Trauma is the deep wound that creeps up on you out of nowhere. It’s the hurt you think you got over but still says hello from time to time. It’s the fear, the panic, and the crippling anxiety that something terrible might be around the corner, because that’s the thing about trauma—it’s the thing you never thought would happen. It is nights spent crying and mornings that remind you of the past. It’s the joy tainted by deep-seated pain that has made your heart its home. It’s the fear of enjoying something good. Trauma shocks you and leaves you with all kinds of questions. It leaves you confused about how the world can be so cruel? It’s this element in your life you want to shake off but can’t unsee or unlearn. It happened.
And perhaps you will never shake it off. Perhaps it’s a terrible truth that you have to learn to live with. Sometimes we can’t sugarcoat it. Yes, we can try to work around the narrative, and we can try to heal, or we can try to justify why the world can be cruel and unkind. But maybe the pain doesn’t necessarily completely go away. Trauma often has long-lasting effects. It’s the thing that you don’t have to succumb to but rather have to fight against once you know its effect on you. Fear of abandonment? Anxiety attacks? Anger? You name it. You’ll have to work around it and I am so sorry you encountered a trauma in your life. It takes a lot to stand and face the pain. Traumatized people are all around us.
But don’t lose hope yet or ever. Yes, you’ve experienced something heartbreaking, but you can also be the person to make sure that what happened to you never happens to anyone else. You can try to make the world a safer place and a kinder place. You can try to minimize the pain. I know your pain cripples you but trust me, when you play a role in making someone avoid the pain you felt, you’ll feel like you weren’t a victim, and you’ll set your heart free. You would be doing the opposite of what happened to you. You’d be making others feel safe, held and cared for. You’d make the world a less traumatic place. Your pain doesn’t have to drown you. Your pain can stir change.
On that note, I believe there is a way to heal and that is by having something beautiful happen to us. Something unexpectedly soothing. Just like the trauma threw us off balance, something beautiful can restore it. I believe we can heal when something heavenly happens to us, something that almost feels like a dream. At least then we can say that the world is not only cruel but it can also be very kind. And it’s true the world has both, but we have to have experienced them to believe it. My wish for you is to experience something extremely wonderful that will restore your faith in humanity. But until then, start by doing that yourself, and there I think you will find what your heart needs. There I think you will set your heart free. There you’ll untie the knots in your heart.
Something happened to you and you became numb. You stopped feeling. You took your pain inward and banished it to the depths of your mind. You did this as a means of protection. You thought it was an act of self-love, not allowing yourself to feel the hurt.You suppressed the trauma and the hurt became dominant.
But let me tell you this: exiling your trauma to the back of your mind will allow it to become a part of you. And it’s tender, the way it settles quietly into your body.
You will start to notice the body language of trauma: your body tightens and caves in. You fold your arms and tuck your legs to your chest and let yourself become as small as you can be. Your body will become afraid of its own shadow, afraid of the way its darkness takes up space.
The longer you pretend your trauma doesn’t exist, pretend it doesn’t still hurt, the more distant it becomes – but it will also get stronger too. Eventually, your hurt will swell. It will take up so much space inside of you that you don’t even realize it. And it will become nearly impossible to defeat. It will become louder and it will convince you that the trauma was your fault: what happened and how you dealt with it.
This is the brutality of it all: you hold yourself back from feeling that pain, despite how crucial it is. You fawn. You tiptoe around it as if your mind is a minefield: you dodge the memories of how it felt and what hurt the most.
It’s complex, the very thing you’re afraid of is what you have to face the most. In its own twisted way, this “armor” is self-sabotage: by letting your trauma make a home in your body, you’re keeping yourself from true healing.
You have to return to the war. You have to let yourself feel it all: the righteous anger, the quiet grief. Bring the trauma to the forefront of your brain and fight it. Don’t let yourself be numb to it forever. By confronting it, you can then let it go. Don’t let yourself become numb to the trauma forever. Be brave enough to go back to the battlefield and face it head-on. Stare it down until it surrenders. Fight for your healing. Your heart. Yourself. Because you don’t really have another choice.
