5 Steps to Overcoming a Traumatic Memory
Trauma is defined as a psychological wound from some kind of negative event in your life. It has a dramatic effect on you and causes a lot of emotional pain.
You can’t change the past. This experience that caused you so much pain (the death of a loved one, a complicated relationship, childhood abuse, etc) is part of who you are. Sometimes it can even be a valuable life lesson, even if you don’t realize it. It can help prepare you for similar situations in the future.
Resilience: how the traumatic memory evolves
It’s strange, but there are some people who come out even stronger after a traumatic experience. You can actually turn traumas and weaknesses into positive things. You just have to be able to make them a part of your life and adapt.
Getting something positive out of a traumatic experience isn’t just about your own ability, though. It also depends on a variety of things involving different people and things, if you want to come out of the situation even stronger and wiser.
One great example of resilience is the story of what happened to the Álvarez Belón family in December, 2004. That day María and Enrique were just enjoying their Christmas vacation in Thailand with their three sons.
When the tsunami hit, their lives changed forever. Today, years after the tragedy took tens of thousands of lives on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, the family lives a completely normal life. They seem to be coexisting with the change that came from such a huge event.
Blocking your memories as a defense mechanism
Our memory is always selective, but it’s especially selective about any memories we have of a traumatic event. In other words, in these situations our memory activates a defense mechanism to ignore the past and keep moving forward.
This defense mechanism’s main goal is to protect you from any traumatic things you’ve experienced. It blocks all your negative memories of them so that you won’t have to suffer through reliving them. This “amnesia” acts like a shield against this thing you can’t internalize because of how painful it is.
It’s very common to avoid any thoughts related to the traumatic memory. It’s even common to avoid any situations, activities, objects, or people that remind you of what happened. This defense mechanism makes it so you don’t have to remember the trauma. But that doesn’t mean all of its negative effects suddenly just go away. The pain, the sorrow, the fear, and the anger will stick around in your mind.
How to overcome a traumatic memory
Trust the people around you
Try to surround yourself with people who listen to you and support you. Talk about what happened. Externalize your feelings about the memories that are torturing you and making it hard to enjoy life. Trustworthy people will always support you and empathize with you.
Sometimes the trauma actually comes from what you perceived, and not what really happened. For example, you might have felt unloved or rejected during your childhood. But that doesn’t mean it actually was that way.
All that matters here is that you experienced it as if it were true, though. It means you’ll still have to deal with the consequences of an emotional trauma, even if it didn’t exactly happen that way.
Take your time, let yourself heal
There’s always a process of healing you have to go through after any traumatic experience. It doesn’t end until you’ve freed yourself emotionally. There’s no way your mind and body won’t be affected if you go through such a negative experience, because traumatic experiences bring along behavioral and physical changes. They also change the way you’ll go through life from that moment on.
How long it takes to get through this process will just depend on the person. It’s hard to set firm timelines or limits when it comes to emotions. The key moment to watch for is when you can look straight at the past and remember it without the intense pain.
Seek professional help
There are some situations where the trauma doesn’t have an obvious cause. The main thing you need to do in that case is figure out where the trauma came from. You can only try to get through it after you’ve done that. It’s always a good idea to see a professional in these situations. Working through things in therapy will help you figure out the roots of the emotional chaos.
Spend time on yourself
Try to redirect your life by thinking about what you’re going to do in the future. Look for support groups where they talk about similar experiences. That way you can express your doubts, fears, and emotions in an intimate environment where people will understand where you’re coming from.
Get back into your social life, hang out with a group of friends. The important thing is to stay active. Taking a class or going to a meetup are both good distractions that can help boost your self-esteem. Do some physical exercise. Strength, flexibility, and balance are the three pillars of good health, especially when you’re dealing with a traumatic memory.
Give your life some purpose
If you look for some purpose in life it will boost your sense of self-worth, and it’ll help you find reasons to do things. It’ll keep you from getting bogged down in negativity. Plus, in addition to increasing your resilience, it will also stop the traumatic memory from taking over your daily life.
Victor Frankl said that looking for a purpose in life is the very essence of our existence. He said that our happiness depends on having a desire to explore the world we live in.