Healing from Negative Memories and Post-Traumatic Stress
During my time working at Agape over the past three years, I have seen many clients suffering from trauma and working through the pain of negative emotional experiences. All of them have wanted to heal and let go of the past, but many felt stuck and unable to move past their painful memories. It is important to understand the nature of trauma to be able to heal from it.
Normally, our brains process negative emotional experiences quite well. After a good night’s rest, we wake up feeling rejuvenated and restored. During sleep, our brains process the important information and eliminate the rest. With trauma however, the brain cannot process the overwhelming raw emotion in the days and nights following a traumatic event. Instead, many people who have experienced trauma or acute stress will tend to push the unwanted thoughts away from consciousness because bringing the thought or memory to mind is painful. Unfortunately, the damage of trauma is often first noticed through physical symptoms including anxiety, depression, night terrors, insomnia, panic attacks, and a sensitivity to even mild threats. The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD, is a well-known book about trauma and describes this reality well. Indeed, trauma is held in the body and any effective treatment or counseling for trauma must address not just the thoughts or intellect, but emotion and symptoms in the body.
How do I know if I am struggling from trauma, traumatic memories or post-traumatic stress?
One of the main ways to tell if you are struggling from trauma or a painful memory is to apply a simple test. When you think back to that negative memory from your past, does it still bother you today? Is it still painful for you? If you answered yes, then speaking to a friend, relative or pastor who cares can help you on the journey toward healing.
When these painful memories are triggering multiple symptoms that lead to significant impairment at home, work or in relationships, then it may be time to speak with your physician or counselor about effective treatments .
How to Heal from Painful Memories and Post-Traumatic Stress
Healing from painful memories and post-traumatic stress is a holistic process which involves the mind, spirit and body. True healing can occur when there is a willingness to be vulnerable and honest about the painful and emotional parts of the hurtful memories to God and trusted confidants. In my practice as a counselor, I have seen a tendency for some people to want to only talk theoretically or almost academically about their pain. In my experience, that doesn’t work very well. On the other hand, those who are willing to share the pain, hurt, sadness and anger that they have locked up inside begin to feel physical and emotional relief. Often this relief coincides with spiritual renewal and the ability to feel affection and love again for God and others.
Healing from trauma should be experiential, dynamic and involve the body. It is important to begin engaging in self-care through soothing and restorative activities. This may include light exercise, yoga, massage therapy, spending time in nature, gardening, playing or listening music etc.
An effective and well-researched therapy that I have been trained in is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). This therapy addresses the negative, traumatic, and internalized beliefs/thoughts that usually accompany painful, trauma-related memories. Negative beliefs are transformed into positive and hopeful beliefs and as the body is allowed to process the emotion of the traumatic images and body sensations, healing can begin to occur.
I also believe that as helpful as therapy is, the ultimate healing from trauma is also a spiritual process. God is our comforter and He is our safe place. Understanding that He cares deeply about the pain the His children experience is transformative and brings true healing and hope.