Advice

WAfyWF: When you can’t talk to a therapist, but you need help

Question: How can I work on my childhood trauma without talking to a therapist?

Recently, I have been in a weird headspace that comes from experiences in my childhood that I honestly thought had been dealt with (but, now that I think of it, were probably just buried). However, these issues are resurfacing now daily because of something that happened recently, and I can’t stop consuming my thoughts with these issues. I feel bitterness, anxious, confusion … I just find myself lost in these thoughts and memories. I do not feel comfortable talking to a therapist. What are some helpful forms of self therapy you would recommend?

Answer:

Even though you’re not ready to talk to a therapist, I want to commend you on asking me for advice because asking for help at all is a significant step.

Here’s a list of things you can do on your own, but please keep in mind that none of these items is a guaranteed cure. If you’ve tried these things and you’re still really struggling, please consider asking for help. If money is a factor, it’s worth noting that many therapists offer a sliding scale for payment. Ask around, and you may find there are more forms of support available to you than you thought.

Meanwhile, try this…

  1. Learn to meditate. There are debates as to which forms of meditation are best and for whom, but the truth is, whatever form is accessible to you is the best place to start. IOU: One blog post about basic meditation techniques. Meanwhile, Google it. 
  2. Journal about the recurring thoughts. Write by hand and draw pictures to express emotions that you don’t have words for, or type a detailed account of everything in a digital journal. Use art, dance, song, or any form of creation as a way to express what you’re feeling and remembering.
  3. Cultivate curiosity. As you try to articulate your thoughts and feelings, allow yourself to be curious about your experiences and memories. Ask yourself questions like: Where did I learn this? What’s the first time I remember feeling this way? Try to maintain an attitude of kindness rather than one of blaming and judgement.
  4. Talk to your friends. Just tell someone what’s going on with you. Especially if the memories are very distressing or tend to trigger feelings of panic or thoughts of suicide. Letting people know you’re dealing with stuff helps create an emotional safety net.
  5. Engage in mildly challenging physical activity. Pick something that allows you to breathe deeply and be very focused on the activity at hand. It should be suitable for your personal current level of health and not overly strenuous. Some sweat is a good thing, but keep in mind that this is therapeutic movement, not marathon training. The endorphins produced during exercise help to chase away depression, and it’s also a way to shift our thinking away from that endless loop of stressful thoughts. 
  6. Read spiritual texts. Specifically, seek perspectives other than whatever you were raised with. Try on a new world view for a few days. Notice whether your problems look any different through this new lens. Try more than one. 
  7. Evaluate your use of substances. If you use alcohol, marijuana, or other prescription, or recreational drugs (including caffeine) observe your intake. During stressful times, it’s tempting to use drugs to numb out or push ourselves through it. That’s not a sustainable way to live, though, and we can damage our bodies, complicate our mental health, and hurt others in the process. Consider taking a break from any substances you tend to over-use.
  8. Practice kindness toward your body. That means frequently engaging in whatever forms of self-care your body most appreciates. Feed yourself lovingly. Dress yourself lovingly. Wash yourself lovingly. Carry yourself lovingly. Often, when we’re suffering mentally and emotionally, we further punish ourselves by neglecting the body. Instead, be kind to the body as a gesture of peace toward yourself. 
  9. Practice self affirmation. Come up with a statement about yourself that is simple, positive, and true, and repeat it often. Remember it. Write it down. Make a sigil of it. Incorporate it into your thinking at every opportunity. Try any of the following or come up with your own:
    I’m good. 
    I’m worthy of love. 
    I’m safe.
    I’m loved.  
    I deserve happiness and goodness.
    I love and accept myself. 
  10. Take care of your inner child. When scary things happen to us at a young age, it can feel as though part of us gets stuck at that age. That inner child can be particularly vulnerable to stressful events in adulthood. Pay special attention to that part of yourself by engaging in activities that calm or entertain that part of you. Imagine your inner child is a kid you are babysitting, and you as an adult are the babysitter. What would you do to connect with this child? Do that for yourself. (My therapist taught me this. Just sayin.)
  11. Ask for what you need. Write this sentence down, and try to use it at least once a week, “I am feeling ____, and I could really use ____.” Work up to using it every day. Once you get used to it, it’s shockingly easy to ask for what you need, and the people who love you (and there are more than you know!) will be very happy to help you with anything they can. Some options to try:
    1. I am feeling tired, and I could use a nap.
    2. I’m feeling confused, and I would like some clarification.
    3. I’m feeling hungry, and I want to eat a whole damn pizza.
    4. I’m feeling sad, and I need a hug.
    5. I’m feeling angry and could use a productive outlet.

While a professional can be extremely helpful in this process, it is possible to at least start the work alone. Be patient with yourself. Be kind. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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