The Stages of Trauma and Recovery

7 Minute Read

“I never thought this would happen to me.” 

“I always thought things like this only happened on TV.”   

Why me?”

If you’ve experienced a traumatic event, you might find yourself saying similar things.

The stages of trauma look different for everyone, but understanding the similarities can help you heal.

What is Trauma?

Trauma occurs when an abnormal event overwhelms our ability to cope. It shocks, confuses, and can leave us in a fog. It can bring on feelings of intense anxiety and cause us to question our sense of reality.

The trauma response can be difficult to understand. It can also alter our daily lives which can lead us to feel disconnected from ourselves and others.

A traumatic event includes witnessing an accident, sexual assault, or abuse. It can also result from experiencing combat and natural disasters. But, a traumatic event doesn’t need to fall within these categories to bring on a trauma response. For example, the coronavirus epidemic is a collective trauma that people around the world are experiencing. Like with any trauma, each person’s personal experience may look and feel quite different.

Ready to understand what you’re experiencing? Read on to understand the stages of trauma.

id=’1964′]

Trauma doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t just happen to “bad” people.

click to tweet  Click to tweet

The Stages of Trauma and Healing:

We hear a lot about trauma these days. The news is also full of traumatic experiences.

Trauma doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t just happen to “bad” people. Trauma is a human experience and it needs to be understood and cared for.

But, do we actually understand the effects of trauma?

By knowing the stages of trauma, you can help yourself heal and feel more in control of what you’re experiencing. Explore the following stages to gain awareness on your recovery path.

stages of trauma
By knowing the stages of trauma, you can help yourself heal and feel more in control of what you’re experiencing.

1. Stabilization and Safety

Following the traumatic event, you’re likely to withdraw. This withdrawal process is a survival mechanism. During this process, you’re likely to feel anger, guilt, fear, and denial.

Other emotions may also surface unique to the event and based on who you are as an individual. It’s normal to feel unsafe in your own body, relationships, and in the world. This phase can last for weeks, months, or even years. Especially, if the trauma is not processed, understood, and supported during therapy.

A therapist will begin to help you understand your emotions during the stabilization and safety stages. They will work with you to identify areas of your life where safety and stabilization need to be addressed.

To recover, you will learn how to first regulate difficult emotions by learning new coping skills. Therapists will understand if the trauma is too overwhelming for you to discuss. In this case, the therapist may teach you how to use mindfulness, yoga, and deep breathing to soothe yourself. Cultivating new routines should also be a part of this recovery stage.

The key is to find space where you can review the trauma but not relive it.

click to tweet  Click to tweet

2. Mourning and Remembrance

During this stage, you’ll begin to create your own answers to the question, “What does this all mean?”

This stage in the recovery process is all about processing and making meaning of the trauma. The key is to find space where you can review the trauma but not relive it. You can go through this phase at your own pace. If you’re working with a therapist, then they will continue to make safety and stabilization a priority.

As you become ready, you can grieve the losses resulting from the traumatic event. Talk about your emotions. Allow yourself to release painful feelings and thoughts. Be gentle with yourself during this time. Be compassionate and patient. There’s no “right” timeline you should be following.

EMDR may also be an effective tool used during this phase. EMDR is a therapeutic technique that helps you to review the traumatic event while focusing on a bilateral external stimulus. The stimulus could be tapping, buzzing, or eye movements.

stages of trauma
A therapist will begin to help you understand your emotions during the stabilization and safety stages. They will work with you to identify areas of your life where safety and stabilization need to be addressed.

3. Integration and Reconnection

After a traumatic event, our sense of self may be skewed. The traumatic event may seem like it’s defining us because the effects are so overwhelming. The final stage of trauma recovery helps to overcome these effects so you can lead a fulfilling life.

During this phase, you will cultivate a new sense of self. You will also build upon healthy experiences and begin to plan for the future. You’ll take part in reconnecting with others and redefining meaningful relationships.

When the trauma becomes integrated as a part of your history, it no longer defines you and instead becomes a chapter in your life story.

click to tweet  Click to tweet

The trauma itself becomes integrated as a part of your history. It no longer defines you and instead becomes a chapter in your life story. You realize the impact of the event and what it means. Now you are ready to take action. This stage is about making use of the traumatic event. For example, you may decide to work with or help people who experienced similar trauma. You might consider writing a book or speaking publicly about your experience.

Taking meaning from the trauma can also be experienced on a smaller scale that’s equally as impactful. For example, you may decide to live a healthier lifestyle or change careers. Through these efforts, you empower yourself and others. You’ll create new, healthy beliefs about yourself that allow you to step forward into your new sense of reality. A reality that is created by you and that you’re determined to achieve.

stages of trauma
Taking meaning from the trauma can also be experienced on a smaller scale that’s equally as impactful. For example, you may decide to live a healthier lifestyle or change careers. 

You’re Not Alone:  Moving Through The Stages of Trauma

The stages of trauma are experienced uniquely by each individual. And, just like grief, they can be experienced more than once. Always remind yourself that you’re never alone even if your responses and coping mechanisms differ from others.

To gain additional support in moving through the stages of trauma, make an appointment with an experienced therapist. A therapist can help you to cope with the trauma in a healthy and productive way. They can help you to understand yourself better and to make sense of the way you’re feeling.

We may never truly understand why bad things happen, but we can learn how to cope more effectively. We can learn how to become more resilient and more loving towards ourselves and others as well.

Your Turn: Have you been able to successfully recover from a traumatic event by working through the stages of trauma? How did you create meaning out of your experience that led you to where you are today? Share what helped you heal in the comments below.

A version of this post originally appeared on our sister site, NYC Therapy + Wellness.

Kristin Anderson

Kristin Anderson is a Licensed Psychotherapist at Clarity Therapy. Kristin helps clients learn how to heal from the past wounds of trauma and free themselves of depression, anxiety, and resentment so that they can live more fulfilling and prosperous lives.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

There’s More To See

Keep Exploring

3 Essential Tips on How to Heal Emotional Wounds and Trauma

hen we think of the term “healing”, we tend to first think of a physical injury— a broken bone, a strained muscle, an open wound. We can acknowledge that each requires time, rest, a tender touch, and medical attention in order for healing to take...

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

The majority of people struggle with healthy boundaries. Learn how you can develop the skills to create healthy boundaries in your own life.

Did this article resonate with you?

If so, our therapists may be a good fit. We invite you to share your preferences on our therapist matching questionnaire so that we can provide you with a personalized recommendation.

STAY IN TOUCH

Get our best tips and advice on how to live with clarity, joy, and purpose when you join our newsletter.

GET UPDATES

In-Person Therapy Made Easy

Online Therapy Made Easy

Fees + Insurance

ADDRESS

276 5th Avenue, Suite 605,
New York, NY 10001

GET IN TOUCH
OFFICE HOURS

Monday–Thursday
7am–9pm

Friday
7am–8pm

Saturday-Sunday
8am–4pm

CONTACT US

Have a question? Ask away!
We look forward to connecting with you.

    ESSENTIAL READS