Your feelings are real
There’s a misconception that people can easily move on from a traumatic experience. A traumatic experience is a shocking, scary or dangerous experience that affects you emotionally. It could be a natural disaster, a life-and-death struggle with an illness like Covid-19, a car accident, a crime, a death, or a violent attack that left you feeling helpless, frightened, or out of control.
Afterward, you may insist to others – and yourself – that you’re okay because physically, you’ve survived. But that doesn’t mean the experience didn’t leave emotional scars. We spoke a mental health expert and a trauma survivor who both weigh in on the steps to take to help you heal from a traumatic experience.
Admit what you’re going through
“When danger presents, it shakes the foundation of our predictable world, and as such, we react internally with neurobiology moving into ‘fight or flight’ mode,” says Deborah Serani, PsyD, an American Red Cross Disaster mental health specialist and the author of Living with Depression. “If the danger is enormous, or bodily harm has occurred, it can cause a traumatic reaction.” This may include intense feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt, or confusion. You may also feel numb or easily agitated.
Don’t repress negative feelings
Sometimes, overly positive thinking can backfire – you’ve got to allow yourself to feel bad after a traumatic experience. “Often, when I work with children and adults with traumatic reactions, I teach them about what trauma does to our bodies, how it needs to have time to be processed to make sense to us, and then how to move forward with reclaiming your power and your story,” Serani says. “Everyone moves through recovery at different rates. But when you understand the uniqueness of trauma, it gives you permission to move through it at your own pace.” In doing so, feelings of powerlessness and fear can give way to greater strength and resiliency, she says.