“I’ve never told this to anyone before” is a sentiment I’ve heard time and time again from my clients. The stories that follow have often been pushed so far down that they cannot be easily accessed.
Feeling alone and isolated, we think no one else could possibly understand or relate to us, and it can feel safer to hide parts of ourselves while we present a more polished version to the world. It can feel like self-preservation when living in a culture of snap judgments.
And while our judgments may sometimes serve us, most of the time, they just give us an uninformed and unrealistic view of others. We look at “successful” people and often believe they “have it all together,” or have never endured significant difficulties. If someone appears to have it all — the job, the relationship, the beautiful house — there’s no way they have suffered, right?
Most likely not true.
Fifty percent of people will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime.
Each person will have a different reaction to trauma, and not every person will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
However, trauma usually affects the brain. The Prefrontal Cortex (“Thinking Center”), Anterior Cingulate Cortex (“Emotional Regulation Center”), and the amygdala (“Fear Center”) can all be impacted by a traumatic event.
This could result in a person experiencing chronic vigilance, increased sense of fear and decreased feelings of safety, cognitive fogginess, difficulty with mood regulation, and disrupted sleep patterns.
An incredibly noteworthy effect of trauma is immense shame.
Shame is the experience of viewing oneself as worthless, bad, or unworthy of love. According to Brene Brown, shame causes people to feel trapped, isolated and powerless (Brown, 2006).
Shame affects the relationship we have with others, but most importantly, it can completely shatter the relationship we have with ourselves. Even if our lives look successful from the outside, shame makes us feel different from others on the inside. It can also create discomfort with our own thoughts and beliefs and make us fear letting people see our authentic selves.
So, what can we do?
We can have the courage to challenge the shame and self-imposed stigma.
It’s important to know that you can still be successful, valued, and respected even when you acknowledge something really hard has happened.
Don’t worry, you do not have to start by screaming a buried secret from your rooftop. But, perhaps write it in a journal, tell a trusted friend, or find a support group. Give yourself permission to be compassionate with yourself, rather than judge yourself.
Maybe even meet with a therapist who is specifically trained to work in the field of trauma. A good therapist will not judge or shame you. They will support you with knowledge, therapeutic skills, and compassion.
A possible course of treatment may involve incorporating Eye Movement Desentization Therapy (EMDR) into your healing journey.
According to the EMDR Research Foundation, “EMDR is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been extensively researched and proven effective for the treatment of trauma.”
EMDR is an accelerated form of therapy, and a person may see life-changing results in just a few sessions. EMDR allows the brain to no longer be “stuck” in distressing thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
Often, trauma may cause negative, self-limiting beliefs to occur. EMDR can help unburden you from distressing memories that cause limiting beliefs and instead promote a more positive and productive view of yourself or the world at large. While the memory of the event may remain, EMDR assists in no longer having to relive it.
You may be asking, “Why would I want to dredge everything up that I have done such a great job pushing down?”
For one, it allows you to rewrite a story that is no longer serving you. Of course, it doesn’t change the difficult or tragic things that have happened. But, you can begin to believe it was something that happened, not who you are.
You can also come to understand that you are not alone. That nagging feeling of “no one will understand this part of me” can start to shift.
That old inner dialogue that included thoughts of “I’m not good enough” can be transformed into “I am resilient and courageous.”
The journey of healing starts to become an experience of a life full of expansion, rather than constriction. And it is only in times of expansion that we are able to fill that space with what is actually fulfilling — joy, compassion and connection. You deserve it.