“I thought I had all that trauma either tucked away securely under the seat in front of me, or in the overhead bin. But my wife handed me that article you wrote, and once again, I knew I was drowning in a swamp of shame. I guess it will never go away?
“So here I am… I don’t even know what to ask for…”
I nodded with compassionate understanding and responded: “It sounds to me like you need to ask for a professional swamp drainer.”
He smiled and nodded as he picked up one of my business cards from the table beside him.
He looked up and said, “Well it doesn’t say anything about draining swamps, but I do like what it says on the back… ‘Specializing in Moving Mountains!’ If you can do that, surely you can drain the swamp!”
Shame. It’s a key component that we are left with after experiencing any kind of trauma. We all have it.
I know! It makes no sense that we would have shame when something happened to us.
Let me explain. In the moment of trauma, new beliefs are set in stone in a heartbeat. And rarely are they beliefs that will serve us well in the future.
There are two challenges to these stone-set new beliefs:
- We don’t even know it’s happening
- We aren’t consciously aware of what the beliefs are
Yet they guide our lives. They determine our destiny.
One of the beliefs set in stone after trauma is always related to shame.
People emerge from trauma was various versions about shame. Here are some examples:
- It was my fault
- I should have done more to prevent it
- I should have known this might happen
All of those are beliefs about ourselves that are shameful.
There’s a second factor. If another person/s was/were involved in the trauma you experienced (which is the case and 90% of the time), what they did that traumatized you was shameless. Therefore, they dumped an ocean load of shame on you.
Becoming free of that shame, and your beliefs about shame are a huge part of your healing process from trauma.
In addition, there are other beliefs that you must embrace in order to heal from trauma.
After explaining his situation with his shame, we began working on these five beliefs, as we prepared to drain the swamp of shame.
They will likely help you as well, or equip you to help a loved one who has experienced trauma.
1. YOUR TRAUMA DOES NOT DEFINE YOU.
At the moment of trauma, something changes in us.
When I work with people who have been through trauma, I can very easily access how it has defined them by asking them this question: “So what changed about you (or in you) after this trauma?“
When I asked the man I was working with who had the swamp of shame, he said:
- “It changed my ability to connect with people”
- “It made me less trusting, sometimes downright paranoid”
- “It made me a fraction of the man I had once been”
I asked him if it would be an accurate statement if I said: “I bet in your business dealings, you have difficulty connecting, you are a bit leery of every deal, and you feel like you are ‘not enough’ to pull it off?”
As if I had a crystal ball that I was reading from, he asked in amazement: “How did you know?”
I knew because when we look back on trauma, the way we believe it changed us – becomes defining to us.
Whether or not they are accurate assessments is irrelevant. Once we take those in, they govern our lives. Even if we are unaware of what they are.
What about you? What do you believe changed about you as a result of trauma?
One of the key components is of trauma healing is to decide who you want to do be defined as an to install that so it overrides the identity trauma stamped on you.
After some significant work, he came back with an assignment and read these words:
“Trauma does not define me. I am defined by my desire to connect, by my ability to trust with great wisdom, and I am tapping into the greatness God has called me to.”
We installed that new identity, and his comment the next week was, I’m not sure that I’m out of the swamp, but something is happening in me. I don’t have to fight as hard to keep my head above water.
What identity did trauma stamp on you? And what new identity to you choose to install in your brain and heart?
2. YOU CAN AND WILL RISE AGAIN.
Unfortunately, most people get knocked down by trauma. Not because of our weakness, but because of the trauma.
Before we had full understanding of trauma, many professionals taught people to “just get used to it and to cope” while lying on their back … instead of helping them rise again.
I wish I had a magic wand and I could run to and fro waving it over people who had just experienced trauma and help them rise again.
I do not have or believe in magic wands, but I believe and have evidence of hundreds and thousands of cases where people have risen again.
No matter how severe your trauma, (I’m so sorry it happened), no matter how long ago it happened, no matter how horribly it affected you… You can rise again!
But believing that you can’t certainly has the power to prevent your efforts and keep you flat on your back.
You may not know how to rise again. Please get help if you need it.
You may not feel like you have the strength to rise again. Indeed, it is a journey, not an event.
I tell people let’s just do a few things that you do have the strength for each day. And as you do those things consistently, you will gain more strength. Then we can add to that repertoire.
It’s usually a few weeks until people come in as if a miracle had occurred. They report about being able to do things they had not been able to do in quite some time.
Because most come believing they cannot and will not rise again, I ask the question very respectfully: “Could it be that you are beginning to rise from the ashes?“
By that time, they are able to recognize it as such.
Start with the little bit of strength you have.
Quite often I begin with a simple exercise:
- Find one quote daily that you wish were true about you
- Write it down or note it on your phone
- Read it aloud several time daily
- Add a new one each day
- On the second day, you will have two to read aloud
- On the third day, you will have three
- Continue through the week
My client in the swamp asked: “Where on earth can I find those? I read the USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, but there’s not much of that kind of thing in there.”
I suggested: goodreads.com.
He came back with:
- “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
― Dr. Seuss
- “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
― Anne Frank
- “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”
― Audrey Hepburn
- “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.”
― Nicholas Sparks
- “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.”
