changes who we are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually; we are then haunted by the past, live in an anxious and fearful present while dreading the future.
And yet, there is a silver lining to all this toxic negativity: We can recover from trauma. It is going to be different for each person and a lot depends on the varying degrees and the types of trauma that we experienced but with determination, decision, and commitment, there is a way of out the jungle. It helps to have people who can guide us through the convoluted mess, especially those who have not only extensively studied it but who have also personally experienced trauma in their own personal lives.
In fact, Michele Rosenthal is such a helpful and resourceful guide. Not only does she love talking about trauma, but she has recovered from it herself, and she is offering us her wisdom as an author, speaker, and trauma recovery specialist. I had the pleasure to talk to Michele about her wonderful approach that helps people heal from trauma, reconnect with themselves, and gain emotional freedom and independence in the process.
As she herself states, what worked for her as she herself was in the trenches has been equally working for her clients. It is this personal dimension and lens of experience that I find commendable because it is not merely a theoretic study and understanding of the issues, but it comes from someone who has felt and experienced trauma in her bones.
Her three phases of trauma recovery along with nine steps can take you from confusion to clarity. It is all about control, not control over the outside world but control over yourself, that is your inside world. I am often reminded and inspired by the Serenity Prayer of knowing the difference and effectively distinguishing from what is in the realm and field of our control and what ends up falling outside of it.
But one ought to always be reminded and to keep in mind that recovery is hard. It will take a significant amount of dedication, determination, and hard work and may at times seem or feel more difficult than living with the symptoms of the trauma themselves, but it is absolutely worth the effort. It is an essential path (or discovery) and a potential return to (or rediscovery of) one’s true and authentic self.
The recovery will take you to a horizon where you can see yourself and others clearly and where you can reconnect to yourself. This is important because of the profound negative and debilitating effects that trauma has on your psyche. Trauma is a wound that you have suffered and gone through, and, in most cases, you have experienced something that many others have not.
As a result, this creates a distance between you and everyone else, there is, as Michele puts it, a disconnect between yourself and everyone else due to the realms and breadth of the devastating experience you have had. It could also lead to a disconnect because of disassociation, depersonalization, and derealization, all of which are defense mechanisms and are meant to protect you from the harrowing experiences you have gone through.
It is then very important to create a safe ground and platform where you will have the opportunity to reconnect with yourself that includes various phases across the spectrum. It is a gradual, piecemeal process that will be hard, difficult, and challenging at first but that can eventually lead you to feel better and to gain emotional freedom.
To reach the desired goal of recovery, Michele uses a hybrid of traditional as well as alternative approaches. Part of it is talk therapy, where you can freely discuss the issues as well as note and notice the feelings and thought processes involved; through this analysis, you can gain vital insights. Talk therapy is important because trauma impacts the language center of the brain and there is power (often combined with a sense of relief) in using language and actively expressing one’s emotional states.
Talk therapy and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are great ways to start, but the problem is that they are mostly focused on behavior modification and do not address the unconscious mind. Current conventional methods often do not access the unconscious, which stores and holds vital pieces of traumatic information and emotion. To bring about significant and effective change in your life, you need to reprogram the neurological structures, and other, more alternative, methods are better suited for this purpose.
In fact, there are two important points to highlight here; it is often not enough to just show up and be in the office, and worse, to assume it is the therapist’s job to fix things. You must be actively involved in the recovery process and must fully commit yourself to the work in-between and outside of the sessions.
The second point is that trauma and, more generally, the past, influences the present both consciously and as previously mentioned unconsciously as well. As a significant amount of your experience has been delegated to the unconscious, it is necessary to distill and address these deep-seated issues and root problems. As the neurological patterns and programming are always operating, you need to find a way to deal with them before you can aim for any substantial recovery.
Michele uses various methods for this, including hypnosis and NLP (Neurolinguistic programming) as well as energy psychology and transformation processes to be able to tap into and reach the unconscious and to reprogram the underlying neurological structures. This is an important and often difficult task as unconscious programming is quite powerful. We are biologically hard-wired and driven to survive, so as a result, on average, only 5% of your thinking is in the present moment, while the rest of the time is often spent on thinking about the past to retrieve lessons learned, while we look ahead and often worry about threats looming in the near and distant future.
All of this is best approached in a step-by-step process. In fact, trauma survivors usually cannot see the future and need to have a roadmap and plan that are grounded in the present as they would flesh out and focus on the immediate steps to be taken. This needs to be done in manageable ways and look at what you want to stop doing and what you want to start doing from now onwards. By breaking it all down into choices and actions, you can start gaining some initial control over your inner world and bring about and bring forth some initiatives and changes all emanating from a safe and supportive environment.
While some may opt for pharma prescriptions, and it may be warranted in certain cases and situations, it is best to embrace mindful-based approaches to become more aware and self-aware and to be able to see yourself and to experience yourself more fully rooted in the present moment. Once you are mindful of where you came from and where you are situated at the current moment, you can take the next steps towards where you want to go and where you want to be.
Once that is achieved, at least to a certain and sufficient degree, the next step would involve consistency and working day to day towards your full recovery. In fact, the change part is very difficult and involves not only identifying the root cause and the solution for soothing your wound but also shifting meaning and developing new programming. While many may have resorted to different forms of addiction and substance abuse as a form of survival and of dealing with constant abuse in their life, you would begin to discover and adopt healthier coping mechanisms.
It is at the third level of recovery in which you have laid down the groundwork and have the chance and opportunity to deliberately create your new post-trauma identity. At this point, you will have the necessary internal control to clear up the past, resolve it and make all the vital changes for the future. As Michele explains, you will have the emotional and spiritual bandwidth to be the kind of person you want and wish to be, and with this strategy in mind, you can take the final step in her approach, which is integration.
This includes a more holistic paradigm in which you intentionally and deliberately blend who you have decided to be with all your past history. It is essential not to shut out, ignore, or pretend that the past did not exist and did not happen but rather to give it its rightful space and embed it into your own personal outlook and fabric. And as you have now gone through a transformation from powerless, where the past consumed and controlled you, you can step into your self-empowered state in which you now acknowledge and see the past as a tiny dot and a tiny little aspect of yourself, a drop in the immense ocean, which is you at your full potential and at your best and healthiest version of yourself.
A Big Thank You to Michele Rosenthal! You can access the full-length interview as a video on YouTube or as a podcast on Arash's World Podcast.