Even though it’s only five letters, trauma is a very big word. That’s because there are many different types of trauma that you can experience and the effects of trauma can last a lifetime. Trauma is something that can occur regardless of your gender, age, race, ethnicity, or social status, and healing from trauma isn’t the same from person to person.
In other words, if you are reading this, it’s possible that you have experienced some type of trauma in your life. Healing from trauma is a complicated process, but the first step in healing is recognizing that you need help.
Many trauma survivors are unaware that they have experienced a traumatic event. This is because as humans, we have a tendency to downplay the hard things that happen to us. It’s also because dysfunctional family systems are set up to downplay and normalize bad behavior, which leads to people in those families being unaware of how damaging some of the things that happen are.
You may need to heal from trauma if something has happened to you and you just can’t stop thinking about it, or if you are having nightmares about an event that you try not to think about. You also may need to heal from trauma if you consistently have challenging relationships, whether they be romantic, family, friendships, or work relationships.
If you have experienced any type of trauma, it is likely to affect all areas of your life, including your close relationships. Fortunately, therapy for trauma is very effective, and can help you uncover light in an otherwise dark situation.
Keep reading to learn more about what trauma is, the stages of healing from trauma and how online therapy for trauma can help.
Healing from Trauma: Understanding What Trauma Is
Before we talk more about how to heal from trauma, let’s take a look at what trauma really is.
Trauma is defined as a person’s response to an incredibly stressful event. The stressful event could be life threatening, or the person could simply feel that his or her safety was at risk. The actual severity of the event is less important than how the person experienced it.
When trauma happens in childhood, it can affect you even more severely because it happens while you are developing your sense of self. This means that your ability to keep yourself safe isn’t fully developed yet, which can make healing from childhood trauma that much more complicated.
Big “T” Trauma vs Little “t” Trauma
When it comes to trauma, there are two main types: big “T” trauma and little “t” trauma.
For many of us, it’s the big “T” trauma that we think of when we think about trauma in the first place. Some examples of events that can cause big T trauma include rape, accidents, natural disasters, and unexpected losses.
But while big “T” trauma may get more attention, it’s little “t” trauma that is actually the most common. Little “t” traumas are often just as impactful as big “T” traumas and can be especially difficult to manage in relationships. Emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, racism, homophobia and bullying are all examples of little “t” trauma.
Many people who have experienced these may not realize just how much their past traumas are impacting them. It may seem like nothing “bad enough” happened to impact their lives or relationships in adulthood. But when little “t” traumas happen repeatedly throughout childhood, they can lead to Complex PTSD.
Types Of Trauma
There are three major types of trauma that psychologists study:
- Acute Trauma – Occurs after a single event
- Chronic Trauma – Is repeated and prolonged (think domestic violence)
- Complex Trauma – Exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events
Although all types of trauma can affect relationships, childhood trauma, which is often chronic or complex, tends to get played out in the conflicts that you and your partner experience. Let’s look a little closer at how childhood trauma affects your relationship with your partner, and how you can heal from it.
How Trauma Affects Relationships
The hardships you experience as a child can impact almost every facet of your adult life, from the way you feel and behave in relationships to the way you manage your finances, choose to take risks (or avoid them) and the way you interact with your children.
Let’s say you were abandoned or neglected by one or both of your parents when you were a child. This could lead you to feel worthless and unlovable because kids tend to blame themselves for the mistakes that their parents make. Now, let’s fast forward 20-30 years, and say that you are married to a man who has to travel for work.
Every time your partner is getting ready to leave for another trip, you find yourself starting an argument with him, but you can’t figure out why. You don’t even realize you are doing it until after he’s left and you just feel awful.
What could be going on here?
Basically, your childhood trauma is affecting your current relationship. You were left when you were a child, and when your husband leaves, your old feelings of abandonment become activated. Although this is very unpleasant to experience, it’s actually happening to give you a chance to heal from your childhood trauma.
You see, your unconscious mind really wants you to heal from what happened to you as a child. That’s why it is bringing up these feelings; to give you a chance to correct what happened to you when you were little.
Healing From Trauma And Relationship Conflict
Healing from trauma and relationship conflict is messy because most of the conflicts that you are having with your partner aren’t really about what they seem to be about. You think that you are fighting about who forgot to start the dishwasher, but that’s actually code for “You don’t care about me.” This is where working with a qualified relationship trauma therapist can be really helpful, because we can help you decipher what’s truly going on.
Stages of Healing from Trauma
So, how do you know that you are healing from trauma? What might healing from trauma actually look like?
As you might have expected, healing from trauma happens in stages, and like any healing process these stages are not necessarily in order. In fact, you might even skip some of the stages entirely.
Sometimes you can think that you have worked through a particular stage of healing, only to find that an anniversary or other triggering event brings you back to where you were before. I like to tell my clients that healing isn’t a straight line, but instead it’s more like a sphere. You may feel like you are going around in circles, but you are actually still making progress.