When do we say no? When do we feel pushed too far? How often are we done with people or things? Mostly, occasionally, rarely, or never at all? Do we say it as much as we should? Or do we not say it at all?
It is a human error that we tend to agree to everything that is being said even though it isn’t at times acceptable. Rarely do we say no to what is being asked of us. It seems so difficult to say no that we say yes to doing something that is way off our radar. It is not about challenging our capabilities but a matter of our limits. The ones which we have already set straight for ourselves. We cannot expect ourselves to go an extra mile for every next person without burning a piece of our soul in that process. Their anger, hostility, or lack of acceptance of your boundaries is the edge of where their respect for your ends meet.
Saying ”no” doesn’t make you argumentative or ruthless. It doesn’t even make you uncaring or selfish. It is nothing to get blamed for. You don’t have to be the bad person or feel like one so those taking advantage of you won’t feel guilty about what they did to you or were planning to do. Standing up for yourself is self-care, not self-centered behavior, and it should be known by all. You have to understand the fact that sometimes it is the need of the hour to say no to things that have the potential to disrupt your peace. If you are not okay with something, it should be a good enough reason to say no.
Moreover, people are always highly judgmental of the actions of others. It isn’t necessarily a conscious thing but surely a social evil. Even if it is a small thing like saying no, the fear of being judged and criticized for the same is what ruins us. It is a person’s right to express themselves freely, be it saying yes or no to any particular thing. The sense of freedom is lost for ages; sadly, this phenomenon continues to exist among us. The only thing that ironically puts me at ease as well as distress is that we are the ones who make up the society and its so-called acceptable norms. It is people amongst us who are too toxic to hear no for an answer. It is we who need to change and give others a breather. No matter what you do, you should never back off from standing up for yourself, because being your own supporter always guarantees good. Walking an extra mile by saying no might make you tired, but it surely will make you happy in the least.
It is indeed high time we realize that saying no is a need. It is a feeling. It is a necessity and sometimes a want too. Because after all said and done, it should be understood that no means no and it should be taken like that without any offense.
You don’t move on overnight. Things don’t automatically stop triggering you. You don’t wake up one day and feel alive again. Instead, it happens slowly, perhaps when you’re not even aware you’re doing it. It happens when you’re openly talking about your pain and you don’t feel defined by it anymore. You’re talking about it like a distant memory or a lesson of the past you’re going over. It happens when someone asks you about your parents and you don’t flinch. It happens when someone asks you about your ex and you smile because somehow you have forgiven them. It happens when instead of living in your victim mentality, you learn how to become a winner—a person who has endured tough times and has been bruised and broken but is still very much alive, hopeful, and eager to live and try everything again like it’s the first time.
You don’t move on by reading a book or watching an inspirational video or getting advice from your friends. It’s not a one-time thing. You move on when you repeatedly work on your problems and commit to fixing yourself instead of relying on others to do so. When you become more aware of certain patterns and triggers that this pain has caused you and realize that you need to do some extra work to get rid of it. It happens the first time you go to the therapist’s office and you don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong. It happens when you start addressing all those issues that you swept under the rug because you didn’t want to deal with them. It happens when you’re no longer trying to hide your pain and you’re no longer diminishing it.
You don’t move on just because someone tells you that you should. You move on when you realize that your past is holding you back from truly enjoying your present. You move on when you realize that there’s a better life out there for you that you can create for yourself. When you realize that there are better people out there for you than the ones who hurt you. When you realize that no one else is responsible for fixing you but yourself. You move on when you realize that moving on is your job and your responsibility and that you’re very qualified to do so.
You don’t move on suddenly and it doesn’t happen in two weeks or two months. To truly move on from the parents who let you down or the partners who broke your heart or the friends who betrayed you, you’re going to have to invest years in this process. It happens slowly and sometimes unconsciously when you are truly determined to move on but it will change everything else.
