One of the most common questions I often get from my clients wanting to address trauma is, "Where do I start"? That is not an easy question to answer and it honestly varies for every individual. It is important to remember that processing trauma does not always begin with diving right in. There are some legitimate reasons this becomes significant because in more complex terms, when the amygdala is overstimulated, the neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex shuts down and limits the ability to effectively reason or problem-solve. This can lead to further confusion, dissociation, and mental flooding. Working with a trained mental health professional is critical when navigating trauma.
As an analogy, I often have individuals envision trauma in a box. That dreaded box, contained and covered with a lid. Coming into therapy, you don't need to rip off the lid and start rummaging through what's inside. Doing so, can create intense visceral responses that wakes up multiple neural networks surrounding the trauma that may have been secluded for many years. Addressing trauma is a delicate matter. I rather clients see the box, but imagine lifting just one tiny corner revealing a very small space to peer in...eventually. This space is so small that the box would still be dark inside unable to view the contents. For some individuals, they may not even start with the box. The box may be closed off behind a door. That door may be behind another door, and so on and so on. In such cases, we work up to opening the door(s) to where the box is located. The box continues to be opened across sessions as skill building and one's strength increases to engage with more and more of the contents inside. We all know the trauma we hold inside, but we do not have to tackle the full weight of it all at once.
Therefore, it is essential to take care of the mind and body along the way. One of the first steps is generating a toolbox of skills! It involves building the capacity to reset, breathe, and rewire distressing thoughts leading up to contact with trauma. This often begins with working through other manageable distressing thoughts and experiences unrelated to trauma FIRST while working up to more challenging traumatic experiences. The idea is to understand the personal capacity to manage discomfort and distress over time as you navigate the ability to "access, activate, and deactivate" intense and/or uncomfortable memories and emotions. The process can be empowering for many because it begins to welcome back feeling "in control" versus out of control. It is no easy "feat" but, it's possible, and the ability to see hope in the midst of trauma is such a beautiful thing to see my clients experience.
If you have struggled for some time with trauma, don't give up. Know that there are several helpful treatment options you can consider. For more severe cases, some include non-verbal methods of working through trauma to better minimize retraumatization. We all have our own unique challenges and strengths. Trauma can knock the wind out of even the strongest of us. Working on your terms with a trained therapist is the first step in deciding what approach may be the most helpful for you. As always, don't be afraid to reach out. Stay encouraged and talk to someone you trust as needed for support!