Tag Archives: Recovery From Childhood Trauma

Steps To Recovery From Childhood Trauma

recovery from childhood trauma

Research shows those who suffer childhood trauma CAN and DO recover.

Making significant changes in life can be a very daunting prospect, but those who do it in order to aid their own recovery from childhood trauma very often find the hard work most rewarding.

Some people find making the necessary changes difficult, whereas others find it enjoyable.

THE DECISION TO CHANGE

Change does not occur instantly. Psychologists have identified the following stages building up to change:

1) not even thinking about it
2) thinking about it
3) planning it
4) starting to do it
5) maintaining the effort to continue doing it

childhood_trauma_recovery

THE RECOVERY PROCESS

Each individual’s progress in recovery is unique, but, generally, the more support the trauma survivor has, the quicker the recovery is likely to occur.

Often recovery from childhood trauma is not a steady progression upwards – there are usually ups and downs (e.g two steps forward…one step back…two steps forward etc) but the OVERALL TREND is upwards (if you imagine recovery being represented on the vertical axis of a graph and time by the horizontal). Therefore, it is important not to become disheartened by set-backs along the recovery path. These are normal.

Sometimes, one can even feel one at first is getting worse (usually if traumas, long dormant, are being processed by the mind in a detailed manner for the first time). However, once the trauma has been properly consciously reprocessed, although this is often painful, it enables the trauma survivor to work through what happened and to form a new, far more positive, understanding of him/herself.

Once the trauma has been reworked (i.e understanding what happened and how it has affected the survivor’s development) he or she can start to develop a more positive and compassionate view of him/herself (for example, realizing that the abuse was not their fault can relieve strong feelings of guilt and self-criticism).

Once the reworking phase has been passed through, improvement tends to become more consistent and more rapid.

 

Steps to Recovery

HERE IS A SLIDE SHOW OF STEPS TO RECOVERY FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (for more detail see below) :

  • STEP ONE : Remember that symptoms of childhood trauma such as hypervigilance and dissociation are normal reactions to abnormal experiences.

It is important to remember that, no matter how severe our particular experiences of childhood trauma were, people can, and do, recover from such experiences if they undergo an appropriate form of therapy ; cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT for example, is now well established by research findings to be a very effective treatment.

In analysing the recovery process from childhood trauma, it is possible to break it down into seven stages ; I present these stages below :

RECOVERY STAGES :

1) The first very important thing to do is to stop seeing ourselves as abnormal because of the effect our childhood trauma has had on us, but, instead, to see our symptoms/resultant behaviours as A NORMAL REACTION TO ABNORMAL EVENTS/EXPERIENCES.

It is very important to realize that it is highly probable that other people would have been affected in a very similar way to how we ourselves have been affected had they suffered the same adverse experiences that we did.

Coming to such a realization is, I think, important if we wish to keep up our self-esteem.

The kinds of symptoms and behaviours that childhood trauma can lead to are examined in detail in my book ‘The Devastating Effects Of Childhood Trauma’ – see below.

2) A very therapeutic effect can often be achieved by opening up about our traumatic experiences and how we feel they have affected us by talking to others we trust about such matters.

3) If at all possible, it is important that, during the recovery process, we are in an environment in which we feel safe and secure, and which is as stress – free as possible.

4) It is also extremely important that we try to resume normal everyday activities and interpersonal relationships as soon as possible, even if this requires some effort at first. Indeed, the research suggests recovery is very difficult if we do not re-establish human relationships. Also, we need to try to build some structure into our daily lives, as this provides a foundation of stability.

5) We need to accept that we may need much more rest than the average person – this is because the brain needs time to recover. In relation to this, getting the correct nutrients  and sufficient sleep (I needed far more than 8 hours during my recovery) is also very important.

6) We also need to realize that while our experience of trauma entailed a great deal of suffering, many people not only recover from childhood trauma but develop as a human being in extremely positive ways as a result of it ; this phenomenon is known as post traumatic growth .

7) Therapy should be seriously considered as there are now many studies which provide extremely solid evidence that therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be highly effective. There are many other therapies and self-help strategies, too; I examine these in my book ‘Therapies For The Effects Of Childhood Trauma’ (see below).