You won’t listen to the same songs or watch the same movies anymore. You may change your inner circle or who you spend most of your time with. You may start attracting people who weren’t really ‘your type’ before. You may start saying things or doing things that could shock some people but this is what moving on is all about. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it changes who you are from within which in turn changes everything else around you.
Sometimes, when everything seems stagnant and lonely, you have to spring into the unknown with dreams to keep you afloat as wings. You book a trip to Barcelona alone because everyone else is dealing with the cyclones that weather them.
You go because you have to make time for your heart—something that you haven’t honored lately, frequently working overtime for weeks. You want to allow other cities to fill your mind with dreams once again. You have to keep going. Your path is your own.
Other travelers become companions. Some are companions for the fleeting hours on the plane, like an Indian couple visiting their daughter who works for Google, like the woman returning home to Spain from France who recommends you visit El Nationale for dinner, like the man to whom you lend a pen who shares he is coming back home from a work trip with his friends, like a young woman explaining how to navigate Charles DeGaulle airport.
Some strangers become companions for the seconds between the time you ask for them to take your photo and the moment they walk away, like the girl who takes your photo in front of Botticelli’s breathtaking “Primavera.” Some strangers become companions in the stories they share, unabashed and unhinged. On a bus ride, you listen to Arya’s story of leaving Colombia at 16 and moving to New York. Her grief and determination become your own in the seconds she talks about living with an alcoholic for decades, about his death, about the brutally hard days she endured to make it to see another day.
And one day as you sit on the train to Vernazza from Rapallo, watching tunnels become terracotta rooftops and hanging clothes lines, you realize that the seed of sadness that for many years grew within the pit of your stomach doesn’t feel as heavy anymore. Not because it dissipated, but because a plethora of other seeds have grown beside it—seeds of happiness, thankfulness, surprise, beauty, and love. These seeds have not blossomed from sitting on Tiktok for distraction or on Instagram for external validation, but from being present for the not-so-picturesque moments like putting sunscreen over the sunburn that sleeps on your shoulders from a previous day’s walk in Nice, like accepting a compliment from a stranger on your walk to the Picasso museum, like spilling scorching coffee all over your favorite jeans when a sparrow lands to close for comfort as you eat a salad bowl at the Amblé patio in Florence, like laughing about how bad your French is with a Texan couple at dinner in Juan-les-Pins. These are the important moments.
No, they are not free of harrowing loneliness or sadness, but they are the ones that keep you going. They are the ones that show that you want this life amid its uncertainty, its sorrow, its brutality, its injustice, and its evanescence. Keep casting dreams into wishing wells. Some will come true and others will surprise you in the most wholesome of ways. I promise you it is worth it to keep going in the face of weariness. You are worth it.
If there is one thing I could impart to you it would be this; when life becomes unbearable and all you want to do is close down and shut the world out, when grief and trauma do everything in their power to break you, let them break you open instead. Fight to stay cracked wide. Let it in, everything. You cannot imagine the bounty that is on the other side of the mountain. Our greatest lessons are in the shit. Our biggest blessings are on the other side of fear. There will be times, many of them, when you fail at this. And to that I say good. Do so spectacularly. Do it thoroughly and with conviction. The greatest warriors get beaten down and they get back up and they don’t hide their failures. They turn them into fuel and ferocity. They use it to stoke their fire until it is a blazing inferno.
So let it all pour in. Let it fill every bit of you until you could burst with it. Let it devour you whole. Let it light you ablaze and let it burn everything down. And when you are nothing but smoldering ruin, rise from the ashes like the phoenix you are. Reforged and battle born. You are tempered steel now. You have more bend in you than break. Life does indeed have the power to crush you, but only you get to decide to remain dust or be remade. I hope you choose transformation. I hope you choose the sacred alchemy of your soul. I hope you lean into all of it. I hope you learn just what kind of warrior lives in you. And should life grant us the gift of crossing paths, I hope to see a tempest looking out through your eyes.
