Welcome to Hello Rebecca Ray, our collective home for courage, growth and human to human connection. I’m your host, Dr. Rebecca Ray, human, clinical psychologist, author, and educator. I know only too well how fear, comparison, and self-doubt can stifle your potential. This podcast is all about brave and meaningful living, and how you can make your authentic contribution to the world today and everyday.
Hi, lovely ones. Welcome to episode number 66. My personal process for coping with the long-term effects of trauma. For anyone listening who has trauma as part of their background as well, please know that you can relax and listen to this episode, comfortably, I hope. I won’t be talking about the details of the trauma, I will simply be talking about the psychological strategies that I use to be able to create life on my terms. Now, some of you may know that trauma is a feature of my past, despite decades, since many, many, many years, the effects remain with me. I’d love to delete the memories from my brain. But it’s not that easy. And does that frustrate me to no end, despite being a clinical psychologist, who has specialised in treating trauma in others, wo knows perfectly well, why I can’t just delete sad memories? Yes, yes, it does.
I really wish that I had some kind of secret that could just get rid of those brain cells out of my brain, but I don’t, unfortunately. I’ve accepted that my very being is shaped by these experiences. My brain is shaped by those experiences. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. I certainly don’t approve of it. But I accept it. It’s not my fault. But it is my responsibility. My life is my responsibility. And I accept that part of that responsibility is managing how I respond to my own stuff.
I’ve given up wishing it was different. I did spend quite a lot of years in my younger years wishing that it was different. I spent energy on that, that look, I want him and save that was wasted energy. Because I do think that every human’s healing process contains parts of that process that need to happen in order for us to get to where we’re going. So, I honestly believe that my younger self did the best that she could with what she knew, and the strategies that she had available. But I did back then really wish that things were different. But now it’s different, I kind of actually see it as my superpower. I see it as the way that I can actually make my work relatable because I have inside knowledge. I have inside knowledge of what it actually feels like to be operating with a traumatised brain. And I also have nearly 20 years of experience of treating other humans who have experienced trauma. So, look it’s not that I love it, I will never get to the point where I look back on my past and think oh my goodness, I’m so glad that that happened. I’m not glad that that happened at all. However, I have a way of being able to carry the stuff psychologically and emotionally, that means that I can continue moving forward and that can means I can continue realising my potential without getting stuck in that stuff.
Because I’m determined that my life will not be defined by that trauma, it will not hold me back from creating the brave and meaningful life that I’m committed to living. But it really does mean that I have to be conscious, I have to be conscious of how I carry my own stuff psychologically and emotionally. I can’t just ignore it or pretend that it’s not there. That doesn’t work. For any of you listening that I’ve also tried avoidance, which is every single human listening because we all do, then you’ll also know that it works in the short term and actually makes things much much harder in the long term.
So here’s the thing, I watched something on the weekend on TV that flipped the switch on some memories within me. And fortunately, I knew I was being triggered at the time but I continued watching anyway and yes, I am continually amazed at my general stubbornness to do what I know I should do. Oh, my goodness, so amusing, but also super frustrating. Now look, most of the time, I have effective strategies for managing my cautious little brain on a daily basis. But sometimes the wheels fall off. And I have a few days where I’m wobbly, and I can’t quite get my life together, my stuff together, which is where I have been in the past couple of days, thanks to my tendency to watch disturbing TV. And I highly recommend perhaps a series like Girls 5Eva or Tes Lasso for much nicer viewing for those of you who need a break, because you also watch disturbing TV like I do.
So in case it’s useful for you, I thought I’d share how I cope when the wheels fall off for me and what I actually do around that process. So the first thing that I do is actually identify what is happening, usually from emotional and physical symptoms. In this case, I had a nightmare, and I had anxiety the following morning that continued on for a couple of days. So what I do is, I get and you know that I will have suggested this in social media posts, in blog posts that I’ve written, in previous podcast episodes and in every single book that I’ve written, I always talk to you about the power of being aware of your own experience. So this is what we’re doing when we’re identifying what’s happening for ourselves, we’re bringing some awareness to our own present moment experience. So what that means is, I want you to think about what is happening in your thoughts, what is happening in your feelings. If you could label those thoughts, what would you call them? Are they images? Are they sentences? Are they words? Are they memories? What are they if you could give them a label? And with your feelings, what would you call them? Is it anxiety? Is it shame? Is it a sense of being completely overwhelmed? What is the actual feeling, and then you might have some physical symptoms. So I have muscle tension associated with my anxiety, I tend to hold myself quite rigidly, I often get headaches. And I also sometimes feel like my heart is beating quickly, which is a symptom of anxiety as well.
