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Trauma describes your emotional response to an experience that makes you feel threatened, afraid, and powerless.

There’s no set threshold of what harm is “bad enough” to cause trauma. A traumatic event could involve a single brush with death, like a car crash. But traumatic events can also be complex, or ongoing and repeated over time, like neglect or abuse.

Since threats can involve physical or psychological harm, trauma doesn’t always leave you with visible injuries. But it can still linger long-term, as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Trauma can challenge your ideas of how the world works and who you are as a person. This disruption can have a ripple effect on all corners of your life, from your plans for the future to your physical health and relationship with your own body.

It can take a long time to heal from a profound change. Obstacles, detours, and delays are possible on your journey. You may not know where you are or how to get there.

trauma recovery can take many different forms. There is no official plan, but keeping these 7 considerations in mind may prove helpful.

“You can get over trauma with a single finger. Recovery involves a number of tasks and you can’t skip any of them.”

According to the Extended Transformational Model, trauma recovery happens in five stages:

  1. Pre-trauma characteristics. These refer to the traits and viewpoints you held before the trauma. You can think of this stage as your general state when the trauma occurs.
  2. Rumination. In this stage, your brain works to process the trauma and figure out what happened. You may have a lot of strong feelings and intrusive memories at this stage.
  3. Event centrality. This stage marks a turning point. Here, you take stock of how trauma has changed your life and what you want to do going forward.
  4. Control. In this stage, you begin taking active steps to change your life and cope with your trauma symptoms.
  5. Mastery. Here, you begin to adjust to your new, post-trauma life, refining your coping skills as you go. While the trauma may still affect you, at this stage it no longer controls your life.

Your recovery journey may not follow the steps exactly. These steps offer a rough framework than a pattern can be.

Other models of trauma recovery may divide the journey into a different number of stages, or steps. The overall arc tends to remain the same, though.

It is comforting to read stories about other people who have experienced similar traumatic events.

“Recovery narratives can help you feel less alone. Try to avoid using someone else’s story as a measuring stick to judge your own journey.”

Maybe you:

  • How quickly they adjusted.
  • feel guilty for lashing out when they remained stoic
  • wonder why your recovery is different from theirs.

It is important to remember that your journey is yours alone.

Even if someone is the same as someone who has been traumatised, they will have different experiences and find themselves in a different environment.

It is not a fair race if the competitors run different courses.

“The only way to track your own recovery? Take a moment to consider where you started. Remember, success doesn’t erase progress.”

“healing and trauma don’t happen in a vacuum.”

Say you’ve survived a sexual assault. A range of factors, like your gender, age, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and religion, can influence how you respond to that trauma. Trauma care programs should always take those parts of your identity into account.

According to a 2014 Canadian study, Indigenous survivors of sexual assault benefited from culture-informed care that incorporated traditional healing approaches.

These culture-informed care approaches acknowledged the effects of colonization and racism on their current traumas. It also made use of spiritual and communal strengths that mainstream mental health care neglected to incorporate.

Post-traumatic growth describes any positive changes in your life that stem from trauma recovery.

Examples of post-traumatic growth

  • Personal strength. You might go on to feel more confident, capable, or assertive than you did before the traumatic event.
  • Relating to others. You might find it possible to develop closer bonds with others or grow your support network.
  • Appreciation of life. You may find it easier to live without taking the present for granted and treasure everything life has to offer.

It’s the recovery process that leads to improvement, not the trauma itself. In other words, you can become stronger in spite of that pain and hurt, not because of it.

Know, too, that, post-traumatic growth isn’t all or nothing. Many people experience a mix of growth and challenges. You may find, for example, that recovery leaves you with more gratitude for the small pleasures in life — but also more vulnerable than before.

“Society doesn’t always have patience with the healing process. You may be told to just get over it already or to move on from your trauma. This advice is often better for their needs than yours.”

You may need more rest during recovery than you think, because trauma often proves physically and emotionally draining. It is always a good idea to take a nap, relax with a TV show or book, or sit quietly when you need a break.

More of a fighter than a feeler? You might think of self-care as an act of spite against the outside forces that tried to hurt you. In short, you’re taking direct action to protect your body and soul from any future harm.

Pleasure can offer a victory.

Social support is a vital part of recovery from trauma. As trauma survivors begin the process of recovery, they find that bonds with family, romantic partners and friends deepen.

If someone in your community hurts you, you may not feel safe to tell your friends. If you are in that situation, you could connect with a peer support group. People who share traumas work together to help each other recover.

Free and confidential support groups are usually available. You can join support groups online from your home if you want additional discretion.

Our guide to the best online support groups.

As you work toward healing, support from a mental health professional can be helpful.

When to get support

If the effects of trauma are severe, it may be time to seek professional help.

  • disrupt your eating and sleeping habits.
  • “It’s hard to focus on daily activities.”
  • Your mood and mindset are affected.
  • It is possible to contribute to relationship conflict.
  • You can affect your performance at work or school.

This guide can help you find a therapist.

The trauma-informed healthcare is designed to support the unique needs of trauma survivors.

  • Emotional safety. Trauma-informed healthcare professionals take care to discuss your history without making you relive your trauma or triggering post-traumatic stress symptoms.
  • Cultural sensitivity. Your therapist should have a working knowledge of your cultural background and understand common jargon and social norms.
  • Agency. Trauma-informed care aims to restore your sense of control and power, helping you capitalize on your strengths.
  • Social connection. Your therapist may encourage you to connect with fellow trauma survivors and community resources.

Therapists can use trauma-informed approaches to care for patients.

There are treatment options for post traumatic stress disorder.

It is possible to recover from trauma, but it can take a lot of time.

Keep in mind, though, that recovery does tend to be a gradual process. Having patience with yourself, not to mention plenty of self-compassion, can make a big difference.

“You don’t have to be alone. Emotional support can be provided by loved ones and therapists.”

Emily Swaim is a freelance health writer and editor who specializes in psychology. She has a BA in English from Kenyon College and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In 2021, she received her Board of Editors in Life Sciences (BELS) certification. You can find more of her work on GoodTherapy, Verywell, Investopedia, Vox, and Insider. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.