I want to ask you a series of questions, which I hope you are comfortable answering to yourself. First, how do you react when things don’t go your way? What emotions do you experience? Is it anger, anxiety, fear, or other negative emotions? What is your inner dialogue during these times? More importantly, how do you comfort yourself when you feel this way? It’s a given; life will not always go the way we expect. Unfortunate situations will arise and we must deal with circumstances we haven’t experienced before. This can be difficult because we fear we cannot handle what is taking place.
But that is only our initial reaction, and things are likely to change as we move into the unknown. Our negative emotions matter because they are important to assess what is taking place in our life. The key is to feel the fear and do it anyway, as author Susan Jeffers states in her self-titled book. For instance, psychologists talk about getting comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty. This is not as easy as it sounds unless you’re a Navy Seal, Green Beret, or Commando. These highly decorated special forces are known for operating in difficult environments and dealing with discomfort and uncertainty. But for many of us who are not trained like these individuals, inhabiting our discomfort zone can be frightening.
So, what is the purpose of being comfortable with how things are, even when we dislike it? It means we experience less stress, pain, and suffering because we accept life as it is instead of wishing the situation was different. In fact, it is something I see often in my coaching practice with individuals. Many of them experience pain and suffering and want to learn how to overcome it. They believe I will show them how to change the situation and are surprised to learn I help them change the way they look at it. Invariably, they learn to confront their pain and change their perception of what is taking place, which turns down the volume on their suffering.
How To Transcend Any Difficult Experience
Are you comfortable with this understanding so far? Could you entertain the idea that life’s circumstances are not the root cause of our pain and misery, but it is how we interpret them? Because if I were to take a population of people and expose them to a difficult situation, each person would interpret it differently. So, we either change the circumstances causing us pain or we change our response to it. This is the essence of what author Michael Singer captures in his latest book, Living Untethered: “One of the most amazing things you will ever realize is that the moment in front of you is not bothering you—you are bothering yourself about the moment in front of you. It’s not personal—you are making it personal.” Granted, sometimes, we cannot change our external conditions, and this is when we must change our response instead of internalizing the stress.
Let me be clear here and say this in no way underscores what is taking place in your life. So, if you are facing difficulties with your employer or intimate partner, it requires acknowledging your emotions. However, to suggest this person or condition is the only source of your suffering is unwise because there could be something within you triggering the pain. It is about walking a tightrope between balance and discomfort. Because stress can actually be helpful to our nervous system, but being exposed to too much stress tips us over the edge. To get comfortable with the way things are requires understanding our emotions instead of resisting them. In some respect, we must befriend our emotions.
Here, befriending means making time to listen to our emotions to understand what they are trying to convey. In most instances, negative emotions are protective parts we may have neglected. Therefore, when we come home to ourselves in an authentic and compassionate way, we open the door to healing and integration. We let go of judging what is taking place and consider the lessons contained within the experience. I often repeat this throughout my writing because I believe it to be true. Meaning is subjective, based on our level of awareness. Every person will attribute a different meaning to their circumstances. However, the lessons learned from our difficult experiences are what we ought to place a value on most.
So, could you do this? Could you allow yourself to get comfortable with the way things are right now, even if you don’t like it? Could you welcome your anxiety, anger, fear, and other difficult emotions? Are you willing to learn something true and authentic about yourself through these emotions? I assure you, when you decide to show up for yourself in an authentic and compassionate way, you transcend any difficult experience. In fact, you invite these powerful emotions to join with you in a way you never thought possible. I’ve gone through the process myself and welcomed anger, fear, hurt and judgment frequently. Moreover, I’ve coached hundreds of people to see how their difficulties contain opportunities for personal growth. It requires changing the way we look at things, instead of perceiving life through a single focus.
