If you’re sick of underlying fear, unexplainable compulsive behaviour and the rage of anxiety flowing through your system it may be time to learn how to heal from trauma.
Healing from trauma isn’t a simple process, but it can be extremely powerful, rewarding and life-defining.
Secondly, while severe traumas such as war-induced PTSD are what spring to mind when we think of trauma, many experiences outside the realm of war can lead to becoming traumatized.
Some examples include (but are not limited to):
Childhood abuse (physical, sexual or emotional)
Experiencing the death (or disappearance) of a loved one
Witnessing a violent event
Doing something violent or extreme yourself
Extreme experiences (such as near-death events, bad trips, etc)
Distance from family or friends (especially when young)
Betrayal (romantic, familial or a close friend)
Further, it’s important to note that none of the above may have happened to you, yet you may be trapped in trauma due to a genetic predilection to processing negative events.
Trauma is immensely common and it’s usually functioning at different levels within people, crafting savage narratives in the subconscious and filling the body and mind with fear and panic at sporadic intervals.
For some, it may take a subtler form, persisting as a low-level, yet constant anxiety in the background of your lived experience.
Wherever you land on the trauma scale, the good news is that you can work to mitigate, and in some cases eradicate, the effects of trauma completely.
By looking at how to heal from trauma, this piece aims to give you a pathway to the peace, power and purpose that’s an innate part of you as a human being.
Recovering Man is heavily focused on providing men with the personal, societal and spiritual framework with which to grow and flourish in this world, meaning we must know how to heal from trauma for our own sakes and for the sake of those we can help.
The world needs more deep, earthy and brave men who’ve traveled deep into their own soul and faced suffering to come out of the other side more wise, centered and capable of helping men lost without direction.
Because of this, learning how to heal from trauma is a duty to yourself and others.
Who am I to talk about how to heal from trauma?
As the founder of Awakened Man, I faced years of violence growing up, often watching my brother attacking my mother and being the only person who could stand in the way.
As I was just a child, I could never win against my brother, who was by this point growing into a man.
The beating was for certain, but what frightened me was how out of control my elder brother was.
He was an extremely angry paranoid schizophrenic who wanted to wreak revenge on the world, meaning knives, boiling water and the threat of death were thrown at my mother and me on a regular basis.
In time he was sectioned and fell into drug addiction and eventually he committed suicide.
I too fell into addiction, wracked by fear and terror, medicating myself as I grew into a man.
For years I suffered with panic attacks, constant underlying anxiety, fear of women, fear of men, fear of violence, addictions and more, yet I’m now at a point at which I wouldn’t change a thing.
That may seem a bizarre thing to say, but as the Persian Poet Rumi said: “Through the wound, the light gets in”.
This is not to say I condone or think someone should go through trauma, just that if you have, it can become something you can learn more then you ever thought possible from.
This isn’t intellectual learning either, through years of therapy, spiritual, transformational, and men’s work, I came to discover that in facing the internal darkness, meaning, understanding of life and peace began to blossom.
Now, this isn’t a simple and direct process, it can take weeks, months or years to get the breakthrough, but when you do the underlying narrative of your life switches.
In some senses, like me, you may never truly ‘recover’, which is incidentally why this site is Recovering Man, not recovered, and this is a good thing, because every time anxiety, panic or dark memories threaten, it’s an opportunity to do more nourishing life-giving work that restores my sense of felt peace, purpose and direction in the world.
How to Heal from Trauma: 7 Steps
1: Return to the Traumatic Event
This is perhaps the most famous element of trauma recovery, we all have an image of the psychiatrist’s chair and someone falling to bits over a repressed memory as the rip bits of tissue onto the floor.
While it isn’t essential to work with a trauma therapist when exploring why you’re traumatized, it is advisable.
This needn’t last forever, but the process of delving deep into the memory banks and reliving the initial experience(s) of trauma is vital.
Panic, tears and anger may rise up, yet in that moment we begin to relearn that we are actually safe, secure and healing.
A lot of this can be quite confusing when you first start, yet as you begin to learn what’s going on inside you, the process can become amazingly interesting.
This awakening happened for me when I began to read the work of the ironically named Dr. Robert Scaer, who’s insights into the formation of trauma were fascinating. Dr. Scaer shows the physiological process that occurs when we’re traumatized, likening the process to a car that as stalled.
In essence, when we witness a traumatic event, our famous ‘fight or flight’ response kicks-in from the sympathetic nervous system, which acts like a car accelerator.
Yet as we’re forced to face a disturbing event and cannot simply run away, our parasympathetic nervous system kicks-in and renders us still in the face of danger, which is akin to a car break.
The result? Freeze. And this freeze is akin to a car that has stored, yet most vitally, this is the state in which traumatic memories are stored.
So, in our mission to learn how to heal from trauma, we have our first major clue – that traumatic memory is stored physically as well as emotionally in the initial experience.
If we chart Dr. Scaer’s work back we also find that animals experience the same trauma response, however, they literally shake off the trauma (have you ever seen a gazel or other prey animal shake after escaping a lion?) while we gulp it down and store it as a future reference point.
Now it’s time to face the truth within your soul.
2: “The cave you fear to enter…”
The Jungian mythologist Joseph Campbell became famous for exploring the foundations of cultures around the world, noting the amazing level of symmetry between them.
What Campbell showed was that every culture has its foundational myth and each of these myths has a heroic figure overcoming some kind of evil (think Jesus dying on the cross or St Geroge slaying the dragon).
