Almost all of us have experienced some kind of traumatic or shocking event.
When I speak of trauma, I don’t always mean extreme situations such as natural disasters, instances of abuse, rape, murder, and accidents. While traumatic experiences often are severe and horrific, they can also be seemingly “mundane” experiences such as losing a job, daily stress, divorcing, and moving somewhere foreign. Trauma also can, and often does, come as a result of the spiritual awakening process in which our entire self-concept begins to crumble and we’re thrown into the abyss of an existential crisis.
Trauma is unique for each person. While we might find changing jobs just another daily task, another person may find the switch highly distressing. We should be very careful about judging other people when it comes to trauma. Every person is different and possesses different levels of sensitivity.
How to Know Whether You’re Going Through a Traumatic Experience
A traumatic experience is anything that severely threatens your emotional, psychological or physical well-being. Essentially, trauma is anything that causes us to feel like we’re losing or have lost control. Feeling traumatized is often accompanied by the experiences of feeling:
- Numb or disconnected from the world
- Sad and hopeless
- Anxious and fearful
- Hypervigilance (constantly looking out for danger)
- Confused and unable to concentrate
- Shocked and/or in denial
- Angry or rageful
- Moody and irritable
- Guilty or ashamed
- The need to withdraw from others
The danger with coming to terms with the fact that you have been traumatized is the tendency to adopt the role of a victim. While a person may have been victimized in some way, that person is only a “victim” until they make themselves one.
If you have read this list and discovered that you’re going through a traumatic experience, I want to invite you to notice the tendency to start attaching to the idea that you’re a victim. While it’s important that we come to terms with our trauma, it is very harmful, disempowering, and addictive to start thinking of yourself as a victim who is at the mercy of others/life.
The Importance of Tapping Into Your Inner Strength
Trauma is essentially the consequence of an extreme absence of power. But here’s the liberating truth: power comes from within. Whatever goes on outside of you is nothing compared to the courage, clarity, and compassion that already lies within your soul.
Learning how to tap into your inner strength – the power of your soul – is really about developing self-compassion. When you’re able to access this self-compassion, you will discover that nothing can truly harm you, because nothing can take away the untouchable divine strength of your inner Self. And when you realize that nothing can truly hurt you at your core, you will feel empowered and able to deal with anything that comes your way.
How to Access Your Inner Strength During Traumatic Experiences
Like most people, I have gone through traumatic experiences such as emotional abuse, having a drug-addicted mother, going through a spiritual awakening process, dealing with mentally ill family members, feeling like I’m going crazy myself, among many other things.
Two of the most powerful and life-changing tools I discovered during these dark times were self-compassion and thought inquiry. Learning to take care of myself with loving kindness and discovering that believing thoughts actually create suffering freed me from a lot of anger, fear, and shame.
Here are some key ways to access your inner strength during periods of extreme stress, illness, loss, vulnerability, and pain.
1. Treat yourself with love and compassion
Notice the tendency for the inner critic to start judging you for “not having it all together” or for “being weak.” Counteract any critical thought with compassionate and encouraging words. For example, you might say to yourself, “It’s OK to feel this way,” “I’m doing the best I can,” “I love you no matter what,” or “I’m here for you.” How would you speak to a child who has experienced what you have gone through? If it helps, address your kindness to your inner child. Treat yourself with love and compassion.
2. Allow yourself to feel what you feel
One of the greatest causes of long-term suffering is repression of our emotions. While it’s not always possible to feel our emotions after a traumatic circumstance, it is vital at some point to re-experience anything that we have shut away inside. Whatever we repress or suppress tends to have a way of building up within us like volcanic lava. At some point, we need to let it all out, and this will either happen from our conscious intentions, or as a catastrophic reaction (just like a volcanic eruption).
In order to “feel it to heal it” you need to find a healthy form of catharsis. For instance, you might seek out a therapist to speak with, journaling, artistic expression or more traditional forms of catharsis such as crying, screaming or physical workout (such as punching).