Considering this, I invite you to answer the questions I asked you in the opening paragraph. If you’ve been following my work, you will know I frequently ask questions through my work because there is tremendous value in self-enquiry. This is a powerful tool because you become your own therapist (healer) instead of relying on others to give you the answers. Equally, self-enquiry is not a replacement for therapy but a compliment to it. Furthermore, when you work through your problems on your own, it builds strength of character, self-belief, and self-esteem. This is the point of self-development: working through our problems to grow into the person required to overcome them. Ultimately, if we want to get comfortable with the way things are, it requires setting aside our beliefs on the way life should be and accepting circumstances as they are. As we do, we open the door to transformation and healing and allow life to show us who we need to become to transcend our pain and suffering.
Self-abandonment is something we develop as children, when we learn that to gain love and acceptance from other people, we have to put their needs before our own or suppress how we really feel so they don’t get mad at us. It’s a result of us not getting the love and care we needed as children, so we continue to ignore our needs and feelings as adults so we can survive because we were taught that being ourselves will get us more punishment than love.
We start noticing our self-abandonment issues when we grow up and have a better understanding of who we are and what we want or how far we’re willing to go for others. We start realizing that we’re constantly suppressing our voice so others don’t get mad or we’re always doing things we don’t want just to please people. We learned how to bend and break because we didn’t learn healthier ways to communicate or set boundaries to get what we want. We think that to fit in and be liked, we have to avoid conflict and go the distance for those who wouldn’t do the same for us.
We also never celebrate our successes because we don’t want to look ‘arrogant’ or that we’re boasting because we care too much about what people think, and we often diminish our accomplishments and discredit ourselves so that others don’t feel intimidated by us. We think that we’re not as important as others and that our accomplishments don’t mean anything. Self-abandonment goes hand in hand with self-criticism. We’re always over-critical of ourselves no matter what we achieve, but we cheer on others when they achieve anything.
Because self-abandonment will always leave you feeling like you’re not good enough and what you do is never enough, you’ll constantly be second-guessing yourself and your choices or trusting others more than yourself.
To stop abandoning ourselves, we need to reprogram our childhood beliefs and instincts. We need to start listening more to our needs and feelings. We need to start paying attention to the red flags instead of ignoring them. We need to start having more courage to lose people or kick toxic people out of our lives. We need to be okay with saying no and asking for what we want and speaking up when things seem unfair. We need to stop being too forgiving or too accommodating when people are constantly taking advantage of us. We need to stand up for ourselves when people do us wrong and we need to set boundaries with those who always belittle us or disrespect us.
And last but not least, we need to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion we selflessly extend to others. We need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes. We need to love ourselves more so we can stop feeling guilty for getting what we want. We need to stop selling ourselves short and learn how to value ourselves regardless of the outcome. We need to get more in touch with who we are and embrace our emotions instead of abandoning ourselves anytime we’re faced with challenges or conflicts.
We need to put ourselves first when people make us feel like we’re not good enough or they don’t treat us in a way that pleases us. If there’s anything we need to abandon, it’s the old beliefs and thoughts that made us feel unworthy of good things in life or healthy relationships. We need to abandon the idea that it’s too late to change who we are, because healing begins when we dare to change our old self-loathing habits and start embracing patterns that allow us to receive what we deserve.
I see the struggle in your smile as you try to pull it together for me while it’s slowly falling apart for you. I see you being brave, putting one foot in front of the other day after day. I see how it’s difficult to go on when disappointment weighs heavy within you. But my dearest, I see you gather your strength to weather this season that life has brought you to, and this is what I want to say as you trudge along the road ahead of you.
Trust that you will land, my love.
Trust that after you’ve fallen into uncertainty, you will find your ground and you will learn to fly again. The fall may cause you to forget just who you are and what you are capable of. In these moments, I hope you remember two things: nothing you go through can change who you are and everything you go through will change who you are.
You are beautiful in your core and nothing can touch that. You’re feeling the heat of the fire you’re walking through right now. It will burn, but it will also refine. And you will come through, old and new.