The stages of healing from trauma are very similar to the stages of healing from grief. These stages include:
Immediately after a trauma occurs, your mind and your body go into shock. You lose your sense of feeling, and you feel numb to what has occurred. If someone were to ask you about your traumatic experience, you would not be able to describe how you felt about it. You might say it was no big deal or just be unable to connect to the feelings associated with it.
Once feeling returns to your body and your mind, the first thing that you will probably feel about what happened to you is anger. Anger is one of the easiest emotions for us to feel because it doesn’t make us feel as vulnerable as other emotions, like sadness or hurt.
During the anger phase, you want to lash out and you might have a hard time controlling your impulses. You might have fights with friends, family and partners during this time and feel irritable for no reason. Many people resort to drugs, food, sex, or other numbing activities during this phase but this only delays your healing.
During the bargaining phase of healing from trauma, you try to find a way out of the recovery process. Sometimes, this involves promising God that you will (insert perfect behavior here) if he will just make the pain go away.
Other times, bargaining can be closely related to guilt, in that you might start finding ways to blame yourself for what happened. “If only I had done my homework, my father wouldn’t have left.” Either way, bargaining is a way to stall feeling your very painful feelings about your trauma.
Once you have progressed past anger and bargaining, you will likely feel sadness or depression. During this phase, you might find it hard to get out of bed, or take care of your basic needs. Friends and family might express concern for you at this time, because unlike in the anger phase, you may isolate yourself from others.
During the acceptance phase of healing, you begin to feel that you are going to be okay again. You still won’t like what happened to you, but you will start to see it from a new perspective.
One of the signs you are healing from trauma could include feeling like a stronger person because of what you’ve been through. Going to therapy for trauma can help you come to these new understandings.
What to Do if Your Partner is Healing From Trauma
If your partner is healing from trauma, whether it be past relationship trauma, childhood trauma, or healing from a traumatic event, there are some things that you can do to support them.
First, it’s important that you believe what your partner is telling you. Research has consistently shown that recovery is much easier for trauma survivors who are believed, than for those who are not. Whether you are the first person that your partner has told, or whether they have talked about their trauma for years, it’s very important that you believe what they are saying.
When you are listening to your partner talk about trauma, never blame them for what happened or try to defend the person who hurt them. We call this “blaming the victim,” and it’s never helpful. Instead, try to be patient, empathetic, and understanding. Realize that your partner went through something awful, and focus on validating their emotions.
Try not to take it personally if they become upset by something triggering. They don’t want to be upset any more than you want them to be upset. Often, triggers bring back the same physical sensations and emotions we had during a traumatic experience which can be very scary and disorienting for your traumatized partner.
In those moments, do what you can to help them soothe their nervous system by offering a long hug or helping them take deep breaths or suggesting a timeout from the triggering event if possible.
Online Therapy for Trauma
Online therapy for trauma recovery is a wonderful option to help you heal from trauma. Just like there are different types of trauma, there are different types of therapy for trauma too. Some of the common types include:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a behavior therapy. Therapists work with their patients to identify negative behaviors and ways of thinking that are impacting their lives, and seek to replace negative behaviors with positive ones.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive processing therapy teaches patients new, positive ways to address beliefs and emotions shaped by traumatic experiences. This practice can help patients identify limiting beliefs and beliefs about relationships that have been impacted by their trauma.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
EMDR therapy has patients focus on their trauma while using bilateral stimulation of the brain through tapping opposite sides of the body alternately. The bilateral stimulation helps to reduce the emotional reaction to past traumas, allowing the brain to reprocess trauma with more positive and accepting beliefs. This type of trauma therapy can even be done virtually and has been proven by research to be the most efficient way to treat trauma.
No matter what kind of therapy you choose, working with a trauma-informed therapist can help ensure you get the expert support you need to finally heal from trauma.
How Long Does It Take to Heal from Trauma?
Like a lot of things when it comes to our mental health, healing from trauma isn’t always a straight path. You might feel like you have moved past your trauma, only to be thrown right back into it by the anniversary of a traumatic event, a similar experience or even a specific conflict in your relationship.
If you’ve been struggling to heal from trauma for a long time, the path to healing may be long as well. Recovering from emotional trauma in your childhood, for example, often takes more therapy to uncover, identify and re-process the related negative behaviors and ways of thinking.
Trauma is a complex issue, but there is hope! Both you, and your relationship can heal from trauma, and maybe even come out stronger for it.
If you’re ready to start healing from trauma and want to better understand how your trauma – or your partner’s trauma – is affecting your current relationship, then contact Couples Learn today.
Our trauma-informed therapists offer online therapy for individuals and couples, including online EMDR therapy. Virtual therapy is a great way to work on healing your trauma, yourself and your relationship.
Contact us to book a 30-minute consultation and get started today.