Admit what you’re going throughWAYHOME studio/Shutterstock
Of all the mental health myths that need to be set straight right now, one of the most damaging is that we can easily move on from a traumatic experience. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a traumatic experience is a shocking, scary, or dangerous experience that affects you emotionally. It could be a natural disaster, a car accident, a crime, a death, or a violent attack that left you feeling helpless, frightened, or out of control. Afterward, you may insist to others—and yourself—that you’re OK, because physically, you’ve survived. But that doesn’t mean the experience didn’t leave emotional scars. “When danger presents, it shakes the foundation of our predictable world, and as such, we react internally with neurobiology moving into ‘fight or flight’ mode,” says psychologist Deborah Serani, PsyD, an American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Specialist and the author of Living with Depression. “If the danger is enormous, or bodily harm has occurred, it can cause a traumatic reaction.” This may include intense feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt, or confusion. You may also feel numb or easily agitated.
Don’t repress negative feelingsUlza/Shutterstock
Sometimes, overly positive thinking can backfire—you’ve got to allow yourself to feel the bad after a traumatic experience. Denial might be part of your path to recovery, but research suggests you’ll need to move through all your negative emotions eventually for proper healing. “Often, when I work with children and adults with traumatic reactions, I teach them about what trauma does to our bodies, how it needs to have time to be processed to make sense to us, and then how to move forward with reclaiming your power and your story,” Dr. Serani says. “Everyone moves through recovery at different rates. But when you understand the uniqueness of trauma, it gives you permission to move through it at your own pace.” In doing so, feelings of powerlessness and fear can give way to greater strength and resiliency, she says.