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Ways to Avoid Re-Traumatizing Yourself in Recovery

Trauma is not something you can undo or pretend has not impacted the way you think, feel, and move through the world. For example, if you have experienced sexual abuse, you may feel an overwhelming amount of stress in situations such as undergoing a medical exam or changing clothes in a dressing room. Thus, your daily life is certainly impeded by your traumatic experiences. Fortunately, you can avoid re-traumatizing yourself by addressing the core of your distress.

At The Guest House, we recognize the role traumatic memories play in how you think, feel, and react to different things. Thus, when those traumatic memories are left unaddressed, your mind may seek unhealthy ways to cope with the physical and psychological distress. Therefore, it is important to address and process your experiences with trauma-specific care. With trauma-specific care, you can develop the skills you need to avoid re-traumatizing yourself.

What Is Re-Traumatization?

According to an article from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), re-traumatization involves re-living stress reactions associated with a traumatic event through a new and or similar event to the original trauma. Moreover, over time, it may be more difficult to recognize how the stress you feel in new situations relates to your past trauma. This is because re-traumatization is a subconscious connection between the original trauma and new experiences that reawaken those distressing memories and or stress reactions.

Furthermore, re-traumatization happens as a result of triggers that remind you of your earlier trauma. However, triggers do not have to be a direct recreation of your traumatic experiences. As the American Psychological Association (APA) notes in the APA Dictionary of Psychology, a trigger is a stimulus that elicits a physical and or emotional reaction. 

Listed below are some examples of triggers that may lead to re-traumatization:

  • Anniversary dates of and or related to the trauma
  • Reading and or hearing news coverage of similar traumatic experiences, such as:
    • Car accidents
    • Mass shootings
    • Physical abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Emotional abuse
    • Natural disasters
      • Tornado
      • Earthquake
      • Flood
      • Hurricane
      • Wildfire
  • Media, like television and film that depict similar experiences
  • Witnessing or hearing about a traumatic event that happened to someone else

Signs and Symptoms of Re-Traumatization

Since triggers often form a subconscious connection to your past trauma, you may wonder how to tell if you are experiencing re-traumatization. According to SAMHSA, some signs and symptoms of re-traumatization include:

  • Negative thoughts related to emotions experienced during the trauma
  • Frequent flashbacks and nightmares of the trauma
  • Experiencing disassociation or separation from thoughts, memories, and identity
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Sleep issues, including difficulties falling asleep and or staying asleep
  • Increased feelings of fatigue
  • Issues with appetite and weight
  • Increased feelings of anxiety and tension
  • Feeling on edge
  • Becoming more easily startled
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Avoiding people, places, and situations that remind you of the traumatic experience
  • The use or increased use of substances following the traumatic event
  • Feeling intense emotions, such as:
    • Anger
    • Fear
    • Anxiety
    • Guilt
    • Shame
    • Sadness
    • Despair
  • Unable to control your emotions
    • Inability to calm yourself down
    • Unable to feel loved
    • Decreased sense of security

Now, knowing some of the signs and symptoms of re-traumatization can help you recognize how unprocessed trauma is impeding your life. Yet, you may also question how you got to this point. Maybe you thought you had managed to put your trauma behind you. Or you have gone your whole life not realizing you have experienced trauma. An important step in recovery and a means to avoid re-traumatizing yourself is recognizing the risk factors for re-traumatization.

Risk Factors to Avoid Re-Traumatizing

As SAMHSA notes, recognizing the risk factors for re-traumatization can help you address potential signs and symptoms of distress to avoid re-traumatizing experiences. Listed below are some of the risk factors that can cause re-traumatization:

  • Experiencing a high frequency of traumatic experiences
    • History of physical, sexual, emotional, and or verbal abuse
    • Extensive history of neglect
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from others
    • Peers
    • Co-workers
  • Living in an unsafe environment
    • Neighborhood violence and poverty
  • Working in an unsafe environment
    • War
    • Poverty
    • Violence
  • Feeling unloved and unsupported
    • Family
    • Friends
    • Other loved ones
  • Unhealthy coping strategies for dealing with trauma
    • Avoidance
    • Denial
    • Self-medication
      • Misuse of alcohol and prescription medication
      • Use of illegal substances
  • Economic difficulties
  • Lack of social support
  • Barriers to health and mental health care services

Therefore, when you know what factors can increase your risk, you can learn how to avoid re-traumatizing yourself. Moreover, an important way to avoid re-traumatizing yourself is to build healthy coping strategies.

