Fundamentals of Trauma Recovery, Part 8/8

December 16, 2018 - 6 minutes read

This segment includes three more fundamentals of safe trauma recovery.  The principles here are often misunderstood in popular culture, and even among some mental health practitioners.  However, these are essential considerations when plotting your course of recovery.

You Don’t Have To Remember

It is likely that at some point, someone has told you that in order to get over your trauma, you must tell it over, remember it, dig through it and lay it all out.  The truth is that there are excellent reasons not to unearth trauma memories.

  1. Some people may not remember the details of their trauma.  This can be due to the age at which it occurred, or the traumatic impact on memory.  It is very common for traumatic narrative to be fragmented, missing pieces, or altogether confusing.  Remember, a fact of trauma is the hippocampus is suppressed! Forcing memories that aren’t available is a big mistake.
  2. Some people do not want to delve into their memories.  The memories may be too distressing, or discussing them very destabilizing.  If the upset is too disruptive to functioning (in your occupation, relationships, or simply getting through the day), this is a very good reason not to spend recovery energy on remembering.
  3. Some people are not certain if the trauma took place.  Some survivors’ memories do not include clear traumatic events, yet their symptoms all point to PTSD.  Attempts to ascertain or reconstruct memories are entirely unnecessary in order to recover.

There is plenty to do in recovery without remembering.  Finding stability, balance, energy, purpose, control, and self-forgiveness in your current life may be precisely how you define recovery.  On the other hand, survivors who are well-resourced, have stability and sufficient support from loved ones, and sense that addressing their memories will help integrate the experiences into their life, may choose that route.  

If you are undecided about addressing your memories, ask yourself:  Do I want to? What does my mindful gauge say about it? How is the timing?  Do I have enough emotional stability and external support to afford the upset that may come with this work?  Respecting your gauge will be, as always, essential.

Slow and Steady

Every trauma survivor wishes there were a shortcut through recovery.  However, as with all important endeavors in life, it is essential to pace your recovery with the smallest and most manageable of steps.  Too often, people are so eager (understandably) to be done with it, that they take on pieces that are too big, too fast, too soon. The fallback leaves them feeling even more distressed and less resourceful.  Choose pieces of your recovery to tackle that are ever-so-small, and break them down even further.  Each step ought to be small enough that it ensures your success, which will build greater self-confidence and stronger foundations for each further success. 

All Kinds of Traumas

The most often discussed and well-known traumas are single incident events, traumatic events over a short period of time, or ongoing incidents over a longer period of time (often further complicated by the relationships tangled into the trauma; complex PTSD).  Of course, any survivor may have experienced a combination of these.

There are two other kinds of trauma that I want to mention.  These are less discussed, and less commonly understood. Nonetheless, they are real and deserve to be addressed in recovery.  

Attachment trauma 

From the very beginning of life, we are wired, biologically, to attach.  An infant must attach to its caregiver in order to secure survival. This biological need stretches far past infancy into the early childhood years, and when the need is not met, the little person’s nervous system registers trauma — often apparent in the way s/he navigates significant relationships.  This would be a form of complex PTSD, and is best addressed in the context of professional support.

Prenatal and perinatal trauma  

A traumatic incident for an expectant mother, a fetus, or an infant will have an impact on the developing nervous system. Attending to the distress (for both mother and baby), including soothing both their upset nervous systems, is essential. If for whatever reason that doesn’t happen at the time, the trauma can be addressed, and healed, later in life.

(As with all the articles in this series, if you would like further elaboration on the topics included, Babette Rothschild’s 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery is an excellent resource upon which much of the content here is based.)