So I want you to be able to identify as well what is happening in your body, in your mind and in your feelings. Now the second part of what I do is I sit with it. Now for me, that means I actually make space to be feeling this way, I don’t run away from it. I don’t just and by, I really need to clarify by sitting with it, I don’t mean wallowing in it. I don’t sit there and go, oh, poor me, you know, like, this is the worst thing ever. Instead, what I do is I acknowledge the feeling, and I allow the feelings to be there. And what I tend to do is I turn to nature to feel grounded. So I watch the clouds, or I stand on the grass or I smell the beginnings of autumn, as I record this, it’s the beginning of autumn and there’s this beautiful kind of smell in my garden and in the air at large. And what I can also do is actually spend some time stretching out my body. So I have a yoga bolster and I really like to lie with that bolster down the length of my spine with my arms out to my sides, or reaching out from my sides, so that I can open my chest up, rather than hunched over because sometimes the physical effects of the emotions that I’m feeling make me hunched over and kind of roll into myself. So because my shoulders drop, being able to lie over a bolster and open up my chest really helps. That also helps with my headaches as well. So sitting with it means making room for the feelings. It means choosing to get outside and in nature for a bit and also to spend some time nurturing my body. Or the other thing that I have as well is actually purchased a foot massager, not a spa, not a foot spa, but an actual foot massager that uses air to compress the feet and also has things in it. I don’t know what you’d call them that massage the bottoms of my feet. And that makes a huge difference as well to actually spend some time, I use the foot massager when I meditate so I do like a 10 minute guided meditation using the Calm app, while my feet are being massaged, I lie on the bolster for maybe 10 minutes each day as well. Which these are just little kind of touch points of self-care during this time. That make me feel much better actually.
Step three is I speak it aloud. So the intensity always lessons for me, if I tell someone I trust about what’s happening, I rarely go to others for advice around the trauma because I’ve done a lot of work on it previously. Instead, I just acknowledge it out loud to someone I trust, so that it can’t trap me in a shame spiral by leaving it in the darkness of the recesses of my mind. So there’s only a few people in my life that know the full story, I’ll either talk to my wife, or I have a couple of best friends that I can talk to where I will literally say, so I’ve been triggered. And this is what I’m doing about it.
Then step number four is I seek connections. So I spend time offline and I go deep into real life relationships. So as you would all know, social media is often not helpful in many ways, especially if you’re feeling a bit fragile or vulnerable yourself. And so I actually spend time away from devices, away from screens. And I hang out with my wife and my child and my dogs, and remind myself of what is real. So that is what’s real in the present moment, the memories are real, but I’m not re-experiencing that event over and over again. So I remind myself, that I’m safe now, it wasn’t my fault. Right now, in my present experience, though, I am actually safe.
And step number five, I avoid doing things that will make my present experience worse. So that means that I move more slowly, rather than rush, sometimes I take things off my to-do list. So I actually demand less of myself during a period where I’m recovering from a trigger, I don’t watch disturbing documentaries for a while. I actually take steps to not compound the triggers, even though I kind of created them in the first place. But I make sure that I don’t add to them while I’m recovering. And I don’t allow the trauma to define me and convince me that I’m worthless as a result.
Now, if you’re in a place where your experience of past trauma continues to have an impact on your sense of worthiness, where you continue to get trapped in a shame spiral around, blaming yourself, I strongly encourage you to see a therapist about that, a trauma informed therapist. I’m a big fan of therapy from both sides of the couch. And there is healing that can only be done in a therapeutic space, I believe, with another safe person. So it’s a really powerful process to be able to do.
These steps are what I do in my personal life, they’re not the steps, or they’re not just the steps that I’ve done to heal from my own trauma. Although I do think some healing actually happens for the duration of our entire life. I do think there’s parts of us that perhaps are never fully healed, and that’s why they require ongoing management. But I’m not saying just these steps will be enough for you to manage trauma as a whole. I do strongly encourage you to seek therapy and make sure that you’re able to do the work that needs to be done to restore psychological safety.
So I hope these steps were helpful, and I’m sending you so much love and courage if you’ve been in a similar space recently. I’ll catch you very shortly for the next episode of Hello, Rebecca Ray.
Lovely ones. Thank you so much for listening to Hello, Rebecca Ray. If you’ve got something meaningful from this episode, and the most meaningful thing you can do is jump on over to wherever you listen to your podcast episodes, and leave a review. Because it’s those reviews that help this podcast stay here. Make sure to subscribe, and if you’re generous enough to share this episode, thank you so much. I love seeing your shares on social media. So please tag me, catch you next time.