― Walt Disney Company
- “The most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.”
― Audrey Hepburn
- “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”
― Maya Angelou
I asked what it felt like that morning when he read all seven of those aloud. With a very tender voice, he said: “Like I baptized my mind. The old is gone. The new is hopeful!”
Will you do it? Find a powerful quote that speaks to you. Read it aloud daily. Add a new one each day.
Speak a new reality into existence. You will find yourself rising again!
3. YOU ARE NOT A TRAUMA MAGNET.
My client who needed to drain his swamp of shame (due to his trauma) said something that I hear often:
“It was like after the first trauma happened, I had a neon sign on my forehead that said: ‘Welcome Trauma! It seems like there’s no end!’”
I knew exactly what he was speaking of because he seemed to have had the same experience I did. However, I would say, “I guess I’m a trauma magnet.”
One day, a very wise friend heard me say those words and scolded me: “Don’t you ever say those words again! Don’t you realize you are alerting your brain to look for trauma? Is that truly what you want your life to be like?”
Although I was shocked, I’m so glad she said it.
I began studying neuropsychology at that time. I didn’t realize that when we focus on something, we set our RAS (our reticular activating system) to searching for those things … at all costs.
The truth is, the trauma was always on my mind, even if it was tucked way back beneath my current thoughts and activities.
It happens to all of us.
I began to write to trauma. I know that sounds a little bit crazy, but I had to change my focus. The first thing I wrote was this:
“Trauma, hurt, failure, and disappointment… I am serving you notice that you are no longer welcome here! I know you. I have felt you deeply. I have cratered beneath the weight of your heaviness. No more!”
“I welcome joy. I invite fulfillment. I cherish gratitude. I am rising again! You are not my destination or my destiny!”
If you do not change the way you are allowing trauma to rule your thoughts, your brain will always be searching for more of the same.
There’s so much power in knowing that we can set our brains to search for whatever we desire.
You are not a trauma magnet, but you must stop entering it into your Google search engine of your brain! Instead, enter things that you would love for it to help you find!
4. EVEN IF YOU FEEL THAT YOU ARE A FRACTION OF THE PERSON YOU ONCE WERE, THERE IS STILL GREATNESS IN YOU.
I honestly know what it’s like to feel like you are a fraction of the person that you once were.
I don’t hate many things, but I hate that feeling.
But I finally learned that it is just a feeling, not the truth.
We blame the feeling on many things that further reinforce it as truth:
- We point to every mistake as proof
- We say we’re getting older
- We say people don’t regard us as they used to (when the truth is that it is because we have developed disappointing coping mechanisms and/or have isolated/separated ourselves from others)
Because I am of a Christian worldview, I love to look back to the writings of Jeremiah. I held onto this truth: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you [and approved of you as My chosen instrument].”
No trauma, no person, no situation can steal that from us. We have greatness in us.
However, when we begin to believe we don’t, our brain directs us to see evidence that indeed we are only a fraction of ourselves that we once were.
But when you tell your brain that you were created for greatness, it will begin to validate that for you!
Don’t be one of the people that Henry David Thoreau wrote about: “Most men/women live lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still in them!”
I decided in the beginning of my journey of healing my trauma that nothing was going to stop me! That I had greatness in me. That I was going to be singing at the top of my lungs going 100 mph … enjoying every second of the ride when I took my last breath!
I may only be going 90 mph now, but I am still singing at the top of my lungs.
No matter how disappointed or hurt you are, my friend… There is still greatness in you.
Think about it!
And you will begin to shine again!
5. NO MATTER HOW SEVERE YOUR TRAUMA IS/WAS, THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR.
No, I’m not asking you to be grateful for the trauma. I’m asking you to be grateful for the flowers that bloom in the springtime. For the beautiful gold and orange leaves in the fall.
I’m asking you to be grateful for the friend who called you yesterday. For the neighbor who brought your garbage can in from the curb. For the coworker who brought you a cup of coffee.
We all have things we can be grateful for.
I tell my clients who are embarking on their healing journey from trauma to begin with this gratitude exercise.
I instruct them:
- Take a moment in the morning and write three things you are grateful for.
- Take a moment in the afternoon and write three things you are grateful for.
- Take a moment in the evening before you go to bed and write three things you have to be grateful for.
Then each Sunday evening, I ask them to read them all out loud. If they have done the assignment, they should have 63 things they are grateful for.
Then at the end of the month, they will have almost 300 things they are grateful for.
Research says that gratitude causes a reset in our brain. Without going into the details of the reset, gratitude gives you the strength you need to rise again!
You can and you will rise again!
You too can begin to drain the swamp of shame that comes with trauma.
Begin with embracing these five powerful beliefs.
Say them aloud.
Think about them.
You do not deserve to drown in the swamp of shame. You do not deserve to live under the dark cloud of trauma.
As you rise again, you will find a life of fulfillment. The sun longs to shine on you again, my friend!
And the icing on the cake for me, and for many others… Is the ability to help others push back the cloud of darkness that comes with trauma; and stand in the sun again. You can encourage them to take a deep breath, and reach out your hand to help them rise from the ashes. There’s nothing much more fulfilling than that!
Step into your healing, help others, and step into your fulfillment and greatness!