What do I do about my trauma?- Common Mistakes People Make

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC

If you are struggling with trauma and its difficult impact on your life, you likely have one question: “What can I do to about it?”  Left with the long-term consequences, most individuals want to regain some sense of normalcy.  Trauma, at its core, steals something precious, most of us falsely believe we possess- Control.  Our attempts to regain a sense of mastery over our lives vary.  Some common mistakes people make in trying to cope with their trauma include:

1- “What happened is in the past and there is nothing I can do about it.”  Logically, it makes sense.  After all, time machines haven’t been invented yet.  A person cannot go back and prevent what happened from ever taking place.  However, this is an articulate, seemingly responsible way of avoiding.  In other words, by surrendering what has occurred, the individual hopes to regain control.  The problem is that wounds do not heal simply by our acknowledging they are there.  Think of a person who has been stabbed in the chest.  Standing there bleeding, they tell you they know they have been stabbed and accept it.  You are concerned for their well-being, but they calmly tell you the stabbing occurred in the past, so there is really nothing that can or needs to be done.  They are quite well, ready to move on with their life, while you try to get them to go to the hospital.

favicon 2- “Telling my story over and over again will heal my wound.”  Borrowing from a work-out mentality, completing a particular activity over and over again leaves the person stronger and feeling healthier.  Additionally, isn’t sharing with others recommended?  When sharing, the opportunity to help them with their own hurts might occur.  It appears to be a kind of “win-win.”  Within this strategy, two problems arise, desensitization and avoidance.  The first is simply desensitization.  In other words, as a person tells and retells their trauma, they become less connected to their own emotions and mistake this for healing.  Using the previous example of the person who has been stabbed, they are open to talking about their wound and even telling about how it occurred.  Their talking about it leaves others confused, as the person is communicating, which seems healthy.  On the other hand, they still have a bleeding wound which has not healed.  What’s more, the person talks about the wound, which looks very painful, as if they don’t even feel it anymore.  Again, if the wound was healed, that would make sense, but it hasn’t.  The second issue is a kind of avoidance via helping others.  The stab victim decides, rather than getting help for their wound, to go work at a hospital treating other people with stab wounds.  They are able get close to treatment, empathize with others’ pain, while not fully dealing with their own.

3- “I know about what happened to me and how I should feel about it.  I will simply reason with my emotions until they come in line with this correct thinking.”  Like a parent reasoning with an overwhelmed, emotional child, we seek to calm the wounded part of ourselves.  Using logic, the hope is a feeling of control will be restored.  Using the prior example of a stab wound, the individual seeks to explain to themselves and others that the injury should no longer hurt.  Again, its a very confusing behavior, given the person has a serious injury, the “logical” result of which is actually significant pain.

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