If you’ve suffered trauma in your life, you may find that the memories and emotions attached to it continue to pop up when you least expect it. This can be true whether it’s been six months or six years since your trauma occurred.
Maybe you just endure trauma reminders and hope that they’ll pass on their own. And sometimes they do—for a time.
Or perhaps, you’ve sought treatment for your PTSD and found constructive methods to help you cope and get through these times. You know they’re not perfect solutions but at least they get you through your day.
Understanding the distinction between coping with and healing from trauma can help you move into a place of resolution and power.
Coping Is Different Than Healing
So, what makes coping different than healing? When you think of the two words, what comes to mind?
One way to understand this distinction is to consider trauma as a wound. When you cope with a wound, you only put a band-aid over it. You don’t take the time to clean the wound and apply antibacterial ointment beforehand. And, while using a band-aid is better than allowing a wound to bleed openly, actual healing can be impeded by ignoring fundamental things that need to be done.
Now, this isn’t to say that coping with trauma (rather than healing) is wrong; coping is an important skillset to have to help you get you through. It usually involves top-down processes like thinking good thoughts, being positive, and practicing mindfulness. Putting these skills into practice can and does help as you recover from trauma. But they don’t move you toward complete healing.
Moving Beyond Coping to True Healing
No matter how strong your coping skills are, if you’re struggling with PTSD, true healing from trauma is achieved through somatic (body-based) therapies. This is because trauma affects your physical body as much as it does your emotions. The experience and memory of trauma remain stored in your nervous system and muscles, even if you aren’t aware of it.
Our autonomic nervous system is designed to protect us from threats (fight, flight, or freeze response). An overwhelming, traumatic experience triggers these reactions in the brain, but unfortunately, it can leave us stuck in that state of high sympathetic arousal. Essentially, the trauma is trapped in your body with no way for it to be discharged and released.
However, somatic therapies offer a way for you to recognize and understand the way that trauma is stored in your body. You’ll learn how to tune into what your body is telling you and what various physical sensations mean. As you do this, your autonomic system gradually relaxes and accepts that the threat has passed. In essence, it learns that it doesn’t have to be on high alert anymore.
Forming a secure therapeutic relationship with a therapist is also important for healing from trauma. Through such a relationship, you can experience a sense of safety that is often missing after you’ve been through a traumatic event. This is very important as you work through your trauma since it provides you with the emotional support you need to process the threatening feelings that arise while healing.
Where Are You in the Process?
No matter where you are in your process of recovery from trauma, take time to review your ongoing experience with it. Many of my clients find that journaling offers benefits.
Now that you know more about the somatic nature of trauma recovery, consider these questions:
- When is the last time you felt safe? Describe the experience.
- What in your body told you that you felt safe? Give examples.
How did you feel when you pondered and answered these questions? Has the exercise and answers provided you with more clarity of where you are with coping and healing from your trauma?
If you struggled to answer the questions, you may still be in need of deeper healing.
We here at Somatic Therapy Partners specialize in PTSD treatment. If you’d like to learn more about how we treat PTSD please click here. Please reach out to us to learn more about somatic therapy and the power it provides for trauma recovery.
Together, we can help you find true healing.