 

Let Go Of The Past

 

The following six strategies can help us to let go of the past and move on with our lives more effectively :

 

1) VALIDATION :

According to Horowitz, if our past childhood trauma and the pain it has caused is, subsequently, invalidated (e.g. denied, ignored, dismissed, minimized, mocked etc.) by those who have harmed us, the psychological harm done to us is amplified. This makes it harder to move forward in our lives.

However, if this is the case, it can be helpful to seek and obtain validation from significant others, such as a therapist who is trained to work with childhood trauma survivors, or from what Alice Miller (1923-2010) referred to as an ‘enlightened witness.’ Miller defined an ‘enlightened witness’ as a compassionate and empathetic person who helps the childhood trauma survivor ‘recognize the injustices [s/he] suffered and give vent to {his/her] feelings.’

 

2) EXPRESSION OF PAIN :

This pain we have been caused does not necessarily need to be expressed directly to those responsible ; for example, we may describe our experiences and feelings in a journal, or, as Franz Kafka did, write a letter to the person/s responsible (in the case of Kafka, the letter was to his abusive and narcissistic father) without actually sending it (instead, his biographer informs us that he gave it to his mother to give to his father – he was too frightened to approach his father directly – but she never did, possibly because she believed it wouldn’t do any good).

Talking about our traumatic childhood experiences can, however, be very difficult ; you can read about why this is in my previously published article entitled : Why It’s So Difficult To Talk About Our Experiences Of Extreme Childhood  Trauma.

Sadly, too, some doctors may be reluctant to discuss our childhood trauma with us for reasons that I outline in my previously published article entitled : Why Don’t Doctors Ask About Childhood Trauma?

 

3) CONSCIOUS DECISION : 

Because we might have been ruminating, perhaps obsessively, on the trauma and injustice contained in our past, the process of turning things over and over in our minds may have become almost automatic. It is therefore necessary to make a firm, conscious decision to embark upon the journey of letting go. In connection with this, you may wish to read my previously published post : Mindfulness Meditation : An Escape Route Away From Obsessive, Negative Ruminations.’

 

4) ADOPT BENEFICIAL TIME PERSPECTIVE :

According to TIME PERSPECTIVE THERAPY (developed by Zimbardo, Sword and Sword, 2013)  we should use the past to our advantage (such as learning from previous mistakes and focusing on good things that happened rather than dwelling on the bad) ; develop the ability to live in the present and enjoy it, but not in such a heedless and hedonistic way that it endangers our future ; and, also, adopt an optimistic view of the future and plan for it (by setting achievable goals). To read more about TIME PERSPECTIVE THEORY, click here.

 

5) CULTIVATION OF COMPASSION :

Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT) can effectively help people move on from their traumatic childhood experiences. It was initially developed in the early part of this century by Paul Gilbert and can be particularly effective in helping those suffering from feelings of shame resulting from their traumatic experiences (such feelings are a very common response to a traumatic childhood which is why I have devoted a whole category to the examination of it on this site : see the SHAME AND SELF-HATRED section).

Specifically, CFT can help with :

  • alleviating feelings of being ‘worthless,” inadequate’, ‘ a bad person‘ etc
  • alleviating negative emotions such as self-disgust and anxiety
  • reducing concern about what others think of one
  • reducing feelings of anger towards those who have mistreated us
  • reducing levels of arousal and hypervigilance

6) REFRAME :

Many people do not realize the damage that their childhood has done to them and may take a sanitized view of it due to what they are taught to believe by those who harmed them or by society more generally (in connection with this, you may be interested in Alice Miller’s classic book entitled : ‘Thou Shalt Not Be Aware : Society’s Betrayal Of The Child.’

By reframing the past, with the help of a psychotherapist, we can start to obtain a genuine insight into what really happened to us which, in turn, empowers us and makes us less of a slave to the unconscious forces that may be ruining our lives.

 

 Resources 

eBook :

Childhood_trauma

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download : click here

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Steps To Trauma Recovery

steps to trauma recovery

steps to trauma recovery

The psychoanalyst, Rothschild, in her excellent book ‘Keys To Safe Trauma Recovery‘, suggests that recovery from trauma entails just a handful of majo elements and I list these below. Underneath some of the elements that appear on the list I have added my own short elaborations and elucidations in terms of how each element may relate specifically to recovery from childhood trauma.

1) Recognizing that one has experienced trauma and survived it.

