Published on September 7th, 2013 | by Amy Jane Helmericks
Ten Tasks for Healing from Trauma
Jasmin Lee Cori (MS, LPC) has provided a tremendous resource with her book, Healing From Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life.
TRAUMA is an enormous topic, about which countless words have been written. The beauty of Cori’s book is how she distills the massive topic and its many relevant areas to their solid core. I never felt like anything I read was “fluff” or more explanation than a particular topic needed to get the concept across.
On the one hand I was thankful. I already felt like I was behind when I started the book because I am one of those women who did not recognize the trauma until after the fact. At other times I was annoyed, because I’d barely wrapped my mind around one idea when she set it down and moved to the next one.
Overall I believe Cori took the right approach: by introducing us to “industry standard” terms, she provides the means (vocabulary) to research any individual area further on our own.
Each chapter ends with a distilled list of “10 things to remember,” but even the chapter content benefits from this focused, almost magazine-like approach.
In chapter five, The Journey of Healing, Cori has another list of ten, titled “The Tasks of Healing.” These suggest a cluster of areas to strengthen that is supplemented with more detail throughout the rest of the book. These elements do not have to happen in order, but I found it helpful to see them untangled enough to lay out in a single line.
The headings are hers, and the summaries are mine, from the notes I took as I read the book.
1. Resetting your nervous system
Trauma changes our physiology. Among other things we’re on hyper-alert, unable to relax, and perceiving every change first as a threat. Achieving this reset increases self-regulation and resiliency.
2. Freeing your body of the impacts and holding patterns that have derived from the trauma
Your body has needs beyond the nervous system (#1). It also holds “tissue memories.” Cori suggests that body memories align with thought patterns, and if only one of the pair is corrected or retrained, the unhealthy hanger-on (memories in the mind or body) will pull its partner back into the old way. Basically, she warns that correcting your thinking is not enough. Focusing only on thought patterns would be like showering and then pulling your sweat-stiff work clothes back on over your clean body.
3. Expanding your capacity to stay present
This means being aware of what’s going on around you at any given time without trying to escape from it. I totally see the need/application of this. A lot of people blame this challenge (avoiding the reality-of-now) on technology. I think technology just makes the absence from here more enjoyable. In the future at Wyn we will be talking more about Mindfulness, a powerful approach to staying present, and its role in mental and emotional health.
4. Mastering your trauma symptoms
Cori has been describing these symptoms throughout the early chapters. The one I noticed most in myself is my instinct to draw-in, both physically (milder colors, tucked-up body-language) and emotionally (“sitting on my hands” rather than volunteering for anything I don’t have responsibility for or complete mastery of). As I’ve been willing to sit more open, lean-in, physically (body elements related to #2), I find it easier to open myself up to my natural excitements and energy that fled from the arrival of my depression.
5. Being able to feel a full range of emotions without being controlled by any of them.
Wyn touched on this in our first issue about emotions (covering the basics) in August 2013.
6. Managing and coming to peace with your memories (or lack of memories)
Traumatic memories are stored differently than regular memories. Cori writes, “In addition to learning how to manage memories that come up without being totally overwhelmed by them, we also need to find a way to integrate these potent pieces of information. If you are plagued by trauma symptoms but have no memories, that itself becomes something to make peace with.”
7. Coming to terms with what has happened
And how it has shaped you. Cori writes, “Learning to see (eventually) how the trauma has served you and not just how it has robbed you is an important part of completion. Coming to a place where you can really say goodbye to the trauma and have it fully behind you will usually involve going through some sort of grief process. You grieve what you lost and what you never had. If you try to short-circuit the grief, the grief will find a way to short-circuit you.” (Emphasis mine.)
This is a concept Cori also emphasizes in a few places. There are no shortcuts out of trauma, but there is a road. Different people travel at different speeds, but the road is the only way to leave this place truly behind.
8. Making up for what you missed
I found this concept so precious, and I’ve heard other writers allude to the same thing. You are encouraged to “parent yourself.” This is most relevant to early-life trauma: developmental needs like bonding and differentiation.
A few months back, I shared a fear of mine with an older woman, feeling vulnerable and ashamed, asking how to make it go away. She looked at me with great seriousness and asked, “How old were you when that fear entered?”
“Oh! Crazy-young,” I answered, feeling tinier and more ridiculous. “I don’t know why I can’t just walk way.”
“When that happens to me,” she said, with a tremendous dignity that stilled my flighty embarrassment, “I picture a little child that age, standing in front of me, and I talk to her like I’d talk to a child that age, until she understands and is comforted.”
This is one of the “end” stages that happens all throughout the process as well, when you gather the pearls you’ve collected in the previous steps and use them to recompile the life that’s shattered, forging a new identity in the process.
10. Giving Back
One element of giving is recognizing that we are not limited to ourselves. In our trauma, we come painfully face-to-face with our limits, our weaknesses. We are (at least, I know I am) afraid to return to that place of scraping the bottom. It is important to know our limits and to not extend farther than we have capacity to stay healthy, but it is also important to know we are not alone, and we don’t have to go through life (healthy or broken) taking care of ourselves by ourselves.
Giving can become an act of faith: I am free to give this energy to you, because I know my energy will be renewed. We’re never complete until we are able to give. I question if we can reach wholeness before we are giving.
The reality is that Healing from Trauma is an enormous task. It is not something most people do “over a weekend” and move on with life. You were changed by the source of the trauma that permeates your being. Healing will change you as well.
Healing from Trauma is available from Amazon (affiliate link).