Building Coping Skills to Avoid Re-Traumatizing

Unaddressed trauma can lead to maladaptive coping mechanisms like self-medicating with substances. According to an article from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), finding healthy coping strategies can help reduce stress and support your well-being after a traumatic event. As NIMH notes, some healthy coping ideas include:

  • Avoiding the use of substances for your symptoms
  • Making a point of spending time with supportive friends and family
  • Engaging in stress-reducing activities like exercise, mindfulness, and meditation
  • Maintaining eating, sleeping, and exercise routines
  • Setting realistic goals that you can manage

However, you may be wondering how reducing your stress can help you avoid re-traumatizing yourself. Your reaction to trauma is a stress response to an individual or multiple distressing experiences. Therefore, engaging in healthy coping strategies like stress reduction-based practices and activities can help you build resilience to avoid re-traumatizing experiences. 

As noted in the article “Building your Resilience” from APA, resilience is your ability to find healthy ways to adapt in the face of life stressors, adversity, and trauma. For example, losing a loved one is a traumatic experience that often carries a level of pain that is difficult to process and explain. While resiliency does not prevent the physical and emotional distress of loss, it can give you healthy tools to still find joy, love, and happiness afterward.

In addition, the role of resiliency is to not only help you recover from the difficult things life throws at you but also help you improve your life as you learn and grow as a person. Therefore, increasing your resiliency can be a profound positive source in your life. However, increasing your resilience does not happen overnight. Resilience takes time, commitment, and the intention to better yourself for your long-term well-being.

Moreover, as the APA article states, resilience has four core components, connection, wellness, healthy thinking patterns, and meaning. Together, the four core elements of resilience can help you avoid re-traumatizing yourself as you learn how to process and grow from your experiences. 

Listed below are some ways to incorporate the four core components of resilience in your life:

#1. Building Connection

  • Prioritize healthy relationships to remind you that you are not alone
    • Build relationships with empathic and understanding people
    • Form relationships with people who validate and respect your feelings
  • Accept help from people who care about you
  • Make time for genuine connection with people who care about you
    • Date nights with your significant others
    • Have lunch with friends and or family members
    • Plan activities with trusted people in your life
  • Find and join a group
    • Connect with groups that can offer you support, joy, and or purpose
      • Civic groups
      • Social groups
      • Faith-based groups

#2. Fostering Wellness

  • Engage in self-care to support your physical and mental well-being
    • Get plenty of quality sleep
    • Invest in good nutrition
    • Keep yourself hydrated
    • Get regular exercise
  • Practice mindfulness to help build connections and reinforce rumination on positive aspects of your life
    • Meditation
    • Yoga
    • Mindful journaling
    • Spiritual practices
  • Avoid negative coping mechanisms as a means to deal with physical and psychological pain
    • Alcohol
    • Prescription medication
    • Illegal drugs
    • Other substances

#3. Forming Healthy Thoughts

  • Perspective can play an important role in how you think about the challenges and traumas you experience
    • Try to identify irrational thinking patterns
      • Every situation will not result in the worst-case scenario
      • The world is not out to get you
    • Adopt more realistic thinking patterns
      • Challenges are not an indicator of your future
      • You are not alone
  • Learn to accept change so you can focus on the things you can alter rather than the thing you cannot
  • Foster a positive outlook to increase positive thinking patterns for good outcomes rather than worst-case scenarios
    • Visualize what you want rather than the things you fear
  • Learn from the past
    • Think about how you responded to other distressing situations
    • Remind yourself that you got through those difficult moments
    • Ask yourself what you have learned from other distressing moments

#4. Finding Purpose

  • Supporting other people can give you a sense of purpose, increase your self-worth, and help you connect with others
    • Volunteer
    • Focus on being there for your loved one’s when they need support
  • Be proactive about your emotions rather than let them fester unaddressed
    • Ask yourself what you can do to help yourself in the short and long-term
    • If the problem feels too big, break it up into more manageable pieces
  • Develop realistic goals you can work on to help you learn how to move toward the things you want to accomplish
    • Instead of fixating on unachievable tasks, ask yourself what can I accomplish today
  • Seek out opportunities for self-discovery
    • Try reflecting on the healthy things you have learned about yourself through difficult moments

Furthermore, you can build resilience and avoid re-traumatizing yourself by reaching out for support. Seeking trauma recovery support resources can help you uncover the tools you need to avoid re-traumatizing. Moreover, an important part of the recovery journey is learning to recognize the possible opportunities for relapse or re-traumatization. Thus, you can learn how to avoid re-traumatizing experiences with relapse prevention in a trauma recovery program.

Ways to Avoid Re-Traumatizing With Relapse Prevention

According to an article from the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, relapse happens gradually, weeks to months before you engage in self-defeating behaviors again. Thus, the goal of relapse prevention is to help you recognize early warning signs and develop coping skills to avoid re-traumatizing experiences. Therefore, understanding the three stages of relapse can give you insight into how relapse happens and how you can avoid re-traumatizing with support. 