In the case of childhood trauma it is essential that the victim’s feelings in relation to it are validated by at least one significant other ; the psychotherapist and childhood trauma expert Alice Miller termed such a person an ‘enlightened witness’. An enlightened witness is so vital because It is not unusual for other members of the traumatized individual’s family to invalidate the his/her feelings (e.g. belittling them or dismissing them) for reasons connected to their own guilt and complicity.

2) Coming to terms with flashbacks and understanding their relationship to traumatic memories (to read my article Horowitz’s Information Processing Theory, Flashbacks And Nightmares‘, click here).

3) Self-Compassion

Many individuals suffer from IRRATIONAL feelings of self-blame and guilt in relation to their traumatic childhood experiences ; for example, a child whose parents divorce may erroneously blame him/herself for the parents’ marital breakdown. It is essential to free oneself from such inaccurate and self-destructive beliefs.

To read my article on ‘Compassion Focused Therapy For The Effects Of Childhood Trauma‘, click here.

steps to trauma recovery

4) The need to overcome feelings of shame

Closely related to self-blame and guilt, irrational feelings of shame are also extremely common amongst survivors of childhood trauma and the victim may require significant therapeutic intervention to facilitate the amelioration of such feelings.To read my article entitled ‘Shame And Its Agonizing Effects‘, click here.

5) Recovery from trauma best achieved by breaking the recovery process down into small, manageable steps.

6) Mobilizing the body out of its ‘frozen’ state

Trauma affects the body’s biological functioning and can have the effect of ‘freezing’ it into a state of physiological HYPERAROUSAL and FEAR. Exercising for about 30 minutes a day can help ‘unfreeeze’ the body, not least because it helps to return adrenaline levels to normal (those ‘frozen’ in a hyperaroused and fearful state have an excess of adrenaline coursing through their systems, contributing significantly to feelings of physical tension and associated emotional distress.

7) Deriving meaning and purpose from one’s traumatic experiences in a way that leads to self-improvement.

This essentially refers the concept of posttraumatic growth. A whole category of this site is devoted to posttraumatic growth articles (see MAIN MENU at the top of the page).

 

THERAPIES :

Therapies that can be effective for individuals who have suffered childhood trauma include ‘talking therapies’ such as counselling and psychotherapy. Also, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can be very effective.

RESOURCE :

What Is The Difference Between A Therapist And Psychologist?

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

Twelve Signs We Are Recovering From The Effects Of Childhood Trauma

Hypnosis_and_visualization

 

These 12 signs that we are recovering from our traumatic experiences are as follows:

 

1) More able to live in the present:

We finally come to the full realisation that the past is truly over and that the trauma we experienced need no longer be central to our identity nor define us as a person

2) Greater inclination to contemplate the future:

This is due to the fact we are no longer trapped in our past nor obsessed with ceaselessly analysing it

3) Become less avoidant:

Before, we may have felt it necessary to avoid situations and people which reminded us of our traumatic experiences. However, we no longer feel compelled to do this as we find such reminders less difficult for us to cope with

4) Able to participate more fully in life:

Our energy is no longer exhausted by merely just about managing to cope and survive ; we can begin to start actively pursuing positive activities

5) Our trauma-related thoughts, feelings and memories become easier to deal with :

We still experience such thoughts, feelings and memories but no longer with the intensity which we previously found so overwhelming

6) Become less reliant on dysfunctional coping mechanisms :

For example,we may find we have more control over drinking too much alcohol, drug use, over-eating etc

Above: Posttraumatic growth. See number 12 below.

7) More able to control our emotions :

For example, anger and fear (emotional volatility and dysregulation is often one of the hallmark symptoms resulting from the experience of childhood trauma).

8) Reduction in negative thoughts about ourselves:

Another extremely common symptom of having experienced significant childhood trauma is the development of the false belief that we are an intrinsically bad person (click here to read my article about this phenomenon).

Part of our recovery involves rediscovering our positive qualities which may have been lying dormant or may have been masked by feelings of anger, self-absorption, resentment and cynicism.

9) Reduction in feelings of helplessness :

It is also extremely common for survivors of childhood trauma to develop a condition known as learned helplessness (click here to read my article about this).

However, when we start to recover, this feeling of helplessness begins to disperse and we subsequently become more aware that we are in a position to choose to do things to help ourselves and to exert some control over our future. In short, we start to feel more empowered.

10) Feeling that we are starting to get back some self respect :

(Many who experience childhood trauma lose their self-respect – this may involve self-sabotaging behaviour, continuously putting oneself at risk, believing oneself to be unworthy of love or happiness, complete lack of interest in appearance etc).

