From the time we’re small, we’re asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do someday?
These kinds of questions expand our world. And also create our Psychological Timeline beginning in childhood. Whether we are aware of it or not, we start to map out our life. We start envisioning the future, “Someday I’m going to…”
And as we grow up, the past becomes part of our psychological timeline as well. This can sound like, “I can’t do that because I was never really good at…” “but this worked before…”. We accumulate experiences, successes and failures, but also traumas.
Trauma disrupts our psychological timeline so we get stuck.
From the psychological timeline perspective, we are going back and forth, living in the past, present, and future all at once. This determines our thoughts, actions, and behavior and it’s quite healthy for a big-picture perspective.
For instance, we behave a certain way today to get something we want in the future. Or we make a decision today based on the past.
If you don’t have a healthy relationship with the past, it will affect your present and future and you’re more likely to be stuck reliving parts of the past.
At any given moment, we can be full of hopes and dreams, and also limitations and fears. No wonder it can be difficult and confusing to navigate life.
The Timeline and Trauma:
Every time I hear someone say, “I just don’t know what’s holding me back…” or “I feel stuck“, I immediately think, trauma. Not always the big one-event trauma that we’re aware of, but the over-time trauma that wears on us (and our nervous system). It all adds up.
Trauma keeps you in limbo, as if you’re frozen in time- it’s part of that fight, flight, freeze mechanism of the autonomic nervous system. This is why past pain can easily trigger you now or you have very specific stuck points in your life.
Some people excel at work and their career while their relationships suffer.
Trauma is saying, “FREEZE… until we figure this out.“ Unfortunately, many people don’t immediately know how to figure it out so they develop self-defeating patterns, defense mechanisms, and remain stuck. They keep busy and distracted, strive harder, and repress their emotions, needs, or wants or express their emotions inappropriately through maladaptive behavior such as addictions.
Try: Safe Emotional Awareness- Write down what occurred when you expressed sadness as a child? What did your parents say or do to you when you were sad? Happy? Angry? How were emotions experienced as a child? From now on, get curious about how you express emotions and allow yourself to express various emotions by watching movies that evoke emotion safely.
From a psychological perspective, trauma is anything that occurs in which we do not have the internal resources or external support to handle it effectively or thoroughly.
Is it really necessary to dig up the past? If you’ve had trauma, you’re digging up the past regardless of whether you’re aware of it or not- it can be in the form of constant triggers or failing relationships. The past has a way of leaking out and it’s not as hidden as you might think. It’s just been suppressed for so long that it affects you in unsuspecting ways.
Isn’t it just the present moment that matters? I’m all for mindfulness and being present, LOVE IT! But even the notion of practicing mindfulness is based on a goal (future self) or present pain (rooted in the past), for whatever reason you’d practice it in the first place.
We are mentally living in the past, present, and future simultaneously because of our psychological timeline.
If we heal our traumas we have a flexible timeline, which includes the hopes and dreams of the future AND the wisdom of the past. We’d be able to adapt and adjust to inevitable disruptions in our timeline.
Trauma gets in the way of our dreams and plans. It’s why we get stuck.
Trauma is one of those disruptions that creates obstacles- the kind of obstacles that we can’t quite put our finger on.
When we’re stuck it sounds like, “I don’t know why I can’t do this… or Why do I keep doing that?” “I don’t know what I should do…” You’ve probably experienced this and either moved on to the next thing or shoved the feelings down deeper.
Sometimes it’s something seemingly small. Perhaps you were younger and wanted to be an artist. Then one day you proudly bring home the best painting you’ve ever done. Maybe mom dismisses it- she’s busy. And you talk to dad about being an artist, but he tells you, you’ll never make any money. Artists are poor. Or your parents convince you to play soccer instead. At least you might get a scholarship.
Seems only slight, but it’s devastating to the kid whose timeline (future hopes and dreams) included being an artist. Their world just came crashing down. This adds up in our psyche, causing our timeline to collapse.
Try: Stuck Points on your timeline- Make a timeline of your life, but only note where/when you felt stuck in your life or faced a major obstacle? Is it connected to something/pattern/events in the past?
Trauma is not as hidden as you might think. When I refer to “hidden”, it’s more like suppression and denial. In countless sessions with people, I’ve seen them describe their childhoods and laugh at or speak dismissively about some big things!
If we didn’t have someone to validate and acknowledge our wants, needs, and emotions (in childhood or at the time of the traumas) then that’s even more influential in how we deal with our current troubles.
Trauma seems hidden for 3 reasons:
1. We deny or repress painful things that have happened to us- survival mode and defense mechanism.
2. We aren’t aware of what trauma really is- please refer to the above definition.
3. We were programmed, parented, trained that our thoughts, feelings and emotions didn’t matter.
We have to be open to a broad definition of trauma and recognize it so we can recover and move on in a healthy way.
You don’t need to rehash your whole past. Chances are you’ll remember a few things and realize there are only two or three patterns that hold you back. Try some of the exercises highlighted. Dealing with the past becomes valuable wisdom.
Try: Recall the past for healing purposes by writing a simplified autobiography. Include big hurts and little hurts and how you dealt with them. Was it healthy? Is there a better way to deal with things that you’ve learned from those past hurts?
How do I know if I have hidden trauma?
You can’t heal from something you aren’t aware of so look for the signs.
- Easily triggered.
- Early life stress or Adverse Childhood Events (ACE)
- Chronic pain, illness, or stress.
- Hyper-vigilance, easily alarmed, always on alert.
- Obsessive behaviors.
- A persistent negative voice in your head. Nobody is born with self-defeating thoughts. These come from traumas and people in our past.
- Repeated failed relationships.
- Bring up the past a lot or avoid it altogether.
- Dysfunctional patterns and habits that are hard to break, addictions.
- Fear and anxieties.
- Aggression and anger.
- Codependency and people-pleasing.
How do I heal from trauma?
Seeking a therapist is ideal, but there’s a lot you can do for yourself!
A great place to begin is with the exercises I’ve highlighted above. Good questions get the juices flowing. Getting the juices flowing is what uncovers the hidden stuff and brings it to conscious awareness.
- Be honest with yourself. Your timeline (past, present, and future) is all connected. What were your plans, hopes, and dreams when you were a child? What happened on the way to your dreams? How does that affect you now? Ask yourself the hard questions.
- Keep a journal to discover hidden patterns- what do you typically struggle with and what are the thoughts and emotions attached to that?
- Meditation for personal work. Meditation can be a safe place to go within. Try the meditations below.
- Therapy or a Coach. Both can walk you through the process of healing and help you understand the root of your present-day problems related to past trauma so you can gain the wisdom and use it for a fulfilling future. I offer this support too.
Mind-Body Balance (for Grounding and Uplifting Support while doing personal improvement work)
Heal The Past Meditation (Heal with compassionate words and positive suggestions that you may not have received when you were younger)
Turn Negatives into Positives with this self-discovery meditation, exploring both negative and positive emotions here: Turn Negatives Into Positives.
Peace and Be Well,