It’s frustrating to realize that things that happened in the past are still affecting you. You might think, “That happened years ago! I thought I was over it. Why am I still feeling or acting this way?”
Our past trauma can have long-lasting impacts. At times it can feel like you will never recover from it. And this can be discouraging. Often people feel scared to talk about the effects, because it makes them feel ashamed. Other times you’re faced with some discussion, some sound, sight, or smell that triggers a memory and brings back trauma in a way you didn’t expect.
The truth is, it’s normal to have trouble moving past the things that have happened to us. Nothing is wrong with you—you’re just learning how to cope with challenging feelings!
Your feelings and experiences are valid
We often question our own perceptions or experiences. Sometimes while you are going through something, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Calling it “trauma” might feel like overkill—but trauma comes in all shapes and sizes! Anything that has a lasting emotional impact can be traumatic.
You may have tried to talk to someone who didn’t take your experiences seriously. But other people don’t get to define your past or how you deal with it. All that matters is what you experienced, and how it affected you.
How our past continues to affect us
Trauma has lasting effects on the brain. It can become difficult to feel fully alive in the present moment. When we are not living in the moment, we are reliving the past—or fearful of what might happen in the future.
Our experiences also shape our beliefs about ourselves. We like to feel like we’re in control… So when something happens that’s outside of our control, it’s often easier to blame ourselves. We become overly critical of ourselves. And we may start to think, “If only I had been stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to me.” We end up feeling like the problem is with us, when really the problem is what has happened to us.
While you are working through your trauma, you are likely very alert and ready to protect yourself in any situation. You may not trust others—or trust them too easily. You might have some triggers—situations that remind you of the past, or bring up feelings or behaviors that make you feel stuck.
Things that happened in our past can have a lasting effect on our mental health. If your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors are interfering with your daily life, it’s possible that your trauma has led to a mental health condition like PTSD, anxiety, or depression.
How to heal and move on
To move on from the past, it’s important to create a strong foundation for healing. Here are some steps to start your journey:
- Give yourself some credit. If you’ve realized there’s a problem, you’re halfway to solving it! Rather than asking “what’s wrong with me?” Consider reframing it to “How is it that I keep going even though I have faced such scary situations?”
- Get support. Try to find a friend or family member who understands. You can look for a support group online or in person. It can also be helpful to have a therapist that helps you heal.
- Be easy on yourself. Whatever you are feeling is normal to feel. Many other people have had the feelings you are having. If you don’t believe that, you can search online for stories of people who have had similar experiences. And the more you begin to open up to trusted people, the more you will realize that you’re not alone!
- Take one situation at a time. Rather than trying to solve your whole life, start with the specific issue that has gotten you upset. This often includes looking at how your current thoughts and emotions are both tied to your experiences and how these thoughts and feelings are impacting your current reactions and relationships.
- Identify what’s triggering you. Is it something you can avoid? Do you need to talk it out with someone? Is there something you need to do or have someone do for you to heal? Do you need to focus on changing the negative thoughts you’ve adopted, finding courage or safety?
- Remember it’s a process. You will take positive steps forward, and you will also take steps backward. You are moving forward overall… Don’t rush it! It takes what it takes.
Remember, just by reading this, you’re taking your first steps toward facing your past. That’s such a brave thing to do, and you should be proud of yourself!