11) A cessation in the forming of unhealthy relationships:

If we have suffered severe childhood trauma, many of us develop what is known as a repetition compulsion (click here to read my article on this) which involves us (unconsciously) seeking out relationships with others who are likely to treat us very badly. We may, too, put up with bad relationships as we have developed (again, quite possibly unconsciously), a kind of ‘ I don’t deserve any better’ mentality.

However, with the return of our self-respect, we can decide to no longer tolerate such destructive relationships.

12) No longer feel like a victim:

Instead, we can start to concentrate upon posttraumatic growth. This may entail, for example, using our former deep suffering to initiate positive change e.g. becoming a stronger and more resilient person, gaining a better perspective on life, developing a better ability to empathise with the suffering of others, and to help them.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

Childhood Trauma : Three Key Stages of Recovery.

childhood trauma and stages of recovery

Herman’s Three Stages Of Recovery :

The psychologist and expert on trauma, Judith Herman, has identified three key stages that it is necessary for those who suffered childhood trauma and subsequently developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [now sometimes referred to as complex PTSD] to pass through on their journey to recovery. I have summarized these three stages below :

STAGE ONE :

This stage involves focusing on the symptoms that many suffer as a result of childhood trauma, including :

– difficulty controlling/regulating emotions

– aggression/anger/hostility (click here to read my article about how to control anger)

– alcohol/drug addiction (click here to read my article on this)

– behavioural addictions (internet porn, anonymous sex, gambling etc) click here to read my article on this

– re-enacting abusive patterns of behaviour

– problematic eating behaviours (click here to read my article on this)

– dissociation (click here to read my article about this phenomenon)

– self harm (click here to read my article on this)

– emotional numbing

– feelings of being unsafe/ in danger

– self-neglect/lack of self care

– depression (click here to read my article on this)

– panic attacks

– feelings of powerlessness

– feelings of shame/guilt

– deep distrust of others

It is necessary to identify the symptoms one may have and then to set treatment goals and to learn about ways one will be able to reach those goals.

It is also highly necessary, in this first stage, for the individual to establish a sense of safety and security.

In this first stage, too, inner strengths which may well have been neglected in the past are developed.

It should also be noted that stage one does NOT focus upon discussing and attempting to process painful memories. However, this rule is not set in stone and such memories may be addressed if doing so facilitates creating a sense of safely and/or greater stability and/or good self-care.

Finally, stage one may also include going on medications, if appropriate (for example, anti-depressants), psychotherapy (usually the most appropriate form of therapy is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT DBT).  This type of therapy is particularly useful if the person is suffering from extreme difficulties controlling/regulating emotions or is experiencing acute difficulties with interpersonal relationships.

Once a sense of safety, stability, good self-care and the ability to adequately regulate emotions has been achieved, stage two may be moved on to.

Herman's three stages of recovery

STAGE TWO :

Judith Herman called this stage of recovery remembrance and mourning.

During this stage, painful memories are reviewed and discussed with the aim of reducing their emotional intensity and revising their perceived implications for the person’s future life and sense of self-identity. There are many techniques that may be used to process and make less painful memories of trauma. At the time of writing, perhaps, the most popular one is known as eye movement desensitization and restructuring – CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ABOUT THIS.

Also, during this stage, the therapist encourages the person to grieve for the losses s/he has suffered due to a traumatic childhood (for example, many who have suffered severe childhood trauma feel, in a very real sense, that their childhood was stolen from them.

This stage is also a time to start coming to terms with the active harm the trauma has done (eg perhaps the pain of the emotional trauma has led to alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm etc).

STAGE THREE :

Once stage two has been successfully completed, the person can start trying to get on with a ‘normal life’, involving re-forming relationships with other/reconnecting with people and resuming meaningful activities.

CONCLUSION :

This is not the only model of recovery from trauma in existence, but is certainly one of the better known ones. I will look at other models of recovery in later articles.

Recovery is thought to be very difficult if a person stays socially isolated and does not re-connect with others. CLICK HERE TO READ MY ARTICLE ON OVERCOMING RELATIONSHIP DIFFICULTIES.

eBook:

Above eBooks, by David Hosier MSc, available on Amazon for immediate download – CLICK HERE TO VIEW FURTHER DETAILS.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE.

Top