Returning to Normal After a Traumatic Situation

14 September, 2020
Forget that old adage "time heals all wounds". Usually, it just makes them bigger and harder to deal with. So, what should you do after a painful experience?
 

Is it possible to return to normal after a traumatic situation? The answer, alarming as it might seem, is no. First of all, because your trauma will be with you forever if you don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with it. Not just the trauma itself, but the accompanying stress, anxiety, and depression.

On the other hand, even if you overcome the negative effects of a traumatic event, you’ll never be the same as you were before. You’re a different person, and it’s a new normal. That doesn’t mean things are worse than before or that your quality of life is somehow diminished.

The experience creates a new version of yourself, with new resources for dealing with suffering. You’ll be more confident in yourself and better at creating your own happiness and hope. Also, it’s a good idea to forget about the classic idea that experiencing adversity makes you “stronger”.

Healing, overcoming a complex and potentially dramatic event, isn’t about strength. It’s about abilities, resources and strategies and being flexible, resilient, and able to accept and live with the pain.

This isn’t easy. However, if you get through them, you’ll reach a new normal. The post-trauma phase of your life is just as valuable and brilliant as whatever came before it.

A sad woman sitting on the couch.
 

Keys to getting back to normal after a traumatic situation

Most people still don’t have a good understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many assume, for example, that it only affects soldiers, those who’ve experienced armed conflict, or victims of a terrorist attack. The reality is that, sadly, a common condition that millions of people all over the world have to live with.

Maybe someone very close to you has been dealing with their PTSD in silence. Childhood abuse, domestic violence, being bullied at school or work, surviving a car accident, or even a serious illness leave their marks on the brain. These marks can last forever.

Why is it so hard to recover from trauma?

Everyone experiences situations differently. For example, one person might suffer trauma from the death of a pet. On the other hand, another person probably wouldn’t feel too bad and would get a new pet a few days later.

Also, some people manage the aftereffects of being mugged or robbed fairly well. Others, though, develop a paralyzing fear after being assaulted. In other words, most people can go back to normal after a traumatic event but some people do it sooner because their emotional and psychological experience wasn’t as intense.

That being said, sometimes, the trauma is particularly serious (child abuse, for example). In those cases, the impact is always severe. Peter Levine, a scientist at the Rotman Research Institute and psychology professor at the University of Toronto has studied these cases.

 

In his book, Trauma and Memory, he explains that these experiences produce snapshots of the trauma. In other words, images and lived sensations that imprint on emotional memory in a very intense way.

It doesn’t matter how many days, weeks, months, or years go by. These memories infiltrate everything and bulldoze your potential, happiness, and your ability to make decisions and build healthy attachments.

A sad guy in bed.

How to return to normal after a traumatic situation

As we mentioned above, no matter how hard you try to get back to normal after a traumatic event, you’re a changed person. But you can heal.  Some scales can measure the effects of trauma, like the one developed by Tedeschi and Calhoun in 1996.

This tool has helped psychologists discover that, on average, women are better at overcoming trauma. They do so by developing a new appreciation for life and a new, positive outlook. Nevertheless, to get to that point, you have to go through the following stages:

  • After the traumatic experience, you need time. It isn’t possible to immediately go back to the way things were.
  • You have to face reality. Tell yourself what happened in detail. Know what you think and feel about the experience. Make contact with the pain.
 
  • You can’t overcome your trauma on your own. You need help and support.
  • Go to therapy. Several approaches and strategies are excellent for treating trauma.
  • When you’re trying to get back to “normal” after a traumatic event, don’t try to create new routines. Your brain needs habits to feel safe.
  • Try new projects. The feeling of leaving things behind and taking on new challenges gives you a sense of control. It also feeds your optimism and gives you a new outlook on life.

In conclusion, overcoming a traumatic situation isn’t easy for anyone. So much so, that many people suffer from PTSD. It’s important to treat the pain so you can get on with your life. You need to break the chains that are holding you hostage to be happy.

 
  • Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The posttraumatic growth inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress9(3), 455–471. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.2490090305
  • Yehuda, R. (2002, January 10). Post-traumatic stress disorder. New England Journal of Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra0129
  • Levine, P (2015) Trauma And Memory. North Atlantic Books