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The Road to Recovery Looks like This: Stages of Trauma and Moving On

"I never thought this would happen to me." 

"I always thoughts things like this only happened on TV."

"Why me?"

If you've experienced a traumatic event, you might find yourself saying similar things.

The stages of trauma look different for everyone, but understanding the similarities can help you to heal. 

Trauma occurs when an abnormal event overwhelms our ability to cope. It shocks, confuses, and can leave us in a fog. It can bring on feelings of intense anxiety and cause us to question our sense of reality. 

The trauma response can be difficult to understand. It can also alter our daily lives which can lead us to feel disconnected from ourselves and others. 

A traumatic event includes witnessing an accident, sexual assault, or abuse. It can also result from experiencing combat and natural disasters. But, a traumatic event doesn't need to fall within these categories to bring on a trauma response.

Ready to understand what you're experiencing? Read on to understand the stages of trauma.

Recovery is Possible: The Stages of Trauma and Healing

We hear a lot about trauma these days. The news is also full of traumatic experiences.

Trauma doesn't discriminate and it doesn't just happen to "bad" people. Trauma is a human experience and it needs to be understood and cared for.

But, do we actually understand the effects of trauma?

By knowing the stages of trauma, you can help yourself to heal and feel more in control of what you're experiencing. Explore the following stages to gain awareness on your recovery path.

1. Stabilization and Safety

Following the traumatic event, you're likely to withdraw. This withdrawal process is a survival mechanism. During this process, you're likely to feel anger, guilt, fear, and denial. 

Other emotions may also surface unique to the event and based on who you are as an individual. It's normal to feel unsafe in your own body, relationships, and in the world. 

This phase can last for weeks, months, or even years. Especially, if the trauma is not processed, understood, and supported during therapy. 

A therapist will begin to help you understand your emotions during the stabilization and safety stages. They will work with you to identify areas of your life where safety and stabilization need to be addressed. 

To recover, you will learn how to first regulate difficult emotions by learning new coping skills. 

Therapists will understand if the trauma is too overwhelming for you to discuss. In this case, the therapist may teach you how to use mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing to soothe yourself. Cultivating new routines should also be a part of this recovery stage. 

2. Mourning and Remembrance

During this stage, you can find your own answers to the question, "what does this all mean?"

This stage of the recovery process is all about processing and finding meaning from the trauma. The key is to find space where you can review the trauma and not re-live it.

You can go through this phase at your own pace. If you're working with a therapist, then they will continue to make safety and stabilization a priority. 

As you feel ready, you can grieve the losses resulting from the traumatic event. Talk about your emotions. Allow yourself to release painful feeling and thoughts. 

Be gentle with yourself. Be compassionate and patient. There's is no "right" timeline you should be following. 

EMDR may also be an effective tool used during this phase. EMDR is a therapeutic technique that helps you to review the traumatic event while focusing on a bilateral external stimulus. The stimulus could be tapping, buzzing, or eye movements.

3. Integration and Reconnection 

After a traumatic event, our sense of self may be skewed. The traumatic event may seem like it's defining us because the effects are so overwhelming. The final stage of trauma recovery helps to overcome these effects so you can lead a fulfilling life. 

During this phase, you will cultivate a new sense of self. You will also build upon healthy experiences and begin to plan for the future. You'll also take part in reconnecting with others and redefining meaningful relationships. 

The trauma itself becomes a part of your history. It moves from defining you to being a part of your life story. You realize the impact of the event and what it means and you are ready to take action. 

This stage is also about making use of the traumatic event. For example, you may decide to work with people who experienced similar trauma. You might consider writing a book or speaking publicly about your experience. 

Taking meaning from the trauma can also be experienced on a smaller scale that's equally as impactful. For example, you may decide to live a healthier lifestyle or change careers. 

Through these efforts, you'll be empowering yourself and others. You'll create new, healthy beliefs about yourself that allow you to step forward into your new sense of reality. A reality that is created by you and that you're determined to achieve.  

You're Not Alone in Dealing with the Stages of Trauma

The stages of trauma are experienced uniquely by each individual. And, just like grief, they can be experienced more than once. Always remind yourself that you're never alone even if your responses and coping mechanisms differ from others. 

To gain additional support in moving on from trauma, make an appointment with an experienced therapist. A therapist can help you to cope with the trauma in a healthy and productive way. They can help you to understand yourself better and to make sense of your reactions. 

We may never understand why bad things happen, but we can learn how to cope more effectively. We can learn how to become more resilient and more loving towards ourselves and others as well. 

Need support in dealing with a traumatic event? Live in New York City? Contact us today to begin a therapeutic relationship with one of our highly-skilled therapists.