To Speak or Not to Speak about Trauma

dont-want-to-talk-freek-van-den-berghAs we approach a new year I’m thinking about how often we speak about our trauma itself — and whether or not we need to. I meet many survivors who don’t want to reveal the details of their trauma at all. In my clients, all of whom are survivors, most don’t want to speak about their traumatic experience in detail. They’re much more comfortable speaking about their post-trauma symptoms.

And yet, when I went into therapy that’s all we did; I didn’t feel like I had a choice. My therapist’s plan was to talk and talk and talk about what I had survived, how I felt about it, why I felt that way, and … and …. and…. Eight years later I was really sick of talking about it and not any freer from it.

If I go back even further, I remember myself very well in the days before I learned to speak about what had happened to me. I was terrified putting language to it would make it loom too large and overwhelming in my mind. I was already on the brink of insanity and I was afraid going back and describing the past would push me over the edge.

I find out now, all these years later, this sort of aversion to telling our stories is completely normal! Even this morning I went to buy dog food and the woman who owns the store confessed she’s now on medication for depression, OCD and anxiety in order to manage her post trauma symptoms that developed after surviving a rare brain tumor. “I don’t want to go to therapy,” she said. “I don’t want to have to go back to all of those feelings and talk about it.”

The good news is: We don’t have to speak to heal.

Sure, there are benefits to getting it all down and out in words, but the truth is it isn’t necessary in order for healing to take place. Last week I completed working with a survivor of sexual assault; in our 6 sessions together she never once told me what kind of assault she survived. And yet, she healed because there are techniques we can use that don’t require an enormous dissertation about the past.

I’m not alone in thinking we don’t have to force people to detail events. A while ago I met a trauma blogger I really enjoy reading. Her name is Teresa: She’s a trauma therapist and yoga instructor. She has a deep belief in the power of using the body during healing. She works with many people struggling with post trauma symptoms and has noticed that some only tell the story AFTER they have healed.

We have so many programmed beliefs about how healing is supposed to go. We must forgive first. We must talk first. We must (fill in the blank).

The truth: Healing doesn’t have a set program.

Sometimes, forgiveness comes after healing, if at all. Sometimes we talk in the end, as you’ll see next week in a special ‘Survivors Speak’ post written by my client who, now healed of post trauma symptoms, wants to reach out to other survivors.

It’s very important in healing to trust your own instincts, find your own path and do what feels right for you. When eight years of therapy didn’t heal me I struck out to find healing on my own without professional help. It just felt like the right thing to do. I’m sure my family didn’t think that was a good idea. But look where it lead.: I found wellness my own way.

There are many paths to finding freedom. In the upcoming year I hope you find yours.

(Photo: Freek van den Bergh)


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