10 Insights in Overcoming Trauma
1) Observe what sparks your trauma. Without knowing the problem, finding a solution can be difficult. For example, I noticed that people cancelling plans on me leaves me in turmoil for long after the event. It took me a while to realize that when someone cancels on me, it sparks a kind of feeling of loneliness and anger in me. The corresponding defense mechanism is “I don’t need this person”, “I’m better off alone”, or “This always happens to me.” What I noticed was that this is a pattern of trying to overcome a sense of “abandonment” that likely stems from childhood. When I was 2 years old my parents moved to the United States from Ukraine, but because I had no green card I was left to stay with my grandmother. I don’t have a conscious memory of this, but I feel that it is related. It is a fear of losing a loved one. This brings me to the crucial second tip. 2) Trauma isn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to transcend it, it’s your duty to yourself. People hurt us in many ways, and negative behavior is never justified. However, once the trauma has occurred, if we wish to live in peace, we must take it upon ourselves to heal it. Placing blame on others is a useful defense mechanism, but in the end, it is a way we give up our personal power to transcend. If we place fault on others in a sense it justified our traumatic state. That is why forgiveness is such a powerful truth, spoken of in all great religions. Forgiveness is not for the person who hurt us, but a way to accept what occurs and heal ourselves by letting it go. There is a Buddhist saying that “anger is like drinking a poison and hoping your enemy dies” and “one is not punished for their anger but by it”. If we place fault on others for their effect on us, we miss the opportunity to heal the pain. 3) Confront the person that hurt you. It is incredibly difficult to have this conversation, but it is crucial for your healing. When we suppress our own genuine feelings, we create a state of powerlessness, and trade temporary external peace for long term internal turmoil. Sometimes people are unaware they hurt us, even if they were 100% in the wrong. If at all possible, having a difficult talk with those that caused our trauma allows the healing process to begin and opens the door to a healthier relationship with the person. The great entrepreneur Gary V. once said that to be successful you need to have that hard talk with the person you believe is holding you back. If this isn’t possible or further connection is not desired with this person tip #4 is of utmost importance. 4) Disconnect yourself completely from those that constantly hurt you. Often trauma is made worse by a cycle that is perpetuated by contact of any type with the person that hurt us. Ultimately, we have a right to well-being that another may not respect, and in this case, it is crucial to remove yourself from the situation and distance yourself from the hurtful person. Some people cannot be helped, and they will only bring you down into their state of misery. This is a very common occurrence in abusive relationships and is difficult to break free from. I’ve realized that any contact with this type of person does nothing other than reopen the wound and continue the emotional turmoil. It is okay to prioritize your peace of mind, even if you have a long history with the person. 5) Train yourself to be aware of your emotional states through meditative practice. Meditative practice is in my experience the most effective way to transcend past traumas. Becoming mindful of our emotional states and learning to be aware of them as they occur allows us a great power: the power of choosing our reaction. Through yoga, breath awareness, and contemplative practices we learn to recognize our mental patterns and act differently. The unconscious state of habitual reaction is often the biggest fuel to a trauma cycle that continues long after the trauma has passed. If you are a person that is high in the personality trait agreeableness, conflict avoidance is one of the main adaptive systems. This is in some cases helpful, but in other cases it perpetuates cycles of pain by not addressing what or who has hurt you. The highest practice in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition is what they call allowing negative emotional states to spontaneously resolve through awareness. This is an amazing truth, and quite simple. If a difficult feeling comes up, become aware of how the state makes you feel and instead of making efforts to avoid it, or feed into it through rumination just accept it with a curious awareness. If you feel hurt, instead of naming it simply relax your mind and observe the wave pass by. Anyone who has had an experience of resolving a negative emotional state through awareness will be amazed by the unexplainable sense of happiness that follows. All psychic energy is just that ENERGY, and we transmute it through the fire of consciousness. This is much of the great work of alchemy.
6) The trail left behind by the boat does not move the boat. You are not defined by your trauma, and your past only exists for you in proportion to how much energy you give it. While there certainly are nervous system changes after a trauma, I have found that it is by our constant focus on it and ruminating on these events that keeps them alive in the ever-new present moment. The past is not what created who you are, you create who you are in this very moment, every moment. 7) Seek help and share your experiences with those close to you. I often thought that not speaking on something that hurt me would make it magically disappear, but it rarely does. People who specialize in trauma work such as psychotherapists can make a world of difference. In our culture there is a stigma of seeking help for mental issues, and this is very harmful. As a society we don’t look down upon someone who seeks a doctor to heal their body, so why should we to someone who wishes to heal their mind? I was hesitant for most of my life to seek help as I thought that it was not a big enough issue to bring up, and that it was not severe enough to be necessary. However, talking to wise friends and a psychotherapist has brought profound changes to processes I thought were unchangeable and brought about positive changes that I didn’t expect. Having someone who will genuinely listen to what is on your mind lifts the heaviness of the soul and allows you to find creative solutions that would never occur if you were hiding your troubles. An important note about this tip is to know who can truly help you, so that you don’t weigh someone down with your troubles or even worse be made to feel wrong by someone who isn’t truly concerned about your well-being. It constantly amazes me how many people struggle with depression/anxiety but keep it to themselves because of fear of what others will think, while others struggling just as much themselves! 8) You get the love you think you deserve. Oftentimes we settle for relationships that are harmful to our well-being because at a deep level we feel we are not worthy of respect and love. We will accept the kind of treatment that we think we deserve, so if we feel bad about ourselves it will be difficult to stand up for what we believe and feel, when someone causes us harm. There is a famous wisdom saying on the Greek temple of Delphi that says “Know thyself and you will know the universe and the gods. Knowledge of the deepest parts of the self naturally brings out self-love, and when we realize others are just like us that love moves outwards as compassion. Bliss is for those that realize love is generated within. 9) Do what you truly love, find your passions and chase your dreams. Often the solution to a past trauma is to just immerse yourself in what you’re passionate about. There is a saying that the devil works in an idle mind, and what this means is that if you are not engaged in the world the tendency of the mind is to dwell on past/future events, which many times can be negative from depression from past painful experiences to worries about the future. When we live the life, we love and prove our value to ourselves through meaningful action we often find that our troubles disappear like the darkness when a light is turned on. It is the great challenge of life to be courageous and follow your hearts deepest wishes, don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise. If they do, they’re probably trying to sell you something. We are often scared to do the things most important to our spirit, often because the fear of failure or the unknown is a strong one. The only solution is to take small steps towards how we wish to live, improving little by little every day. Do what you love daily, and a great self-respect will develop that will smooth over the sufferings of life, and make the past seem like a mirage. 10) Do good for others. When we take the focus off our own problems by helping others it has miraculous effect on our mind state. We realize firstly that everyone has struggles in their life, so we don’t feel alone anymore. Secondly, it brings a sense of purpose and meaning that allows us to transcend our personal pains and often helps us grow through them. I can’t mention how many times the advice I gave to a patient, was EXACTLY what I needed to hear for myself. Lastly all that positive energy is infectious in the best way, it’s hard to be down when you surround yourself in the process of bringing others joy. This is the great secret mother Teresa spoke of, the miracle of service to others. I have by no means resolved all my traumas; personal, ancestral or societal, but I have seen a path that leads beyond them. These are some of the most significant lessons I’ve learned about how to transcend and prevent trauma. May you find them useful, Thanks for reading.