3. Breathe deeply
During traumatic circumstances, our minds tend to race and our breathing becomes shallow. The more shallow our breathing becomes, the more anxiety we feel, and the more our minds go crazy – and vice versa. To break this loop, breathe deeply from your stomach. Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve in the body which sends signals to the brain to calm down. If you’re struggling to breathe deeply, try noticing your in-breath and out-breath. Mindfully focus on the sensations in your body and what it feels like to be scared. If you can, try to become curious about what is happening in your mind and body. Breathing deeply and paying mindful attention helps to create more space inside of you to calm down and become balanced again.
4. Go slowly
Working, moving, and speaking quickly tends to add to the stress we feel during painful circumstances. Allow yourself to slow down and reduce the tempo. Give yourself the space to process what is happening. Notice your addiction to working quickly and how it tends to cause the mind to get lost in thoughts of the past and future. Do one thing at a time, and ignore people who try to pressure you. Your health and mental wellbeing are paramount. The world won’t end if you slow down, but it will feel better to inhabit.
5. Let go of self-victimizing thoughts
When we believe our thoughts, we suffer. But here’s the thing: your thoughts don’t actually mean anything about you unless you believe they do. Thoughts are simply fluctuations of energy. We don’t control our thoughts, otherwise, don’t you think we would always choose to think happy thoughts? We can’t even predict what the next five thoughts in our head will be. Therefore, if we don’t control our thoughts, how can we actually be our thoughts? How can our thoughts be true?
The root cause of all suffering is believing and identifying with thoughts instead of witnessing them and letting them go. When we experience trauma, the mind tends to create thoughts about how terrible our lives are and begins to create an identity around suffering (known as the victim complex). The moment we begin believing self-victimizing and self-pitying thoughts is the moment we experience intense suffering. But when we notice and become aware of these thoughts, and don’t identify with them, we don’t suffer.
Learning how to access your inner strength is about teaching yourself to become aware of these intrusive thoughts and realize that they only mean something if you believe they do. Otherwise, these thoughts come and go without hassle or worry. One of the best ways to stop identifying with your thoughts is through a regular meditation practice and self-inquiry. I recommend Scott Kiloby and Byron Katie as two excellent self-inquiry teachers.
6. Remember a situation in the past that you survived
If you are struggling to trust your inner strength, try recalling a tough situation in the past that you got through. Simply remembering that you got through something difficult in the past can help strengthen your resolve in the present.
7. Ask for guidance
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s actually a sign of inner strength! When you seek help, you are being courageous and admitting that you don’t have all the answers, which is perfectly normal. Try seeking support from a trusted loved one, trained therapist or praying to a higher power such as your Soul. If you are in desperate need of guidance, I recommend seeking out a therapist or spiritual teacher.
8. Keep in mind that everything passes
No matter how much pain or suffering you’re going through right now, remember that everything passes, everything. Think back to a problem you had in the past, perhaps five or ten years ago. Where is that problem now? By reminding yourself of the philosophy “this too shall pass” you will bring yourself out of the narrow focus of the mind to see a bigger picture.
Now that you have explored how to access your inner strength, focus on one of the points above that appeals to you. Try to dedicate the next week to implementing whatever point of advice you choose and notice how you feel.
Most importantly, remember that self-compassion and thought inquiry are essential tools for tapping into the innate strength you carry. At first, it can be hard to believe that you carry strength within you at all, and this is because the mind tends to obscure your soul with thoughts. However, the more you become aware of these destructive thoughts, the more you will feel your natural inner radiance shine like an eternal sun. Cultures and spiritual traditions through the ages have called this inner presence your Buddha Nature, Higher Self, Consciousness, God/Goddess, Atman, and Soul. This sacred place within you is the source of all love, strength, peace, and understanding you need.
My hope is that this article can help you find relief from suffering. Please share whatever has helped you overcome trauma below.