If you have experienced trauma in your past, you know that it can impact your entire life. Trauma can cause fear, panic attacks, avoidance, insomnia, and even problematic physical symptoms. But, undoubtedly, one of the worst effects of a traumatic past is that it can feel as if you are trapped there, in that time in the past, and that it can be extraordinarily difficult to move on.
If your trauma is severe, it may be best to seek the help of a qualified healthcare professional. Therapy can significantly accelerate the healing process concerning your traumatic memories, and give you many tools to work with. There are also some things you can do by yourself, and you can start doing them right now.
Here are just 5 ways to help you move forward from your traumatic past.
1. Acknowledge the trauma.
This is probably the most important step, because nothing else really works without it. Acknowledge (at least to yourself) that you experienced these traumatic events, and that they affected you a lot.
This doesn’t mean that you need to make yourself re-experience the trauma. It means that you acknowledge the magnitude of what happened to you and that you need and deserve compassion, support, and respect.
Don’t let anyone else diminish what you went through. It really happened, and it is part of your life history. You don’t have to pretend everything is fine.
2. Find out what traps you in the past and process it.
Investigate your emotions. Which part of the past trauma has the strongest hold on you? Has it established a pattern of fear or avoidance? Is it a recurring dream? A flashback, the kind of memory that appears suddenly and feels as if the event happened yesterday?
Or is it a feeling that there is no hope and that things can never really get better after your traumatic experience?
Whatever it is, it can be processed in therapy, in face-to-face or online support groups with other trauma survivors, or through contemplative methods like journaling and therapeutic workbooks.
3. Find ways to express your pain.
Your pain is real. It is not weakness, it is the appropriate response to what happened to you. A very good way to process that pain is to express it creatively, through writing, singing, visual arts, dance and movement. Expressive arts can help to transform your pain into the memory of pain, which means that you are leaving the past where it belongs, in the past.
4. Live in the present moment.
When your mind is trapped in the past, you may need a kick-start to reconnect to the present moment. Pay attention to the sensory input around you, the sounds, smells and physical sensations that are always present. However deep your pain, life goes on everywhere. Plants, animals and people breathe and live right next to you.
Try to connect to them in a simple way. Touch a flower, play with an animal, smile at the person sitting across from you.
Your breath is always with you, giving you life every time you inhale. Your body always lives in the present moment. If you would like to take this further, start mindfulness meditation or yoga, either alone or in a group.
5. Start something new.
Try to find something that interests you, but something that is not contaminated by the past. Maybe there is an activity that is advertised in your neighborhood, maybe you can travel for a little bit, or at least go on a trip out of town. Join a group where you don’t know anyone.
This may be a time for big transformations, like finding a new job, or even moving to a different corner of the country. Or maybe you can just join a reading club or a hiking group.
This will show you that, however painful your past, your future is right there, in front of you, and it starts with the very first step you take out of your house.
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