Change can be challenging for anyone. However, for trauma survivors, it can be even harder. Especially when change feels uncomfortably familiar. It may seem easier in the moment to push change away, refusing to accept it. Yet, that robs you of the opportunity to overcome and make meaningful change. So, how do you embrace change when trauma symptoms feel so familiar?
Why is Change Especially Risky for Trauma Survivors?
Trauma can happen to anyone, and in some ways, trauma arises for everyone. Trauma occurs when you experience an event as physically or emotionally harmful or even life-threatening. Your body’s ability to cope is overwhelmed. This last part is what makes it trauma.
Even though the event passes, trauma has lasting adverse effects on a person’s mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Trauma symptoms can easily go unrecognized for many years, possibly an entire lifespan.
Related Reading: 3 Ways Childhood Trauma Can Affect Your Adult Relationships
When emotional trauma symptoms are unrecognized or unresolved, stressful events in life can re-activate unsafe feelings that stem from the past. Trauma changes the way your brain, emotions, and nervous system respond to stress, making you more sensitive to potential danger. And in response to a potential threat, your body may automatically transition to hyperarousal or become numb, sinking into hypo-arousal.
So when change feels like a danger, it’s hard to give yourself the space needed to adjust and feel comfortable with change. It starts with taking positive steps towards increasing adaptation and tolerance in a way that supports healing.
Body Work for Trauma
Still wondering how to embrace change when trauma symptoms feel so familiar? Positive steps towards healing from trauma and improving your tolerance with change begin with understanding your nervous system and becoming familiar with it again. Trauma can create a significant disconnect between your body and mind, separating you from your physical body.
This disconnect can make it very difficult to understand your emotions and naturally flow with them. Instead, you may find yourself not understanding what you are feeling, numbing it, or flat out rejecting it.
Related Reading: How to Release Trauma Trapped in the Body
The first step is to understand why your nervous system is on high alert and to recognize the alerting cues it is giving you. From there, you can begin to determine whether there is actual danger present or if this experience is a memory of past danger.
With the knowledge that comes from realizing the source of your bodily sensations and emotions, you can learn to roll with your emotions, allowing a greater range of experiencing emotions and widening your tolerance.
But having the knowledge only gets you so far. The trauma feelings you may experience with change can be so familiar that it is hard to react differently than you typically would, even when you know it’s the trauma driving your body’s reaction. You may feel like you are being swept away by the emotional storm inside.
When struggling with change or that emotional storm, try these steps to anchor yourself:
- Notice what in your external world is still the same. Amongst change, there is always some familiar, even small. It could be everyday items around you, a familiar face, or the relationship with those you are with. Find that familiar thing and focus on it.
- Ground yourself: When you feel like you’re about to be carried off by the feelings inside, it can help to anchor yourself in the present moment by becoming aware of your senses – what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. One excellent tool is the 54321 technique; find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, two things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
- Notice what is going on internally. Now that you are more centered, you’re ready to shift back into your inner world and explore who you are. Maybe noticing the strengths you have, the tools you can use, or even the wisdom and ability to allow for change.
Why Change is Good
We have no control over what happens around us; change is an inevitable part of life. However, all that you have learned and the skillsets you hold are always with you. And those tools can help you work through change and even grow from it.
Related Reading: How to Feel Happy Again When Change Keeps You Down
Change is good because it teaches you to adapt and develop resilience. Your brain needs you to keep exposing yourself to change so it can remain healthy. However, for change to be experienced as good by your nervous system its effect needs to be within your window of tolerance. So understanding your own capacity and gently challenging its thresholds allows you to grow that window of tolerance.
Embracing change when trauma symptoms feel so familiar can be hard on your own. Working through trauma with a trauma-informed therapist will be a huge benefit to you through this process. Therapy can allow trauma survivors to work through their experiences and feelings in an environment that is safe with someone acting as a container and guide.
If you are in the Chicagoland area and are struggling with change or trauma, give Life Care Wellness a call at (630) 423-5935. We have trauma specialists in Glen Ellyn, Jefferson Park (Chicago), and Sycamore who can help you heal from trauma and feel better in control of your emotions and life’s changes.