Complex trauma is like an impressionistic painting. Up close, it’s a bunch of tiny brush strokes, a jumble of dots and colors. It doesn’t look like anything, just stuff, seemingly unrelated. It’s not until a person takes several steps back to look again that the whole picture emerges.

At least, that’s how it was for me. For many years, I felt “off” but couldn’t pinpoint why. I was aware that I had a difficult childhood, and that my family was atypical in their dysfunction, but I also thought I had moved on. My issues were a jumble of seemingly unrelated dots. Of course now looking back, it all makes sense. I wish I had started this work so much sooner. Putting the past behind me and moving on ended up prolonging my healing. I had buried the trauma deep in my psyche. Now, many years later, it’s a major excavation.

Moving on is not the same as healing, but it might be the stepping stone to help get someone to a place where they can do the work. Every person heals differently on their own timeline. Here are some common indicators it’s time to seek some help.

  • You feel overwhelmed by simple things and don’t know why
  • Family and co-workers upset you
  • You feel out of control
  • You feel exhausted
  • You have an extreme startle response
  • You feel stressed all the time
  • You can’t “forgive and forget”
  • You feel guilty about things that are not your fault
  • You feel ashamed
  • Little things set you off
  • You explode, seemingly out of nowhere
  • You have nightmares or stress dreams
  • You feel like nothing you do is good enough
  • You escape in unhealthy ways, i.e. drinking, drugs, food, etc.
  • You feel numb
  • You feel obligated, i.e. “I should….”
  • You hold yourself to impossible standards
  • You make goals and self-sabotage them
  • You criticize yourself, and the voice in your head sounds like your abuser
  • You’ve been putting off seeking help because you know something “big” is under there, and it feels too overwhelming to deal with it.
  • You’re afraid of messing up your kids
  • You’re afraid of going crazy
  • You’re afraid of facing the truth
  • You’re afraid of ________

There are many great therapists, and it is important to find the right one where you feel connected, heard, and safe. I have had a lot of success with EMDR therapy, which is one of many resources available to trauma survivors. More about EMDR can be found here. The folks at Trauma Recovery University put out a lot of videos and other resources, which can be helpful to reinforce what you are learning in therapy.

Choosing to heal is a life-changing decision. It starts by acknowledging that something is wrong, and by saying some of the bravest words ever spoken. “I need help.”

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