The Secret to ‘Getting Over It’ (trauma that is)
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
“Why can’t you just move on and get over it already?” – People
What’s wrong with me?…
Let me assure you that, A- there is nothing 'wrong' with you, and B- it is incredibly common to have responses that may seem out of proportion, but don’t actually feel out of proportion in the moment. I hope to help explain why this happens and what can be done about it. Here are some examples of the pressure we may get from others about 'getting over it' …
You get into a car accident -> time passes -> you may hear: “Why are you being so weird? Why can’t you just make a left turn? You’re going to have to get over it sooner or later.”
You have a near death experience -> time passes -> you may hear: “Why are you so worried, it’s not even scary” “You should be happy you survived, the odds are so low that would happen again, be grateful.”
You are sexually assaulted -> time passes -> you may hear: “That was years ago, you have to move on and put it behind you, you can’t let it control you still.” “All I did was kiss your neck, chill out, what’s so wrong with that?”
You got cheated on -> time passes -> you may hear: “Well, I didn’t cheat on you, stop holding it against me when I haven’t done anything wrong! You’re blowing this way out of proportion.”
It can be easy to get sucked into feeling like something is wrong with you when people keep telling you that there’s something wrong with you (funny how that works, huh?). You may ask yourself the very same questions and you may be frustrated with not knowing the answer. So, is there something wrong with you? Let’s take a look and figure this out…
Let’s say that you go through something terrible, you are resilient and keep truckin through life, but that memory is still there, it doesn’t fade so much with time like people say it should, parts of it keep creeping back into your mind and may even make you feel like it’s happening all over again… sound familiar? So far, none of this sounds like your fault. So far, this sounds more like these thoughts are invading your mind when you don’t want them to but they just keep coming. It’s not your fault that the smell has stuck in your mind. It’s not your fault that the facial expression is engrained in your brain. So let’s at least start there, if you feel like you can’t get past something that happened, it’s not your fault. “Are you sure something’s just not wrong with me?” you may ask… yes, I’m sure.
Why we don’t just ‘get over it’
Sometimes when things happen that are upsetting, traumatic, hurtful, or emotionally painful, our brain kind of…. ka-poots … when it’s trying to file away that memory (the brain gets overloaded and essentially malfunctions). I picture it like everything else just got all filed away in the file cabinet (“I had a ham sandwich for lunch” -> goes in the lunch file, “finished a work task”-> goes in the work successes file) but then the file with the car accident, the sexual assault, the getting cheated on gets dropped and all of the pieces get scattered all over the brain. Ugh. Now that terrible experience is stored, well, funky. All over the place. Usually, not in a helpful way. It turns out that our brain scans of remembering a traumatic event look oddly similar to what the scans would look like when we’re actually going through it in real time. Let that sink in for a moment, this is key here. What this means is that now, when we, for example, need to make a left turn, hear a loud noise, smell a certain smell, not get an immediate text response, or get yelled out we may be not only having an emotional response to that situation happening right now, but also feeling the feelings from when the initial trauma actually happened. So, we can be sent to fight/flight/freeze mode simply by a smell, when there is no actual threat? Now wonder the emotions felt so intense. Ugh, that doesn’t seem fair. That’s not a fun way to live life. This sucks.
Why Are People So Cold About it?
That’s right, this does suck and it sucks when people don’t get it and tell us to get over it when the brain is literally not letting us do exactly that. Let’s think about this for a second… trauma is everywhere, I believe that everyone has experienced trauma it just might be in varying degrees of it, so why wouldn’t everyone understand and be empathetic of others by now? Well, I think that people have different traumas and so it’s difficult to see from a different lens. For example, if someone was always picked last in gym class then now they may cringe at the thought of a competitive sport or game while their friends wonder why they are so against joining the community league because “it doesn’t matter, it’s just for fun.” This person may not see the similarities between that and their spouse panicking at taking left hand turns during rush hour. It’s hard to step outside of our own experiences and consider what others’ brains are doing, what they’re recalling in the background, what their past looks like, resulting in reduced empathy and understanding. Overall, everyone has their own scattered files (possibly not even realizing it) and it can be hard for them to consider what other people’s past is. Also, many people don’t know how else to handle it so that’s what they say instead.
Am I broken forever?
Short answer: absolutely not.
Longer answer: You are not “broken”. You are not “crazy”. You have every right to have the emotions that you do. Everyone has the right to their emotions. Our responses may need some work sometimes, but your feelings are your feelings, they’re yours and no one has the right to tell you to feel a different way. Even if your mind doesn’t make the direct link in the moment to the past trauma, your body may. You’re body remembers. Your body is often is the voice of what the mind doesn’t have words or images for. It may respond for you. We can even express gratitude for it protecting you (or thinking it’s protecting you), “Hey body… even though your reaction can cause me some problems, thank you for trying to protecting me” but then also teach it that “it’s actually over now, you can take a breather”.
So what can I do?
If you haven’t figured it out yet, you will, locking bad memories away and ignoring them doesn’t work. They have a strength to them, they creep up, they weasel out, they don’t just disappear. Therefore, the phrase ‘get over it’ may not be the best fit, it’s more of ‘getting through it’. Rather than stuffing those memories down we can actually rewire them, permanently. The secret to ‘getting over it’ (or getting ‘through’ it) is a combination of a few things, one of which is filing away these experiences once and for all in a way that your brain realizes that yes it happened, but it’s in the past now, it’s no longer a threat (physically or emotionally), and that it can allow it to stay in the past where it belongs. With EMDR your mind can finally reduce the emotional intensity to the memories and everything attached to them. I talk more about EMDR here, if you’d like to learn more about what the heck I’m talking about. Some other important parts of the secret to this success is allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel (rather than avoiding it), grieve what you need to grieve, hold on to what you need to hold on to, and learn how to feel the feelings without having them take over for too long.
If you’d like me to walk you through this process, I’d love to. This is what I am passionate about. I hope to help heal as much of the world from having to be run by their past as I possibly can. You can learn more about the process here or take a leap of faith and go ahead and book an appointment here.
“Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives."
- Bruce Limpton