Cultivating Peace in the Wake of Trauma
Traumatic events disrupt life, leaving you feeling ungrounded, frightened, and often overwhelmed. Terrifying events strip you of your sense of safety. The experience of distressing or traumatic events is, to some degree, inevitable. However, with sufficient support, it is possible to avoid the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
As a psychologist focused on the healing of trauma, I can assure you that it is possible to recover after exposure to a traumatic event. The first step involves reclaiming a sense of safety and developing resources. “Resources” are the internal and external tools that allow you to feel grounded in the present moment and capable of turning toward the pain without becoming overwhelmed.
“Creating a peaceful environment in your home and cultivating imagery that helps you feel relaxed are important steps on the path to healing PTSD. The beautiful thing about visualizations is that once you have practiced them you can call upon the feeling of safety at any time. You can bring your resources for trauma recovery with you so that you can feel grounded anywhere.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Internal and External Resources for Trauma Recovery
We can all cultivate internal and external resources that we can draw upon when we feel stressed or triggered in a trauma response. Resources restore a sense of safety, inner calm, and choice about what to feel or do.
Internal resources are your self-care practices that create a change in how you are feeling or responding to your environment. Tools of body and mind include deep breathing, grounding, visualization, physical exercise, mindfulness, and yoga. You can think of this as creating calm from the inside out.
External resources are the tools that you can call upon from your community and environment. These come in the form of friends you can trust, a therapist, and cultivating a calm and predictable external environment. You can think of this as creating calm from the outside in.
Create your Healing Space
It can be difficult to feel a sense of inner peace when the space around you is cluttered and chaotic. In order to enhance a sense of peace inside it is wise to cultivate an environment that reflects a peaceful and calm feeling.
This first resource for trauma recovery is to choose a space in your living environment that you can claim as your peaceful, healing space.
Start by selecting a room or even a corner of a room within your home. Ideally this space is quiet, peaceful, and offers enough privacy for your inner explorations. If needed create the boundaries of your space by placing a screen or hanging a curtain. Since you will return here frequently think about what helps you hold your intentions of peace, ease, and safety. Perhaps you select some well-chosen quotes, images, or a candle. Maybe you want to have something from nature such as flowers, a plant, or a stone. Explore any colors or fragrances that soothe your senses. Your peaceful place is a good place to keep a journal, a meditation cushion to sit on, or a yoga mat. However, try to keep your space free of clutter so that your peaceful space offers respite from the busyness of the outer world.
Find you Inner Calm
In EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy we prepare clients for therapy by developing imagined resources for trauma recovery. Visualizing a safe or peaceful place is of primary importance because your body and mind will not release the effects of stress and trauma until you can feel safe now. You can cultivate your imagined safe place from the comfort of your home.
Begin by reflecting upon times and places in your life where you have felt comfortable and relaxed. Think of a place that evokes a feeling of safety and peacefulness. Your place can be a real place you have been, a scene from a movie, or something entirely imagined. Some people choose places in nature such as sitting near the ocean or by a stream. Some choose to bring in a pet or a loved one. The main consideration when developing safe place imagery is that it truly feels safe for you.
You can use your senses to enhance your imagery. What do you see? What do you hear? What are the smells?
One woman’s safe place was in her grandmother’s kitchen. She could see the wallpaper, the light coming through the window. She remembered how they talked and laughed while she and her grandmother made cookies. She imagined the smell of the cookies in the oven. All of this brought this relaxing memory back to life allowing her to feel safe and peaceful now.
When creating a safe place image you may notice the need for refinements. For example, another woman’s peaceful place was in a wildflower meadow. During her visualization a lion entered the scene interrupting her feeling of safety. When disruptions happen in your safe place it is a signal to create reinforcements to strengthen your feeling of safety. In her case we added a wall around the meadow and placed guards to ensure that no invaders could enter the meadow. You can enhance your visualization by adding protectors, bringing in nurturing people, or placing animals that act as allies in your imagined safe place. Trust your own creativity to find a resource that works for you.
Resourcing in the Body
This next resource is a recorded, introduction to why resources and grounding tools are valuable in trauma recovery. This is one of ten free guided grounding practices available here on Healbright.
- Yoga for Trauma Recovery
- Top 40 Resilience Practices
- Learn more about EMDR for Trauma Recovery
- Grounding for Trauma Recovery
Want to learn more about healing PTSD?
This post offers an excerpt from my book, The Complex PTSD Workbook, now available on Amazon! Click here to check it out.
About Dr. Arielle Schwartz
Dr. Arielle Schwartz is a licensed clinical psychologist, wife, and mother in Boulder, CO. She offers trainings for therapists, maintains a private practice, and has passions for the outdoors, yoga, and writing. Dr. Schwartz is the author of The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Fall, 2016). She is the developer of Resilience-Informed Therapy which applies research on trauma recovery to form a strength-based, trauma treatment model that includes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), somatic (body-centered) psychology and time-tested relational psychotherapy. Like Dr. Arielle Schwartz on Facebook, follow her on Linkedin and sign up for email updates to stay up to date with all her posts.