Steps To Recovery From Childhood Trauma

, Steps To 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

, Steps To Recovery From Childhood Trauma

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?

, Steps To Recovery From 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 :

, Steps To Recovery From Childhood Trauma

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

 

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

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

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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