How to Understand the Many Layers of Trauma

I was in conversation with someone who had some significant trauma in their lives. They had processed many aspects of it in therapy. Then as they experienced a new set of memories stimulated by encounters with individuals who were a part of their life during that period of time, they experienced an entire re-enactment of the trauma all over again.

I am in relationship with a number of trauma therapists and experts where there are regular discussions about how and whether people actually heal from trauma. It is such a confusing journey to recover from traumatic experiences. There is the loss, the grieving, some re-enactment and other expressions that frustrates individuals who have been impacted by trauma. To some it feels cyclical and to others it feels somewhat oppressive and unending.

In any regard it is very difficult to not have reoccurring thoughts, feelings and sensations that are troubling for so many.

I think one thing to remember is that trauma sensations have much to do with memories that are triggering. Often those memories are related to a specific set of situations or cues that are related to some aspect of the traumatic experience. When we encounter other aspects of those experiences, we can find ourselves remembering a whole new set of sensations that can bring us new realizations, different losses, intensive grief and difficult emotions. It is almost like the traumatic memories are compartmentalized and are released in phases as our memories are re-stimulated. This often makes it feel like the traumatic impact will never subside.

What is important is to realize that these layered sets of memories may be protective. To be forced to remember everything about a traumatic episode all at once could be more than we can cope with. So maybe we are being protected by these memories being realized in a phased way, allowing us to process them a bit more gradually as we encounter different triggers.

What is most important is that there is the opportunity to have someone who is trauma-informed to process with. It is also important to recognize that it may take more time than we thought if we are having different kinds of triggers that recall different types of memories. If we are realistic about our healing and recovery process, we will realize that there needs to be a great deal of patience in our expectations. It is important to realize this reality for ourselves and for others around us who have experienced trauma. Their need for recovery may take much longer than anticipated as well.

It is vital that we provide patient and long-standing support to family, friends and clients who have experienced a serious event or events that have been traumatic to them. In compassion, we must not create expectations that are unrealistic. The layers of memories are enough to manage without guilt-provoking messages from those with whom they have shared their trauma. Over time they will be able to cope and perhaps recover because of that consistent and compassionate support.

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