3 Steps to Understanding and Healing Trauma

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All of us will face some form of trauma in our lives from accidents, bad experiences or choices, stress, etc. Sometimes, it is a bad memory that jumps out at us when we least expect it. Other times it could be mental or emotional distress that we may not understand or be able to name.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and cope with these things when they occur so that they do not hinder or even destroy our lives. As I've struggled to overcome childhood trauma and other bad experiences in my life, I've learned and come to practice three important steps that have helped me to better understand, cope with, and heal from trauma.

1. Understanding trauma
Strong, traumatic events -- like an accident or an act of violence -- will generate memory imprints in the mind that can come back to you when they are triggered by circumstances in the present. Sometimes, however, things you may not think of as traumatizing can have the same effect in your brain chemistry.

Unsuspected traumas or childhood traumas that you experienced at a young age and cannot remember can still affect you and cause emotional distress. They can be especially difficult to understand because you don't have a clear memory to associate with them, and you are left wondering what the feelings are and why you have them.

2. Coping with trauma
However the trauma surfaces, whether through memories, flashbacks, anxiety, emotional distress, etc, you have to learn to work through them. You do this by validating those bad experiences or feelings.

This must be done carefully because simply ruminating in them and rehashing them only strengthens the connections of those memories and feelings in your brain. Revisit them with purpose, to find and heal the story, while searching for patterns in your present that may be repeating from the trauma.

When you have a terrible memory that persists, try to pick it apart. What caused you to remember it -- certain words, events, or situations? What can you learn from the experience? Has the experience caused a belief or behavior that is limiting or harming you today?

A good way to examine bad experiences or feelings is to journal. Write down these and other questions, how you feel, and what you think the problem may be. You can keep a detailed journal of your day-to-day life for three weeks, then look over it for patterns and clues.

3. Healing from trauma
Once you have validated and learned what you can from the experience, you can let it go and move forward. This won't happen all at once. Those imprints are still there, and they need to be replaced with healthy, positive ones.

When a terrible memory comes, you can try to visualize a different ending. If you are having a flashback or emotional distress, you can redirect your attention -- keep a necklace, picture, or some other object with you that you can take out and focus on with positive thoughts. You can draw, do something creative, or make a gratitude list until the distress passes.

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If you have developed unhealthy habits or beliefs from your trauma, think of a positive thing to do instead when the behavior or belief appears. Remember to love yourself through the process by using positive self-talk and encouraging yourself as you would a friend. Don't neglect your needs or abuse yourself with criticism. Create good habits that will serve you and make you happy.

Learning to cope with and overcome difficult experiences or emotions is an essential skill for a stable, successful, healthy life. You can start today to increase your emotional intelligence and be a happier you.

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