Sometimes it takes a little forgetting who you are to remember all the things you wanted to be, to piece together the life you were meant to live. It takes a degree of discomfort, a nudge out of the nest, a freefall into a valley of your fears.
When you find yourself there, let these be the words that echo in your heart. Though the gravity of dejection may keep you low, you will find it within yourself to rise up yet again. Though clouds of uncertainty may overshadow your days, there will always be a light within you that will spark hope and promise over your days. And though your situation may grip you and cause you to feel stuck, the courage you possess will push you through.
Small movements will move you slowly towards where you are meant to be. And surely you will see there is nothing you cannot defeat. There is no race, my dearest, no finish line after which things will always feel certain. There is only steadying yourself each time you are shaken. Putting yourself back out there each time you feel beaten.
So, take a moment, my love; I see your pain in this process. But don’t let fear freeze you; take flight to places you’ve never been and trust that you will land.
For most of us, we’ve had the unfortunate experience of being stuck in a circling vortex of negativity, self-doubt, frustration, and exhaustion. When caught in one of these spirals, it can feel impossible to break free.
Why is this?
One of the reasons could be that these feelings seem to compound on each other. Exhaustion can lead to negative thoughts. Thoughts such as “Why am I not good enough to do a thing?”, “Why can’t I keep up with my peers?”, “Can I do anything right?”, or “Why is this hard for me to do?”
These thoughts can deeply frustrate us, as we don’t want to be stuck thinking these things. These thoughts can also be heavy, stressful, or debilitating, thus exhausting us even more. You might see how a pattern can develop.
Another reason could be that we are innately programmed to give more attention to negative thoughts rather than positive ones. This is called Negativity Bias. As humans, we are inclined to attend to, learn from, and dwell on negative information more so than positive information. Negative events usually evoke a faster and more critical response. During our hunter-gatherer days, negative events posed a threat to our survival. They were burned into our brain so that we would learn from them.
So, how can we stop this spiral? How can we work against this Negativity Bias? How can we ultimately break this pattern once we are stuck in its cycling negative winds?
I want to share three helpful tips that I’ve learned about in regards to working our way out of negative thinking spirals.
Try to forgive yourself for spiralling. Forgiveness isn’t always easy. We might find shame and guilt present, wondering why it’s so hard for us to get out and see the brighter side. Try to hold yourself with love and self-compassion. As mentioned earlier, we’re working against thousands of years of mental conditioning. This is tough work. The fact that you’re here reading this shows you’ve already made the first and most pivotal steps. First, it shows that you are self-aware of your own negative thinking patterns. Second, it demonstrates you have a desire to change. Know that getting caught in these spirals is normal and is part of the human experience.
2.Savoring the Positives
Since our brain is cognitively wired to focus more on negative thoughts, we have to work towards reprogramming it to focus on more positive thoughts. This requires turning short-term positive moments and feelings into long-term memories. Next time something positive happens in your life, try to savour it as much as possible! Stick with the moment or feeling for as long as you can. Savouring a moment could look like extending a hug with your friend for a few more seconds, journaling your feelings after a really awesome experience, or recalling moments in your life where you felt truly loved. Notice the sensations and feelings in your body. The more you’re able to practice savoring these positives, the easier you might find it gets to pull yourself out of a spiral. This is reprogramming in action.
3.Challenging the Negatives
The goal here is to question the validity of negative thoughts. Quite often these negative thoughts happen so fast and automatically that we just believe them. We don’t even think to question them. Challenging these thoughts can be tricky, as it requires you to narrow down on certain negative thoughts while they are coming up. Practice asking yourself the following questions:
· Are these thoughts respectful to you?
· Are they useful to you?
· Is there any evidence that supports this thought?
· What evidence do I have that disproves this thought?
· Have I ever faced this situation before? How did it turn out?
It’s no picnic getting caught in negative thinking spirals. Though it may feel hopeless escaping these gloom-ridden hurricanes, there are tools that can help us. Just remember to have patience and compassion for yourself as you start navigating these winds. You’ve got this!