However, what is most interesting in the context of this piece is that every hero must first face their inner demons (i.e. Jesus not succumbing to temptation from the devil in the desert) before they become what they are destined to be.
Mythologies aren’t just stories, but these are indicators showing us how to live life, and the symbology here is showing us that we too must face our inner demons before we can truly find our peace, potential and purpose.
This finding led to the famous quote, ‘The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.’
Now quite how you enter the cave you fear to seek is a highly individualized process – therapy is the most popular route, although others do exist.
Among these options are group counseling, men’s work, self-inquiry and spiritual work.
While it’s ultimately your decision how you face inner fear, it’s recommended that you do spend time with an experienced other if you can.
The experience they have is invaluable in sketchier moments and there’s an innate power to sharing a deep, vulnerable space with another person that can aid in a healing process.
3: Create a Framework for Life
As I’ve been eager to stress, recovering from trauma is a long-term process with times of remission and times of regression.
In order to mitigate such regression, it is vital to have a framework for your life that is consistently reaffirming the healing you’ve experienced and adding to your inner narrative of transition away from fear to peace.
This means that a regular routine containing journaling, meditation, helpful readings and connection with others can be very powerful.
This shouldn’t be seen as a chore or a negative, creating such a framework offers huge benefits to your life outside of trauma recovery, such as regular powerful inspiration, better mental health, clearer life goals and a firmer sense of life meaning.
4: Connect & Stay Connected
One of the most common effects of trauma is the fear it creates around people. If someone has done something especially violent to you, or you to someone else, it can create a sense of mistrust of people in general, or within yourself. The subconscious stores this information, so it’s hard to just ‘think differently’ about life.
What we can do however is, with repeated exposure, offer more of ourselves to the world by speaking openly with others about your traumatic experiences, and helping other people on their path too.
Naturally, this builds a sense of collective togetherness, which has a deep healing power.
However, this must be practiced regularly, for if we begin to isolate ourselves again the toxic narratives will return.
5: Challenge Yourself
There is time for hiding away in recovery, but there also comes a time when we must be active in our growth.
Trauma creates such a sense of inner fear and panic that intense fear can build up around given challenges in life, yet this fear is not a protective fear at all, in fact, it’s restrictive.
Like water, life must flow, if it stagnates it then starts to decay and stink.
So, you must summon the courage to face challenges in life even though they may be ‘harder’ for you than someone else who isn’t traumatized or someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety attacks.
We simply cannot afford the luxury to complain and wallow in that victimhood, as while it presents itself as comforting, it is actually surrounding you like a suffocating snake waiting to immobilize you and take you out.
We simply must face challenge, and in that pursuit, we learn that adversity is our friend, not our enemy, as adversity helps us grow in character, grit and confidence.
This isn’t to say we should never embrace rest and recuperation, of course, that is vital, the point here is that we must try to live in a cycle of embracing challenge, acquiring the vital growth, resting and reintegrating and rinse and repeat.
Hence, in our mission to learn how to heal from trauma, this cycle is central in our ongoing growth – take note of it.
6: Forgive Others, Forgive Yourself
The power of forgiveness isn’t just central in learning how to heal from trauma, but an essential life skill that is amazingly powerful in creating a peaceful life.
The first thing we have to grasp here is that there is no value in being resentful.
While the ego will tell you there is some justice in feeling hurt by another, it really only causes you pain, and the best way to respond is to find your own freedom in life.
Another misconception is that forgiveness is a negation of an act of harm.
Forgiving someone (or yourself) for beating the crap out of another isn’t about saying that act is okay, it’s about recognizing that the perpetrator has a deeper reality beyond that violence, and that you need to let the pain go for your own good.
Personally, I couldn’t forgive my elder brother for years and years after what he’d done to my mother and me – and that was even after he died. Yet when I was in my own rock bottom, I learned I had to forgive him, as my anger towards him was making me resentful of the world in general.
However, I just couldn’t do it.
One day a friend of mine who had a, let’s say, ‘spiritual background’, presented the notion that I should ‘pray to be open to forgiveness’ rather than actually forgiving.
Despite not being particularly spiritual at this point, my life was in such ruins that anything was worth a go.
After practicing that prayer for some time, the notion came to me that I could forgive my brother’s soul, not his actions.
This led to a major realisation, that we all have a soul, and despite our screw-ups in life, there is an innate truth, miraculousness and power behind all people, even if we’re too blind to see it.
Creating this distinction allowed me to lift the resentment and anger, while simultaneously building a deeper relationship with all people, as I began to see we are largely damaged, traumatized creatures who are usually controlled by the ego – knowing that the spirit behind that is always pure.
The final step is the one that is intended to create a long-term separation between you and the anxieties of the mind.
It may be strange at first to consider that you are not your mind, as we innately assume that’s what we are, but just spend a moment considering this.
Is it you who really decides what thoughts you’re going to think?
Is it you who created your body, mind, the objects of the world and the senses?
Evidently a power has created these things, call that power evolution, God, the universe, life, whatever you like.
The point is that a higher reality exists beyond your limited idea of yourself and you are an innate part of this whole as it built you.
Meditation is the technique we can use to rest in this power.
It isn’t about thinking or working anything out, it’s just about being as we are before any interpretation, which allows us to sit in pure truth.
This is so effective and central to virtually all spiritual traditions and religions because truth is the very nourishing source we need as human beings.
We are, in essence, spirit, and when we connect with that silent, still, simple part of ourselves the noise of the mind isn’t quite so loud, the anxieties of the day not quite so dramatic, and the individual traumatized self not important for our sense of meaning and peace.