Traumatic events can have a lasting impact on our mental and emotional well-being. The road to recovery might be long and challenging, but healing and moving forward are possible.
When we think of trauma and trauma recovery, our initial thoughts might go to veterans and first responders. Uniformed services are indeed particularly likely to encounter potentially damaging traumatic situations. However, sadly, trauma comes into every life, and we all need to guard against its harmful effects.
A traumatic event is an experience that is emotionally or physically distressing, such as physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, accident, or the sudden loss of a loved one. These events often result in feelings of intense fear, helplessness, and horror. The impact of trauma can be far-reaching and long-lasting, affecting your mental and physical health.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition. It can develop if you experience or witness a traumatic incident. People with PTSD often re-experience the trauma through nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts. They may feel emotionally numb or detached from others. Symptoms of PTSD include avoidance behaviors, such as staying away from people or places associated with the trauma, and increased anxiety or irritability.
Childhood trauma can profoundly impact your mental and physical health. Childhood experiences, like physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence, can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD and other mental health conditions. Childhood trauma can also result in physical health problems, like heart disease and chronic pain, and increase the risk of substance abuse and self-harm.
If you’ve been through or witnessed a traumatic event and are experiencing symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, nightmares, emotional numbness, or avoidance behaviors, it is vital to seek help. A mental health professional can diagnose PTSD and develop a treatment plan to help manage symptoms.
Traumatic incidents can profoundly impact the brain, causing brain structure and function changes. The brain's natural response to trauma is to release stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can cause physical and emotional symptoms.
Exposure to trauma can result in lasting changes to the brain that increase anxiety and decrease emotional regulation. According to National Library of Medicine reports, traumatic stress is associated with lasting changes to trauma survivors' amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Subsequently, stressful situations provoke increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses in an affected person.
Studies show smaller hippocampal and anterior cingulate volumes, increased amygdala function, and decreased medial prefrontal/anterior cingulate function in patients with PTSD.
The stages of recovery vary for each individual but typically include:
The Three Phase Trauma Framework is a well-endorsed approach to helping trauma survivors. The three stages are:
In the first stage, the goal is to re-establish your sense of safety and trust, which traumatic incidents can disrupt. A good relationship with the therapist is key in this stage, as well as working on approaches to stay within the "Window of Tolerance."
The "Window of Tolerance" concept in psychology refers to the range of negative emotions and arousal levels you can tolerate and regulate effectively. This "window" represents the optimal emotional and physiological arousal level for you to function effectively and maintain psychological stability.
When your arousal levels fall outside of this "window," you may experience distress, anxiety, or traumatic reactions or become dissociative or shut down. This "Window of Tolerance" varies from person to person and can be affected by trauma, stress, and other factors.
In the second stage, you share your story of trauma with the therapist, putting words and feelings on the memory. The goal is to begin to heal from the trauma and reconstruct negative beliefs about the world, yourself, and relationships.
Although it can awaken painful recollections, processing traumatic memories by identifying and naming the associated emotions is valuable in healing and recovering from trauma.
The final stage focuses on reintegrating you into your everyday life and relationships with a sense of empowerment and control.
During this stage, prioritizing self-care is vital. You develop new beliefs and life-affirming connections instead of old ideas shaken by the traumatic incident. This process helps to restore a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.
This recovery model, described in Mic Hunter's book "Abused Boys," was one of the first created for men trying to cope with traumatic sexual experiences from boyhood. Although based on men, Herman's stages also apply to women and can be used with all kinds of child abuse – emotional or physical.
These stages of trauma are very similar to the grief we experience upon losing someone close. When harmful childhood past experiences occur, people often feel like they lose a part of themselves - confidence, trust, masculinity/femininity, or enjoyment of life.
Herman breaks the recovery process from trauma into these five stages:
Denial is a defense mechanism used to protect against painful memories. It can manifest as blocking out memories either unconsciously or intentionally by suppressing them, which requires much mental effort. During this stage, most people are typically in a state of confusion. They have not fully processed the impact of their trauma.
In this stage, the individual acknowledges that something traumatic has occurred but tries to convince themselves that it hasn't affected them. Common coping mechanisms include using "yes but" statements and pretending to forgive.
During this stage, the person accepts that the trauma has impacted them and was harmful. Anger can be a valuable tool in overcoming trauma as it helps channel pent-up emotions and negative self-talk. This stage can start to bring a sense of relief and healing.
This stage is similar to the grief stage in Herman's trauma recovery model. It arises from the realization of an irretrievable loss. Reflecting on what was lost can bring on feelings of sadness and pain. However, it can also bring strength and compassion toward others who have experienced similar trauma.
People in this stage are frequently sensitive and may cry easily. Over time, this sadness transforms into healing and inner strength.
Acceptance is the final stage of the trauma response cycle. The individual can acknowledge what happened, no longer blames themselves, has a healthy sense of self, and positively copes with their emotions. The traumatic event becomes more like a scar than an open wound in their life story.
Walking the road to recovery can be a long and challenging journey. However, you can heal and recover from assault, accident, natural disaster, or other traumatic experiences. It is important to remember that everyone's experience with trauma and recovery is unique, and there is no set timeline for healing.
People with PTSD can benefit from various trauma-healing treatments, including therapy, medication, and support groups. CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy are known to be effective in treating PTSD.
A trauma-informed approach to healing recognizes trauma's impact on your mental and physical health. This approach focuses on creating a safe and supportive environment to process your experiences and heal from trauma.
It is a holistic and empathetic approach to treatment that builds upon your strengths and resilience and focuses on empowering you in your healing journey.
Memories of a traumatic incident can be challenging to manage and can interfere with daily life. Understanding that avoiding or suppressing unpleasant memories can prolong the healing journey is essential. Instead, it's best to acknowledge and confront the memories in a safe and controlled environment. This can be done through therapy or coping strategies of meaningful activities like mindfulness, journaling, and art therapy.
Because of trauma's significant impact on mental health, it can lead to conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. It's essential to seek professional help if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD or other mental health issues. A mental health professional can provide support, guidance, and treatment options to help you manage trauma symptoms and improve your mental health.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is designed to help you manage intense emotions and improve your overall well-being. DBT can help individuals who have experienced trauma develop healthy ways of managing memories and feelings related to the trauma. It can be an effective approach to recovery because it focuses on teaching coping skills and emotional regulation.
EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It is a therapeutic approach that can help you process and heal from traumatic events. EMDR therapy uses eye movements and other forms of stimulation to help you revisit traumatic memories in a safe and controlled environment. The goal of EMDR therapy is to help you process and integrate traumatic memories so that they no longer negatively impact your daily life.
The road to healing can be a journey of self-discovery. While trauma leaves a lasting impact, it can also lead to post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth refers to the positive changes and personal development that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event. This can include increased resilience, improved relationships, and a greater sense of purpose.
There are many other therapeutic approaches to healing from trauma, including individual therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and mindfulness-based therapy. Each individual's healing process is unique, and finding the best approach for you is important. You may benefit from a combination of therapies or from integrating other holistic practices, like yoga and meditation, in your healing journey.
Our experienced trauma recovery team includes Master's level therapists that will work one-to-one with you. We understand the sensitive nature of traumatic experiences, so our approach is personal and private.
In our scenic and supportive environment, you can come to terms with your trauma and find relief from deeply rooted painful memories.
To discover more about Cirque Lodge's professional, compassionate, and healing environment, contact us today, and set out on your path to wellness.