Will I ever feel safe to talk about past traumatic events?

The idea of speaking about what has happened to you might be overwhelming. You might be afraid that if you do start talking that you simply will not be able to function in your everyday life.

When talking about past hurts and painful experiences in counselling there is always the possibility  that you’ll feel a little worse before you feel better - similar to the analogy about the pain created when cleaning a wound: it hurts while you do it but it starts to heal afterwards. 

However, there is no ‘therapeutic law’ that states that you have to talk about the trauma you’ve experienced - for some it is not necessary for some to review and relive a trauma to recover from it [1]. No one can, or should try to, make you do this. Reviewing and reliving trauma memories can be really helpful for some, but not for all, and maybe it’s not for you. 

If you do want to talk about your trauma it has to be done in your own time when you feel ready to do so. The aim of counselling should always be to help you feel better in your everyday life and, talking about past traumatic events before you are ready to do so, might set you back a few steps and leave you feeling more than a little worse than you did before you started.

Before we go further let’s answer the question what is trauma? Trauma involves experiencing, or witnessing, a threat to life or limb and can involve feeling fear, helplessness or horror. [2]

Events can also be deemed as traumatic when they are not seen as directly life threatening e.g. in the case of physical/sexual abuse of a child by their parent when they are reliant on their parent for survival. [3]

And what might you be experiencing after a trauma? [4]:

  • reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • bad dreams
  • frightening thoughts
  • staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • feeling emotionally numb
  • being easily startled
  • having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

As touched on above, the first and foremost aim of any counselling should be to improve the life that you are living right now. And, if you are experiencing some or all of the symptoms above the chances are that your everyday life is a real struggle and could even be frightening. The primary objective has to be to help you gain some control over these symptoms so that you feel some semblance of safety in your life. That help might come in the shape of any or all of the following:

  • Teaching you about your symptoms and how they’re a very natural reaction to your experience.
  • Working at halting the experience of reliving your trauma by grounding you in the here and now. 
  • Putting in place rituals that can help prevent bad dreams.
  • Helping you become more aware of, and get to know, your body’s reactions so that you’re not overwhelmed by them.

When you feel that you have some control over what is happening for you, you might decide to revisit what has happened in the past… equally you might decide not to and that’s okay.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JTLFCbFX0s

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83241/

[3] http://www.trauma-pages.com/trauma.php

[4] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Brighton BN1
Written by Alison Sutcliffe, Counsellor & Psychotherapist PG Dip MSc MBACP (Accred)
Brighton BN1

Alison Sutcliffe MBACP has been working alongside clients since 2009 and has a private practice based in SE6 and SE1. Alison is also qualified to provide Online Counselling so that you can access counselling from the comfort of your own home or even as you travel.

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