Building Better Memories
If you are a survivor of trauma, you have a ton of terrible memories of what happened to you. These memories are haunting apparitions that have controlled how you handle your life. Currently, your life is probably full of flashbacks, self-loathing, and pain.
This new series of articles is dedicated to trauma survivors learning how to create new healthy memories for themselves so they can live in a better future.
Tips for Letting Go of the Past
Letting go of the past is one of the hardest things any survivor can do. We tend to want to live in our history even though for many of us it is a painful place to dwell. Letting go is essential if we are to heal and move on with our lives.
There are several methods to practice letting go.
Practicing mindfulness. The more we can focus on the present moment the less pressure and pain our past gives us. When you practice being present your hurts have less control over you. Because of this lack of control, you can feel freer to choose to respond differently to your present life.
Allow negative emotions. Negative emotions are nothing to be afraid of and you need not avoid them. Many times, survivors fear feeling anger, grief, sadness, and disappointment but they are an integral part of who we are. Allowing them to flow out of you such as in tears or telling someone else your story lessons the power your past has over you and allows you to come live in the present.
Be gentle with yourself. Do not criticize yourself for not being able to feel enormous joy, especially during the holiday season. Be good to yourself and show yourself some compassion. Treat yourself as if you were a friend who is going through hard times. If you feel great pain treat yourself kindly.
Surround yourself with people who build you up. No man is an island, the saying goes, and neither are you. Humans are social animals, and we need others to remain healthy and alive. Allow yourself to lean on others and accept their support so that you will not isolate yourself. This is a powerful tip.
There are probably thousands of tips you can use to let go of the hurt of the past and it all begins with self-compassion.
Acceptance of the Past
Accepting the past as the past is an important step in building fresh memories for today and tomorrow. You will notice I did not say forget the past. That would be impossible and, frankly, unhealthy.
No, what I said was to accept the past as immutable, unchanging, and a part of history, not in the present. If it sounds easy, it is not. People who have survived severe childhood trauma, for instance, might find they are lost in the morass of the past, but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
By embracing the present and allowing the past to fade into the background, you will find that the fear you might have had about the future evaporates and you are left with a fruitful journey into the future.
Accepting the past DOES NOT involve avoiding your history and the emotions that accompany them. Instead, acceptance involves learning to accept your past as a process that isn’t easy by allowing yourself to live in the truth of what happened. It is necessary to do so without judgement and to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
Another important step in accepting your past is to share your feelings about your history with another person. Choose someone you can trust and allow your emotions to pour out. You will quickly find that the past loses its power over you when you share it and bring it out of the shadows into the light. Also, you can use other means to express your emotions such as playing an instrument, painting, or writing poetry.
The sky is the limit to how many ways you can express your feeling about the past so that you can accept it and move on.
Lessons Learned While Healing from Your Past
No matter who you are, where you have been, or what happened to you, there are always lessons that can be gleaned from your history. Perhaps you learned to respect others because you were not respected and that the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place.
As one can imagine, many, as those above testify, are a mixture of good and bad messages. Not only were our fundamental needs not met, but we had our bodies and our minds plundered by uncaring, selfish adults.
Healing from all the wounds and pain that childhood trauma brings is difficult, to put it mildly. Yet, through all our pain and turmoil, we have learned some vital lessons that many will never achieve.
For one, you have learned more about yourself and who you are than most people will ever admit about themselves. You have identified your flaws and positive traits, as well as self-compassion and self-awareness that go beyond the average person.
You have also learned how to have healthy and safe relationships. Your family of origin might be beyond your reach because they are harmful, but you have learned to reach out to others to build a family of choice.
Even if you suffered the death of a loved one or friend, you have learned you can sit and think about all the pleasant emotions that person evoked. Think of all the good times you had and try to live in the presence of the laughter you shared.
Those were only three of the vital lessons you can learn to face your history so you can build new memories.
Building New Memories
By this time, you may be wondering, “How do I build new memories to replace the old traumatic ones?” While you will never be able to erase the memories from your history, you can make new memories that are pleasant and powerful.
Since I am writing this piece in December, let’s take a look at the holidays which for many of us brings up memories of trauma and disappointment.
You can start new traditions either with yourself or with your family of choice. Put up a Christmas tree, buy gifts for yourself plus others, and volunteer to feed dinner to strangers with your local church or food bank. Go to a nursing home and sit with the elderly sharing the day with them and hearing their stories of Christmas long ago.
Treat yourself with love and understanding if a bad memory surfaces during your new activities. You are only human, and many things happened to you that was not pleasant. Only, remember to get back into the holiday spirit as soon as possible.
If you have children, start new traditions with them. It doesn’t matter if they are young or grown, it is never too late to begin enjoying the holidays with them.
For ideas, I’ll get you started with the following traditions you may want to begin during the holiday season:
- Host a board game tournament
- Have a movie marathon
- Hold a talent show
- Make a holiday decoration together
- Bake cookies, pies, and bread together
- Go and deliver a donation to your local food bank
- Build a gingerbread house
- Go out looking at the light displays in your area
- Eat smores and drink hot chocolate
- Have a scavenger hunt
You may have noticed that the things listed above are low-cost but the memories they make are priceless.
Ending Our Time Together
This article was written with trauma survivors in mind who are having problems letting go of the hurt of the past so they can move on with their lives. Personally, I have learned to acknowledge my trauma history but spend my days reaching out to others. That is how I deal with my past injuries and cope with today.
Try the suggestions in this article if you wish, but if they seem too difficult for you right now file them away in the back of your mind for later.
Remember, memories of trauma will never fade away, but how you respond to them makes all the difference in the world.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.” — Peter A. Levine
“I’m still coping with my trauma but coping by trying to find different ways to heal it rather than hide it.” — Clemantine Wamariva
Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.