Abuse Hides in the Dark. Turn on Your Light.

Healing Emotional Trauma in Recovery

A woman in the passenger seat of a car with her head and arm outside the window, assumably in the process of healing emotional trauma

The Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre1 states the stages of healing emotional trauma are:

  • Safety and Stabilization
  • Remembrance and Mourning
  • Reconnection and Integration
  • Safety And Stabilization

Did you notice the cycle in domestic abuse recovery? The cycle of abuse spun you down to the depths of despair, but the cycle of domestic abuse recovery will raise you up. Yet the healing process is a cycle, and no one can tell you how many times an hour, day, week, month, or year you will go through it, or how many rotations you will take.

Safety and Stabilization

In the first and last stage of the cycle of healing emotional trauma, you must purposefully nurture feelings of safety and stability. The best way to nurture those feelings is to have completed a domestic violence safety plan which will remind you of your support network and resources. In a perfect world, you could grab that plan now. But as this is the real world, you probably don’t have such a plan at hand (although it’s never too late to make one).

So, maintaining your safety and stability isn’t an easy task, but you can make it happen. What will help you feel safer and mentally stronger? You know yourself best, but here are some suggestions:

  • Learn to self-soothe during an emotional crisis or anxiety attack. Especially in the beginning, your emotions can take you on a wild, lie-filled ride.
  • Pay attention to what triggers mental or emotional instability. When you know your triggers, you can find coping skills that help.
  • You might find it very hard to talk about the abuse, so work it out in different ways like meditation, yoga, drawing, writing, running. . . anything that lets your emotions come and go. In fact, people who write about their trauma recover more quickly than those who talk about it.2
  • That said, get into talk therapy with a professional if possible. There’s a lot of ground you can cover without speaking of the trauma directly (ask about eye movement desensitization and reprocessing [EMDR] therapy).
  • Work to regain worthy connections with friends and family. Don’t bother with relationships that diminish or discourage you in any way.

Remembrance and Mourning

When you feel safe and stable, you should work through the memories, both good and bad. You’ll find yourself mourning the relationship, not as it was but as you once thought it would be. Face it, you put a lot of yourself into a relationship that was simply one big lie. Accept that the relationship as you perceived it no longer exists, that your abuser doesn’t know how to love you, that you’ve experienced a deep loss, etc. As you remember and mourn the relationship, work into discussing your feelings with a variety of people, from best friends to strangers at a support group.

In the remembrance and mourning phase, you’ll still cry or feel angry or miss the good times or any other emotion as you talk about the relationship. That’s okay. People worth spending time with will listen as you talk about your trauma. But if remembering the past causes you to feel as if it were happening over again, you could be experiencing a symptom of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is very common in abuse victims. Talk to your doctor about the abuse and ask about PTSD.

If you feel your confidence in your safety or mental stability fading, regroup and slow down. Don’t push yourself back when you’re trying to move forward. These ideas can help you navigate this stage:

  • Maintain your feelings of safety and stability.
  • Talk to whoever will listen to and support you.
  • Involve yourself in any creative activity, or if you’re ready for more social interaction, take a class on anything that piques your interest.
  • Make self-care a habit. Self-care includes eating better, taking care of yourself physically, making and attending doctor appointments, etc.
  • Remember to pay attention to your thoughts. Correct negative thoughts about yourself and tell your abuser’s voice to get the hell out of your mind.

Reconnection and Integration

Reconnecting to reality and releasing the traumatic memories of abuse completes this round of healing emotional trauma. You’ll feel stronger and be excited about the life you are making for yourself. The abuse no longer defines your life and becomes part of the story of you, not the only story of you. Here are things you can do to aid the process of reconnection and integration after abuse trauma:

  • Everyone says to volunteer and I used to hate it. I was recovering from depression too, so volunteering wasn’t really an answer. So if volunteering somewhere isn’t a good fit for you, find a way to teach what you’ve learned from the abuse.
  • Make yourself more available to meet new people. Not lovers, but friends. You may find a lover, but if you find yourself feeling emotionally destabilized or wanting to connect with that person very quickly, then it is probably too soon to date.
  • Decide what you want in your new life, make a plan, and go for it.

Maintain your feelings of safety and stability, but remember that it’s normal to feel your foundation rock beneath you. It’s okay to feel afraid, it’s okay to feel emotional. Reach out to your support system, work through the cycle of healing, and before you know it life will reward you for your hard work.

Sources for Healing Emotional Trauma in Recovery:

  1. Manitoba Trauma Information & Education Centre, Phases of Trauma Recovery
  2. 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot by Richard Wiseman

Featured photo by Averie Woodard