Listed below are the eleven phases of relapse, broken into three stages:

#1. Emotional Relapse

  • Denial
  • Bottling up emotions
  • Self-isolating
  • Avoidance of meetings for support
  • Unwilling to share during meetings
  • You put all your attention on other people’s issues
  • Engage in poor self-care
    • Poor eating and sleeping habits

#2. Mental Relapse

  • Cognitive resistance diminishes
  • Cravings intensify
  • You start thinking about the people, places, and things you associate with your self-defeating behaviors
  • Increased minimization or glamorization of self-defeating behaviors
  • Seek opportunities for relapse
  • You start making plans for a relapse

#3. Physical Relapse

  • You start engaging in self-defeating behaviors again
  • Self-defeating behaviors become uncontrollable

Therefore, the three stages of relapse can give you insight into how you can fall back into unhealthy coping strategies when you leave trauma unaddressed. Moreover, looking at the therapeutic tools used in treatment for relapse prevention can help you avoid re-traumatizing yourself for long-term healing. As the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine notes, relapse prevention teaches you how to build healthy coping skills and thinking patterns, as well as:

  • Address denial of poor self-care
  • Practice physical and emotional self-care
    • Hygiene
    • Sleep
    • Healthy nutrition
    • Make time for yourself
    • Be kind to yourself
    • Give yourself permission to relax and or have fun
  • Identify high-risk situations for relapse
  • Acknowledge which situations are high-risk without judgment
  • Learning to recognize triggers to avoid re-traumatizing
  • Foster a safe environment where it is okay to acknowledge thoughts and feelings about cravings and triggers
  • Acknowledging that trauma cannot be erased
  • Normalizing memories, thoughts, and feeling about the trauma in recovery

In other words, relapse prevention and recovery are invaluable tools to avoid re-traumatizing as healthy coping skills give you the foundation to process your trauma. Moreover, seeking treatment can teach you how to effectively utilize the coping skills you have learned to avoid re-traumatizing well beyond your time in treatment.

Avoiding Re-Traumatizing After Treatment

As noted in the article “7 Tools for Managing Traumatic Stress” by Adena Bank Lees, traumatic stress symptoms cannot be erased, ignored, or avoided as a long-term strategy. Therefore, developing a diverse collection of healthy coping tools can give you the foundation to use these skills in a variety of situations. Listed below are some different coping tools you can incorporate into your life:

  • Prioritizing breathing exercises
  • Engaging in self-validation
    • Recognize that these feelings are not your fault
    • Additionally, you are not wrong for having these feelings
  • Grounding techniques to reconnect you to the present
    • Try noticing five, four, three, and so on things you see, hear, touch, taste, and smell
    • Pay attention to the details of the items your senses pick up
  • Engaging in positive thinking
    • Focus on something positive for 12 seconds
    • Connect the positive thing to your body as you pay attention to how you feel in body and mind as you take in this experience
  • Using therapeutic tools
    • Weighted blanket
    • Fidget devices
    • Textured fabric and devices
  • Utilizing holistic therapeutic methods
    • Use laughter to reduce stress
      • Watch funny videos
      • Spend time with loved ones

Moreover, as you move into independent living in recovery, an abundance of healthy coping skills can be deeply impactful. A variety of coping skills that acknowledge realistic expectations of the peaks and valleys of recovery can better prepare you to avoid re-traumatizing. Thus, trauma-specific care is an approach to recovery that encompasses numerous valuable healing tools like relapse prevention and healthy coping strategies.

Healing at the Guest House With Trauma-Specific Care

According to the SAMHSA, a key element of trauma-specific care is to prevent re-traumatization. Therefore, trauma-specific care can be an invaluable tool to avoid re-traumatizing to support you on your journey to long-term recovery.

At The Guest House, we recognize the importance of trauma as a root of self-defeating behaviors. Thus, our mission is to help you overcome trauma and its co-occurring self-defeating behaviors for your long-term well-being. We know how easy it can be to bury your head in the sand and hope the pain goes away. However, to avoid re-traumatizing yourself, you must commit yourself to addressing the lingering stress responses to your trauma.

Through trauma-specific care and a wide variety of therapeutic modalities, we can support you as you avoid re-traumatizing yourself. Thus, a wide variety of holistic treatment options in a comfortable and safe environment gives you the space to truly start healing. The path to trauma recovery is not a straight line, but rather a path filled with curves, peaks, and valleys along the way. You deserve an opportunity to have a space where you can discover healthy ways to address your trauma and avoid re-traumatizing experiences. 

Unaddressed trauma can lead to experiences of re-traumatization that impede your ability to lead a fulfilling life, as re-traumatization happens when triggers from new and similar situations cause the stress responses from the original trauma to reemerge. Thus, re-traumatization can open the door to an unhealthy cycle of self-defeating behaviors. However, you can avoid re-traumatizing experiences with holistic care like trauma-specific care to address maladaptive coping strategies. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing trauma-specific care to help you build healthier coping strategies to support you on your journey to long-term recovery well beyond your time in treatment. Call us at (855) 483-7800 for more information and support today.