I’ve been going to trauma therapy regularly for the past year and a half, and even though there are times I would literally rather have a root canal that I didn’t need than go, I always end up leaving my therapist’s office feeling a little better about life. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) back when I was eighteen years old, and now that I’m twenty one, I’ve realized that my traumatic experiences started way before I received the official diagnosis.
I was originally diagnosed with PTSD because of the fact that I had been bullied extensively all throughout my childhood. Trauma therapy allows me to safely and calmly go back to these past incidents and understand where some dysfunctional thought patterns began while also teaching me how to fix them. The type of therapy I am part of is known as EMDR therapy. It’s a mix of talk therapy and trauma processing therapy. Do you feel like you will never be happy again? That you’re going to feel this way forever? Take it from me, someone who has been through hell and back. Pain is temporary. With that being said, I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned in therapy that may be beneficial to others.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others.
I tend to often compare my own story and struggles to my friends’ struggles, or lack thereof, and this can be hurtful to the healing process. I’ve learned that it’s okay that I’ve gone through things that other people haven’t. This is my story that I’m living, not anyone else’s.
2. It’s OK to not be OK.
I can be so hard on myself and my amazing therapist has to remind me that it’s OK to not be OK, sometimes. Life is hard enough as it is without feeling bad for feeling bad.
3. Use your “wise mind” instead of always acting from an emotional place.
The concept of the “wise mind” is a therapeutic one, but this basically means that the emotional side of your brain and the rational side of your brain need to “play nice” in order for you to live the best life you can. Practicing this therapeutic skill may not be as easy as it seems, but it’s totally worth it.
4. You are not what happened to you.
This one hits close to home every time I hear it because for years I used to think of my trauma as a personal identifier and this was an incredibly unhelpful way of thinking about myself. A person’s trauma should never be any kind of personal identifier — our scars do not define who we are.
5. It’s OK to be angry about your past, but eventually you have to let things go.
This one is a lesson that I still have not fully mastered, but it’s worth mentioning that feelings of anger after trauma are completely valid and oftentimes, fit the facts of the situation. But staying angry with whomever only takes away from you getting closure and finding peace.
6. If possible, don’t stay anywhere you’re not wanted.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you’re like me, then you’ve probably been stuck in a lose-lose situation where walking away seems like the best option. Regardless of your situation, your peace of mind is worth way more than staying in a situation where you are not valued and/or respected.
7. Make a conscious effort to love yourself, even when it’s hard.
This one is something we hear so often, and I know how hard it can be. We have all been told that self-love is the most important coping mechanism that can make your situation a little bit more bearable. I know we tend to hear about the importance of loving ourselves so much that it’s become a cliche, but it really is important. My therapist says, “You have to make therapy and practicing the skills a top priority in your life, if you want it to be effective”
8. Hold yourself accountable, but, don’t beat yourself up.
This one is another one of those skills that I have yet to master, but I’ve learned that it’s important to simultaneously take responsibility for your own actions, while still managing to be kind and gentle with yourself. We’re all human and we all make mistakes. We are perfectly imperfect.
9. Just breathe. No, seriously, just breathe.
Take a step back from your current situation and give yourself the time and space necessary to take a breath. Chances are, you’ll end up feeling a lot better if you give yourself some time away from your situation and let your mind and body relax for a bit.
10. It. Gets. Better.
You can learn to love yourself and embrace who you truly are. The rough patches in your life are simply bumps in the road. Life isn’t a straight path. There will always be bumps, big and small, that you will have to face. And it’s how you face them that determines the outcome. Coping with these struggles may be the biggest part of overcoming what you’re going through. Know you’re not alone. You are NOT the only one struggling, even if it doesn’t feel that way. Time changes everything, and with time comes new possibilities and new experiences. There is nothing in this world that you cannot do. Be yourself and never give up.
These are the lessons that I have learned from my time spent in trauma therapy, and, even if you don’t have any traumatic experiences of your own, maybe these small pieces of advice would be useful to you in some way, shape, or form.
If you take anything from reading this, know that you are not defined by your struggles. They have made you who you are. Learn from them. Grow from them. Let them strengthen you. I am so proud of you for surviving even though sometimes inside you want to just crumble. Trust me, I am where you have been or are. Everything happens for a reason, and even when the time is right, you will know why that reason is. But until then, keep living. Be you.