Sometimes things happen in life that are so overwhelming that we never fail to forget it, even if every fiber of the body wants to forget it. This could be a serious accident, violence, assault, war or having witnessed the suffering of others. When such incidents cause difficulties later in life, it is often called post-traumatic stress disorder. This means that your emotional system is overloaded as a result of what happened. It can be very painful and cause great distress.
If you have experienced trauma that bothers you a lot and you have never talked to anyone about it, we advise you to seek professional help. You should only do the exercise below if you have some safe people in your life available to you. Before you do the exercise, you can also have a look at this exercise to comfort yourself and these exercises to calm down strong emotions, so that you have some strategies if it feels too intense for you working with your traumatic memory.
1. First, write down what the trauma is all about. Describe the course of events with an emphasis on what happened, not what you felt, thought or needed. At this point, you are just giving yourself a description of a sequence of events as if you are viewing it from the outside.
- What happened leading up to the event?
- Where did the trauma take place?
- Who was there?
- What happened?
- What happened after the trauma?
Once you have written this down, read it to yourself and add other things that comes up, still just about the course of events.
2. Check out how it feels to read it, and notice whether you feel ready to move on to the next step. If you already now feel overwhelmed, confused or numbe, leave the rest of the exercise for now. Keep the description of events, find yourself a safe person or a safe place and wait for another day to possibly continue. If the emotions seems manageable, you can move on to the next step.
3. Read what you wrote in step 1. Also write what you thought and felt when it happened.
- How did you experience what happened?
- What did you fear?
- How did you feel?
- What were the sensations in your body?
- What was the worst about it?
Once you’ve written this, read it to yourself and notice how it feels to read it. This can be uncomfortable, and if you feel you can’t handle it, you can choose to take a break or end the exercise. If you’re feeling ready, continue the exercise.
4. Now imagine that you see the situation as a spectator. When you see the situation from the outside, try to put words to the following:
- When you were in that situation, what did you feel and what had you needed to happen?
- If it fits, what would you say to the person responsible for what happened?
NOTE: If this is someone who has only hurt you, you may want to imagine that you are telling about the vulnerable aspects to another person you feel safe with and only about the angry bits to the perpetrator.
- How does it feel to say what you needed?
- If you can feel a new feeling that seems useful (sadness, assertive or protective anger, caring for yourself), let that feeling impact you. What do you want to do and say? Write it down, whether it’s to yourself or to the other person.
- Read it again and notice how it feels.
5. Read the entire text over. Make adjustments if any new things comes to mind.
6. How do you want to relate to this trauma going forward. Do you want to do something different? Do you want to meet yourself in a different way? You want to talk to someone about it? Do you need to seek help?