Healing from trauma is a journey, but one well worth taking. This list of signs that you are healing from trauma will help you see that you are on the right track.
Recovering From Trauma
Life is not a smooth ride. There are magical days that make our lives brighter and torturous days that change our lives for good.
We all experience trauma in one form or another. These are the events in our lives that have such an impact that we are somehow changed going forward.
If you have a history of trauma or have experienced one recently, you’ve likely been told to go to therapy, get some good rest, and work on yourself. But what will it look like after you’ve begun healing? You’ve been working for a long time, so is anything changing?
You may be looking for the day where you are once again your old self, but it’s important not to make that the measurement of success. There are other factors to look for in order to see if you are healing from trauma.
What Is The Definition Of Trauma?
Everyone is familiar with the word “trauma,” but it is important to have a clear definition beyond the word.
Trauma is defined as “the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences.”
Whether one has experienced physical harm, an immense sense of fear, or severe emotional pain, it can be recognized as trauma. And while we all have a subjective emotional experience of the event that we were involved in, objectively it will impact your daily life in unexpected ways.
Large ‘T’ Trauma Vs. Small ‘t’ Trauma
There are two types of trauma – large ‘T’ trauma and small ‘t’ trauma (or little ‘t’ trauma and big ‘T’ trauma) that cover a variety of experiences.
Large ‘T’ trauma includes all of the large traumatic experiences that you may generally associate with the word trauma. This would include things like war, a serious car accident, sexual abuse or physical abuse, the sudden death of a loved one, or natural disasters. These are situations that have a serious impact on your physical body and/or emotional health.
Small ‘t’ trauma would describe a traumatic situation in which you aren’t dealing with life-threatening moments, but the amount of stress involved may be more than you are capable of dealing with at the time that you are going through it. A distressing event that leaves a lasting impact. This would include things like divorce, the loss of a pet, extremely embarrassing childhood experiences, and bullying.
What Are The Symptoms Of Trauma?
Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience is familiar with the negative emotions involved, but there are other trauma symptoms that you may not be familiar with. Emotional reactions and physical symptoms include:
- increased depression or anxiety
- anger or mood swings
- feeling disconnected or withdrawn
- feelings of guilt or shame
- denial and confusion
- increase or decrease in eating
- muscle tension
- general aches and pains
- brain and body fatigue
- insomnia or nightmares
While some people may experience significant effects from their trauma, your individual experience may be different. Whether you recognize a few of the signs in yourself or none at all, your past experiences matter and are valid. This list is a guideline for what one may experience, not what one must experience to validate your own truth.
Can Anyone Work Through The Effects Of Trauma?
Absolutely. It is never too late to start a healing journey. Whether you are looking to improve your mental health because of past trauma or seeking to understand unresolved trauma and how it may still be affecting your decisions, everyone has the ability to heal. You may not have the tools, but you do have the potential.
Managing psychological trauma very often requires the assistance of a professional. While journaling, meditation, yoga, a healthy diet, and fresh air are all excellent to create a sense of emotional balance, learning the tools to manage post-traumatic stress disorder or coping mechanisms for when your nervous system seems to have a mind of its own (sudden panic, intrusive thoughts, heightened anxiety, etc.) will likely require professional help.
Each traumatic event creates emotional wounds, but different people will have different ways of working through the healing process. Finding a trauma therapist and/or a support group to give you ideas and a sense of safety may be crucial to placing you on the right track.
Signs You’re Healing From Trauma
Once you begin your emotional healing, you may be looking for clues as to whether the recovery process is working. We all want validation that the hard work we are putting in is yielding results, so here are some signs to look for to tell you to continue what you’re doing.
1. You Are No Longer In Denial
The first stage of grief is denial. This is where one has trouble recognizing what may have happened, how it has impacted them, and are unable to fully digest it. Denial, in other words, is running away from reality – even if it’s for self preservation – and not accepting things as they are.
Once you begin to move out of this stage and find yourself healing from trauma, you can see more clearly. The fog begins to lift and you can say that what happened actually happened.
This step is a sign that there has been some growth and that the period of time where you experienced the bad things can be brought out into the open. This doesn’t mean you have to discuss it with friends or family members, but it means that you see more than you’d been able to see before.
2. You Are No Longer Suppressing Your Feelings
We all have feelings about the things that have happened to us, but a common reaction to trauma is to not allow oneself to feel. We suppress any emotional response that might be trying to come out to keep ourselves in our perceived safest space.
A great way to see that you’re moving into your trauma recovery is to recognize that you are being more emotional. Laughing and crying with a trusted friend, feeling your feelings during cognitive-behavioral therapy, or exhibiting emotions during a movie are all indicators that you may be developing a new sense of security. You are no longer afraid to feel something and find your vulnerability.
3. You Allow Others To Help You
Whether you have suffered emotional trauma or something that affected your physical health, it is a natural response to push people away. You don’t want help with anything and you get irritated if someone is trying to offer support or comfort. Sometimes this leads to acting out or diving into old habits that may have been a detriment to your life.
