we first need to redefine trauma because there are several different forms of trauma that one can experience and its unfair to only say that major events like the ones listed above are the only things that can cause trauma.
We are embodied creatures
which is why trauma, stress, and live events physically and emotionally impact us.
What is Trauma?
By definition trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience or a physical injury.
While the above is true it’s also also important to recognize that trauma that is small or minor such as falling off a bike, being forgotten about when friends are hanging out together, bad feedback from work or family members, etc. can also create an uncomfortable or disturbing effect on someone.
According to Robert Stolorow, trauma is “an unbearable affect that lacks relational home.”
I love that definition because it places absolutely ZERO judgement on whether or not the trauma or pain one experiences is greater than or less than the traditional definitions. It also points out that trauma is merely an unbearable emotional experience. Secondly, trauma lacks a relational home meaning these traumatic states have no where to be shared or attached to.
In addition to that there are also 2 common forms of trauma.
Simple Trauma - one time sitaution
Complex Trauma - trauma that happens over a period of time or one that compounds in a relative way
The past 48 hours is not one I expected or planned for going into this week. While a loved one was genuinely and kindly offering their time and energy to help me brainstorm on ways to scale my business, I was triggered. It’s happened a few times before, but this time instead of pushing aside the trigger I wanted to explore it.
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“There's something about kindred spirits, you meet them and for a moment this world no matter ugly, makes sense. They bring a sense of freedom and clarity to one conversation; just enough to remind you of who you are.” -Nikki Rowe ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Currently refurbishing my soul. BRB 😘 Yesterday I uncovered a bit of trauma that I hadn’t processed in my life. It was a beautiful discovery, but also one that has left me feeling raw and open. My first instinct is to shut down, shut off, and completely turn away from the people and things that breathe life into my soul. But I know now from experience that this isn’t the best for me nor is it what I want. But being open to receiving love can be hard especially when you’ve told yourself stories of guilt or worse stories that you don’t deserve love for years. Learning to rewrite our stories is difficult. The work is hard. But it takes courage and vulnerability to do so.#womaninprogress
The most common coping strategy is avoidance. It’s perfectly natural to want to avoid the memories, people, places, and situations that are associated with traumatic events or even the idea of exploring it. The problem with avoidance is it can keep you “stuck” in the trauma.
In order to cope effectively with the trauma it needs to be understood and processed. Processing trauma is definitely incredible to have a trusted therapist or life coach ‘s guidance, but you can also try a little self-guided approach if that’s unavailable to you. Here’s some of my coping strategies.
Tips on Coping With The Effects of Trauma
Creating a safe space. When working with my clients around addressing conflict with their partner, peer at work, employer, or loved ones I always ask What does a safe space to explore this situation look like? When self-exploring trauma you want to create create a safe space. This can be a physical location that is real to you or an imaginary one. If you’re creating a physical space fill it with things that bring on a sense of comfort. I love to be by or at somewhere warm. Water needs to be close to me, both to drink and to wash my face off if I start to feel anxious, and I need some sort of fire or candle. Now that I think about it I love both my astrological elements to surround me when I embark on a little self-exploration.
Name the state you’re in. Naming the state you’re in is a great way to identify and effectively communicate to yourself or others how you might be behaving due to the effects you’re experiencing. It’s also a great way to isolate your behavior to the situation in the present moment so you can have some self-compassion for how you are processing through this experience.
Use grounding strategies. This can be anything that works for you such as breathing, visualization techniques, meditation, CBD , essential oils, yoga, etc. Activities where you can focus on your five senses when can be encouraging to stay in the moment. This can also help aid any anxiety this may cause.
Seek support from your secure relationships. Having a trusted relationship is extremely helpful to feel safe. This could be your partners, parents, friends, therapist or other mental/emotional health professional. Historically, my relationship with Jon wasn’t one I could lean on for this, but we’ve worked really hard since to be able to lean into each other in times of stress.
Create some boundaries, but be flexible! Creating boundaries around potential triggers and people who create additional stress is essential both in every day life and especially when going through an intense emotional period. During this time I typically shut down any additional conversations with people outside of my support system, go offline on social media, and let our kids gently know that money is busy doing some internal refurbishing.
Exercise or movement. As unproductive as this sounds exercise can be really encouraging to shift the effects of trauma or anxiousness. I view anxiety as energy trapped in the body. Just like trauma, it has no relational home.
Related Post: How to Deal with an Anxiety Attack
Ask for space to be held and take it up! This might be a challenge for someone who doesn’t like to ask for help (ahem, moi!) but it’s a vital thing to ask for especially from your secure relationships or support system. During the first 24 hours of this most recent experience I really leaned into Jonathan. That wasn’t easy for me because I often see myself as the strong one, but it gave him an opportunity to grow and practice his newly developed communication skills with me and he did an incredible job. He’s one of the main reasons I recovered so quickly so that I could write about it today!
Ask for space to be given. Holding space and giving space are two different things. Giving someone space is exactly what it sounds while holding space is actively being present to give the other person permission to be seen and heard. Both can be done without judgement or criticism. This is similar to creating boundaries, but if you’re with someone during this process you may need them to pause engaging with you.
Give yourself a double dose of self-compassion. When in an escalated emotional state you may respond in ways that you’re not too happy with or proud of. Recognize that this is a moment in time that you are experiencing and that this moment will pass. Remind yourself that the way you respond is understandable given the circumstance. We all respond differently and it might not be the same way you responded before.
Double dip in acceptance. Our worlds constantly move even when we are in a complete stop. There were probably things or tasks that were “too hard” to accomplish during that time, and let that be OK. Accepting that your external world is a bit messy while you’re inner world is under construction is perfectly respectable. In fact its praiseworthy!
Journal, scribe, or write. Journaling was my life saver, literally, when I was in high school and still is today. Writing down your thoughts or describing your emotions on paper can be so useful in coping with trauma. This also helps you to slow down your thoughts because you are having to jot them down.
My hope for you is to not have to deal with the effects of your trauma after you’ve processed through it, but sometimes that’s not the case. Maybe for some of us we processed the trauma the first time through different emotions, but suppressed others to try to gradually diminish the pain. But if you’ve ever watched Inside Out by Pixar, then you’ll know you can’t have joy without sadness. Most importantly, you can’t move past the pain of the trauma without experiencing and expressing all the emotions that might be trapped with that trauma. Make a list of steps to try for future use. The effects of trauma can leave imprints in the body. After all we are embodied creatures which is why trauma, stress, and live events physically and emotionally impact us.