Why We Sometimes Hold Onto Trauma

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“The sooner we heal our traumas, the sooner we liberate ourselves from the people who hurt us. By hating them, we hold onto them. We cannot heal.” – Vironika Tugaleva

As I have studied, learned and written about healing trauma, I find I’m guilty of assuming that if you have been through trauma, you must want to heal. I forget that some souls perhaps don’t want to look at it, deal with it, or get better; at least, not now. I forget it until I’m face to face with such a person and I realize they are still holding onto a trauma from long ago – sometimes decades ago.

I used to wonder “What are they getting out of it? What’s the payoff?” Which sounds cold when you’re talking about a trauma survivor. But this is the thought I jump to when I see someone not making progress years after trauma. In reality, it’s far more complicated than my question, and of course, the reasons are as individual as we are. So in digging a little deeper, I found the reasons for holding onto trauma fall into three large categories (with many sub-categories).

The thought processes are basically the following:

Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.

Moving past trauma means I will have figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.

These are not light issues, not light thoughts. They are huge and overwhelming and no wonder people are often reluctant to confront these feelings! Let’s dive deeper.

“Moving past trauma lets the person who caused it off the hook.” This thought is often accompanied by other, related thoughts. If I forgive, then they’ll think they didn’t really hurt me. If I move past this and become stronger and more resilient, they’ll think their actions had no effect on me. If I forgive them, I’m weak.

The reality check to this thinking is part logic, part spirit. Logically, we have no idea what another person thinks of us, even they treat us poorly it’s more about them than what they think about us. And when we second-guess others’ thoughts and motivations, we give them even more power over us, thereby remaining stuck in the past. Spiritually, forgiving and moving on is something we do for ourselves, not for them. The longer we hold onto anger and withhold forgiveness, the longer we are in a state of inertia that we perpetuate. We don’t let anyone off the hook by moving past trauma – we break the chains that are keeping us in a dark place, so we can begin to climb to the light.

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” ~ Marianne Williamson

“Moving past trauma means I can no longer be let off the hook.” This second reason people might hold onto trauma is pretty insidious. Sadly, some of us find that in sharing our trauma we are seen as a victim, and people around us can start to let us off the hook. If we have certain unmet needs inside us, this can feel pretty good. It also gives us valid reasons for not fully dealing with people and situations in our life. We can start to use it as a way to avoid life, people, and in the worst cases, work and responsibility. I think all of us who have gone through trauma have been through phases of this. With therapy and hard work, we usually get past it.

The reality check to this thinking is realizing that again, you’re giving the trauma and whoever you associate with it, the power to keep you from fully engaging in life. Every time we use it as a way to avoid life, we empower the trauma, not ourselves. I’m not talking about the times we need to practice PTSD self-care and carve out safe, quiet time. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know the difference between self-care and avoidance. And if we’ve really gone down a dark path and avoid work and responsibilities, it will undoubtedly cause people who care for us to have to pick up the slack or bail us out.  It’s so important to take an honest look at how our healing impacts others, usually our family. If we have avoided therapy, or are playing on being a victim, not a survivor, we are denying our full and beautiful light from coming forth. Our inner wells of strength and faith are deep, so turn this fear over to God so we can truly conquer trauma, and not live it again every day.

We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same.” ~ Pema Chodron

Moving past trauma means I will have to figure out who I am if I’m not suffering.” This thought manifests as many different thoughts that allow the trauma to define you. I’m a person who was profoundly hurt. Trauma is my identity, therefore in my pain I feel safe. We naturally do identify with being a victim of trauma initially. This should fade and assume a back-burner position in a healthy identity as we heal.

If it doesn’t, as a therapist I once knew said, “It doesn’t feel good, but it feels familiar.” We know how to play that part, so we play it because it’s comfortable, it’s easier, and we’re tired. But the danger, the reality check in this thinking, is that you’re once again giving your power to the trauma, not the recovery. You’re living a role, an identity, that was forced on you, not one you’ve chosen for yourself. Your true spirit, your true nature is on that back-burner. Invite it to come forward, try to open yourself to what the Universe has for you next. When you put a foot on this path of letting that old identity go, new possibilities will unfold!

Healing trauma is rich, unrelenting, exhausting, and rewarding. There are so many modalities now to deal with PTSD – therapy, EMDR, tapping, and of course, I believe, taking God with you every step of the way can only enhance your experience and restore your faith more quickly. So who could you become as you move past trauma?

We can only know when we begin to climb out of the quicksand. Staying stuck can only pull us down into depression, health issues, addictions and more. Healing is the process of getting un-stuck, of creating movement, of creating energy to move, of letting go.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

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