As you begin to work through your emotional distress, you may find that you are letting other people assist in ways that you didn’t before. This doesn’t mean they are enabling your bad behavior, but with healthy boundaries, you are allowing people to enter different areas of life.
Maybe you are letting someone do your laundry while you manage the physical pain from therapy or they pump fuel at the gas tank because you have a hard time getting in and out. The human body can only take so much and allowing others to do some little things to help means that you no longer feel you have to fight every battle alone.
4. You Are Finding Ways To Move On
When you are managing childhood trauma or trauma you experienced during your adult life, there is a sense of fight or flight that is always inside of you. There is a tiny sensation that if you have another negative experience (regardless of what it is), you can and will escape.
Needing to escape and moving on are two different things. That sense of escape is something you experience when you are not confronting your feelings. When you’re trying to keep them buried.
Moving on begins when you find more feelings of safety. When you can breathe better and aren’t always listening to that niggling feeling that is telling you to bust out of a situation.
This might include doing things that you used to do or trying brand new things. Maybe you always wanted to go rock climbing and so you’ve looked into how to make that happen. Perhaps the idea of trying a dating app no longer completely freaks you out. Maybe you are finally able to go and visit someone’s gravesite.
Moving on means not staying locked in the grief and fear of the unhealed trauma any longer, so you feel a little bit different than you’d been feeling before. And this feeling will continue as you grow.
5. You Start Taking Care Of Yourself
Oftentimes, when you’ve recently experienced major trauma, you stop taking care of your physical needs. Bathing becomes an as-needed event, brushing your hair isn’t something that happens, and wearing anything other than pajamas is inconceivable.
The best way to see that you are healing from a recent trauma is when you find yourself wanting to take care of your basic needs. You aren’t just doing it because other human beings are insisting. You are doing it because the drive to value yourself – that had completely diminished – begins to return, slowly but surely.
For different types of trauma, taking care of oneself can mean different things. If you suffered a sexual assault, you may begin to be drawn to martial arts or self defense classes. If you are managing panic attacks in relation to sudden painful memories, perhaps you are more able to ground yourself than ever before. The most important thing is to acknowledge your progress, regardless of how small the step.
6. You Are Taking Three Steps Forward And One Step Back
Healing is not a success only journey. You may be going along with your day, engaging in social activities, and meeting with friends when suddenly you experience chest pains and a huge pang of anxiety.
Everyone will have their own personal experience with moving through their trauma recovery, but it is completely normal to feel like you’re having some great days only to be hit by a bad one.
The important thing is to keep moving forward. Engage with people on social media if doing so in person isn’t possible for a few days. Spend a day or two just taking care of yourself if need be. If you feel like a diagnosable mental illness is something you are struggling with, meet with a mental health professional to see how they can help.
Taking a few steps forward and one step back doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing things correctly. It means that you are.
7. You Will Talk About Your Experience
Talking may be easy, but talking about your trauma can be extremely difficult. You have to be ready before you speak out and it should be up to you to do it in your own time.
That said, when the time is right, trauma victims ultimately feel relief when finally discussing their pain and victimization. Whether you’ve suffered emotional abuse, sexual abuse, or another negative experience, telling your story takes some of the power away from it and the abuser.
When you carry something that you’ve hidden or repressed for self-preservation, it can be helpful for a while. But eventually, letting these things out, while incredibly difficult, is incredibly healing.
The more you talk about your trauma, the easier it will get and the more powerful you will feel. The first time is always the hardest.
8. It Feels Easier To Let Go Of Things
Sometimes things are not just things. They are memories of times, experiences, and loved ones that you don’t want to let go of. You hold the items close because if you don’t have them, it feels as if you’re experiencing a great loss all over again.
The good news is that this will get easier. Taking baby steps towards living in the present moment, you will start to recognize that keeping four suits isn’t necessary; maybe you can part with three. You may find that old repaired object that you don’t need to have any longer just for the memory. And the dishes that got broken during that argument? It is time to get a brand new set.
What once seemed impossible will slowly settle into a new normal. Life does not go back to what it once was, but the pain will dull and you will find yourself moving forward in a new space.
9. You Are Developing Healthy Relationships
As one develops their emotional intelligence and can manage their stress, communication skills, and anxiety more readily, relationships get easier. It will no longer feel like you need to fight to win every disagreement or one-up a conversation.
You will be able to work towards healthier boundaries with current loved ones and you may slowly be able to invite new people into your circle of trust.
There may be some mistakes or missteps with these new relationships, but you may be able to see the issues more readily. Make your apologies – or ask for an apology – and move on. It is always good to take accountability when it is yours to take and then do better next time.
Healing from trauma is a process that can take weeks, months, or years, but don’t let that deter you. It is always the right time to begin working on improving your life and your mental health. Because if you don’t start today, it means you’re putting it off even longer.
You are important and you are worth the effort. And before long, you’ll start seeing differences in ways that you never expected.