Adaptations to Traumatic Life Experiences

Adaptations to Traumatic

Life Experiences

When I decided to start this blog, I decided that the mission would be to talk about mental and emotional challenges as, “adaptations to traumatic life experiences”. Traumatic experiences can occur in infancy and childhood but as early as when you were in your mother’s womb. When we experience traumatic events at any life stage many people adapt in unhealthy ways to cope with abnormal or dysfunctional situations. New healthier adaptations need awareness of what needs change with empathy and self-compassion next, acceptance of why you adapted, learning and educating oneself on the movement forward with curiosity, self-exploration and self-discovery towards the movement of change. The change through new adaptations requires repetitive new habits and steps as well as teaching and modeling the new way. This process is not linear, it is like a slow-moving winding road that appears not to move quick enough! However, when you surrender to the process, focusing on the present, and not hyper-focusing on results and unrealistic expectations, one suddenly becomes aware of the shift as our perspective changes, our feelings and sensations begin to be experienced more peacefully and joyfully over time. We realize we have adapted in new ways experiencing more confidence and trust in ourselves and those close to us. 

I also found that many people who were referred by family and friends to my office were looking for alternative approaches and perspectives to mental and emotional health.  I was motivated and inspired to provide an authentic voice to how therapy and holistic approaches can work together to support healing body, mind, and spirit. That was my goal for The Heart Way coaching and counseling and this blog. As someone who has received therapy at different times in her life, explored and integrated meditation, cultivated spirituality, and energy healing I am aware of the long-term benefits of all these approaches to healing anxiety, depression, trauma memories, and physical symptoms. I hope to inspire, motivate, and give you hope through my life experiences that healing is possible but patience and compassion with yourself is important because the healing journey is different for everyone.

I want to share with you my experiences with anxiety and trauma and how it led me to therapy and a meditation practice. Like so many others who have discovered they had anxiety, I began experiencing physical symptoms and worry thoughts in my mid 20’s. The physical symptoms I experienced were nervousness, rapid breathing, sweaty palms, tight chest, and headaches. At the time, I was married for about four years with two small children under the age of 4 and had just stepped back into school to complete my bachelor’s degree in social work at Iona College in New York. The physical symptoms began to feel increasingly unbearable even though I was experiencing normal amount of stress in my daily life.

I didn’t understand why I was experiencing the feeling of dread, physical symptoms that were taking over, shutting me down, and draining my energy. I found myself feeling easily irritated, had difficulty falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares, repetitive memories of childhood, and flashbacks which felt like I was reliving the past in the present. So, I decided to enter into therapy to help me figure out why I was having these physical symptoms that were getting in the way of my daily routines. Through my therapy process with a caring and nonjudgmental therapist who listened and helped me to understand what was behind my symptoms, I began to open up about my childhood that revealed severe abuse that I kept tightly held and contained for almost a decade. Through therapy, I started talking about the abuse that began my healing process for many years to come.

The therapeutic process helped me to begin to notice that whenever there was a life transition or starting a new activity, my symptoms increased. I had gone from marriage, to the birth of my two children, and finishing up my degree in social work. All these life transitions brought about big changes and expectations in my role as a mother, a wife, a student, friend and family member. They all pressed against long held memories traumatic memories that brought into question my self-worth. These big life transitions asked for more that I could not give with all that I was containing inside, I had reached a tipping point. 

These big life transitions asked for more that I could not give with all that I was containing inside, I had reached a tipping point. I found it difficult and challenging to deepen and rise up into more of loving myself because of the guilt and shame, and feeling unworthy of self-care. I was challenged with being vulnerable and setting boundaries in relationships. Feeling worthy was challenging especially around taking steps toward my goals. I came to realize that childhood abuse was at the core of my anxiety and that had rattled me with paralyzing fear and panic during transition and change. However, I was determined to reach for something I desired in my life which at the time, was finishing my bachelor degree and being present for my children and spouse. This meant healing old wounds, shifting into new beliefs of self-worth and continuing to move forward through the dread and fear with more awareness and understanding of what had been holding me back. Therapy allowed for newness and change. I began to see my resiliency, strength, and confidence. I realized that my life held so much potential and self-discovery, releasing the energy of the past that was holding me back. I was now open to self-love in a way I never knew was available but also in my relationship with my children and spouse. Therapy and the treatment of trauma was an invaluable and significant healing process that helped me to understand my past and present but also gave me a chance to give my children a different future.

Meditation as a healer and the benefits

Meditation however, was my life-long healer and the benefits are undisputable when you understand the neuroscience behind meditation. I only came to understand this just a few years ago through Dan Seigel’s work with meditation, his Mindsight Institute, and other research that has been available over time. Meditation changes the brain and body with consistent and continued effort individually but much more beneficial in group work in my experience. I have been practicing meditation for the past 20 years and it has had a much greater therapeutic role for me after traditional therapy to help build a space of awareness and change in my mind and body over time. Through a meditation practice, I was able to awaken to an awareness of my thoughts and memories, but also my body’s way of communicating by quieting the mind enough to tune in and listen to other parts that needed to be heard. Even though therapy was the beginning of healing, it was not the end as my body and mind would continue to need long term support for my nervous system. The physical symptoms of anxiety and early childhood trauma were still challenging to my system.

How I came to meditation was intuitive and my own internal processing of what I needed. I decided to take a yoga class over at a community center in Hastings, NY after my therapy ended. The yoga class was supportive both mentally and physically, channeling emotions by practicing physical poses, concentration, and breathing. Yoga was how I came to learn about Chakras. Chakras are center points of energy and yoga supports the balance of these energy points. However, when these energy centers are blocked they can trigger symptoms of anxiety, lethargy, and poor digestion. 

By the end of each class the yoga instructor would do a peaceful meditation. As our sessions for this yoga group was coming to an end during one of the last meditations, I found myself experiencing an out of body experience of deep stillness and something that has no words that can best describe it. How I best describe it was a profound life changing experience of deep inner peace and a profound awareness of something more beyond myself.

After this experience, I was determined to learn more about meditation, these center points of energy, and spirituality. This experience was a turning point for me with my anxiety and healing early childhood trauma embedded in my body. Meditation, spiritual cultivation, and energy work became a part of my life long healing process that is now how I approach a holistic approach in counseling and coaching with individuals and group meditation work. After moving to Georgia several years later, a friend invited me to a meditation group led by a spiritual psychologist and therapist and I began a deeper practice that has continued for the past 15 years. This meditation practice has profoundly changed me in ways that has brought more peace, self-compassion, and self-love through group work.  Meditation has been found to support the development of new neuropathways or neural networks in the brain, connecting with parts of the mid brain and higher alpha waves that has been observed in brain imaging of Buddhist monks. Meditation also has helped me to develop a way to heal the nervous system through movement and sound. I have also learned to use meditation to connect, release, and heal long held emotions that need healing by listening and sensing the energy in the body during meditation.

I hope that by reading my story you will feel hopeful and inspired to seek therapy or try meditation practice. If you have experienced trauma and are experiencing anxiety or depression and find yourself feeling like things will never get better, I can attest that, “life can get better” and “mental and emotional challenges can improve over time”. There are many options and new things you can try. You just need to take one step at a time, one new strategy at a time, and don’t give up. Trust in therapy and a variety of approaches to support your well-being.      

If you resonate with any of my experience and you want to try meditation, cultivating spirituality, or a sacred healing art approach. Reach out to me. 

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