If you need to know how to love yourself after experiencing trauma, you’re not alone. First, if you’re here, it means you’ve probably experienced trauma of some kind. No matter what you’ve experienced, please know that it doesn’t make you any less of a beautiful person.
Life is hard, but loving yourself may be the most important thing you do. Trauma has a way of making a world full of color look bleak and dark. It steals away all that you love and replaces it with hurt and pain.
Maybe you feel lost. Maybe you’re unsure of what you’re supposed to do in life. Maybe you’re not sure how you can ever love yourself again. I know that feeling because I, too, have been there.
For years, I let my childhood trauma carry me through life. I was in a constant state of running and panic until finally, I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore. I needed to relearn to love myself and heal from the trauma. In that process, I found the five key pieces of knowledge I’ll share below necessary for self-love.
In this article, we’ll talk about trauma as a whole and how to love yourself again after experiencing trauma of any kind.
The trauma types
Trauma happens to people every day, but there are so many different types. Some people may experience a traumatic car accident or a near-death experience. Others may have been abused or violated. Maybe, you’ve even been through a natural disaster or mass-trauma event. There are a few different categories of trauma that are notable:
The first form of trauma is acute. What this means is that the trauma only occurred one time. It was a short period, maybe a few hours or so, and you don’t see the trauma happening again. Though you may fear a repeat of the trauma, acute trauma is usually a one-time event.
On the other hand, chronic trauma is something that happens over time. This trauma leaves inherent scars, emotionally or physically. Trauma that is chronic means that there is or was no end in sight. It’s repetitive abuse, and it probably took incredible courage to get out of this chronic situation.
There’s also a type of trauma that’s called vicarious trauma. Basically, it’s when you experience trauma from things happening around you rather than things happening to you. This is common when people grow up in a community with high rates of crime or violence.
However, vicarious trauma is becoming more common as violent events happen around the world. Dr. Pam Ramsden from the University of Bradford found that just hearing and reading about the violence around the world can lead to PTSD-like symptoms.
If you’re feeling anxious or scared, maybe feeling like you even went through a traumatic event yourself, it’s probably vicarious trauma. Though this form of trauma is different that direct trauma, it’s still important to recognize. You should never feel embarrassed about it.
Before I dive into how trauma affects our bodies, I wanted to talk a little bit about self-inflicted trauma. Oftentimes, we think that trauma only occurs when we experience something that happens to us. This can be a natural disaster, sexual assault, abuse, or a number of different things.
However, sometimes, trauma is something that we did. Maybe you made a choice that led to a traumatic event.
I’m not talking about the clothes you wore or the places you decided to go.
Maybe you drank and drove and got into a car accident. Maybe you had a suicide attempt. Or maybe it’s something else that you feel you’ve caused. Either way, if you made a decision that led to trauma, it is still valid. Your pain, your regret, your fear is all still real and valid.
Please remember that no matter what you did or what happened, we all make mistakes and still deserve love.
How trauma affects us
We know that past traumas weigh heavily on our minds. There are days when all you can think about are the intrusive thoughts and fear that surrounds your trauma. That being said, trauma actually does something even worse. It rewires our brain, causing us to not have fear inhibition.
Fear inhibition is present in everyone’s brain. It’s our ability to suppress our fear when we see safety cues. For example, when you see a friend rather than a stranger, you wouldn’t feel scared. These safety cues help to keep us calm in a seemingly safe situation.
Those who have experienced trauma no longer have those safety cues. It was believed that only those with diagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) showed a lack of fear inhibition, but in the psychological journal Depression & Anxiety, researchers found that a lack of fear inhibition was directly related to both PTSD and those with Acute Stress Disorder (ASD).
ASD occurs in the month following trauma and shows common signs of:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty experiencing happiness
- Inability to talk about the event
- Inability to remember parts of the trauma
- Replaying parts of the trauma in your head
- Negative mood swings
About 80% who have ASD will be diagnosed with PTSD, but many people recover from both disorders over time or with help.
Both of these disorders can also affect our body’s sympathetic nervous system. According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, after a traumatic event, our heart rates increase and so do our startle responses.
It’s only with true healing do these learned reactions go away, and healing comes from counseling and talking to someone about what you’ve been through. When we bottle up our pain and frustration, it only leads to more problems. Getting help is always the first step when it comes to trauma.
How to love yourself
After trauma, even after healing, we can sometimes feel undeserving of our own love. We look for reasons to fail, reasons to hate ourselves, and reasons why the trauma happened to us. Here’s the thing: Everyone experiences trauma at some point in their life.
While some people may experience small traumas, others will experience heart-breaking traumas. There’s no rhyme or reason to it other than it’s just life and stuff happens. Regardless of whether your trauma is small or big, it affected you. Now, it’s time to move past that with love.
Loving yourself is so important. Not only does it lead to better self-esteem and more happiness, but it also helps you to love others and others to love you. When it comes to building healthy relationships and friendships, self-love is a must. The saying, “You can’t fill another person’s cup if yours is empty,” is so true. So, let’s talk about how to fill your cup after experiencing trauma:
Recognize no one is immune from hurt
The first thing to know when learning to love yourself is that no one is immune from hurt. You may be the strongest person in the world, but the pain will still find you. If you bury down that trauma and act like everything is okay, it’s only going to get worse.
In fact, psychologists Jillian C. Shipherd and J. Gayle Beck found that when those who had experienced trauma practiced thought suppression, they were more anxious, depressed, and distressed.
Recognize that your pain is not making you weaker. You are not immune to hurt, and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t strong. Strong people still experience trauma. Strong people still feel pain. Strong people can still recover and love themselves.
Talk to someone
Everyone knows you should talk to someone about your trauma, but how many of us actually do it? Not enough.
Therapists are seriously mainstream cool now, so if you haven’t spoken to one about your trauma, try it out. Even if you think that your trauma isn’t really affecting you, a therapist can check-in and make sure that everything is okay.
After you’ve healed from your trauma, a therapist helps you to learn how to better process events in your life. It can take a bit to find someone that you really trust and appreciate, but once you do, it’s so worth it.
If you’re not going to go to a therapist, there’s no judgment here. However, I still believe talking about your trauma is an important part of healing. You don’t have to relay all the facts or speak in detail, but talking to another person about how you feel about it can really help. It helps you to realize that what happened shouldn’t haunt you.
Reach out to other survivors
One huge gift in learning to love myself was reaching out to other trauma survivors. Hearing their own healing stories and the journey they went on to get there was admirable to me. I loved seeing that all of these people had done it, and I could too.
The most important thing I learned was healing isn’t a linear process. It’s not like you wake up one day and say, “Wow, I’m finally healed.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You may have moments (even months or years) where you feel okay. Then, before you know it, something triggers the past trauma and you get another wave of panic or fear. It happens to everyone, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean that your healing wasn’t right or that you did something wrong. It simply means you’re human.
That was one of the best things I learned from other survivors. I would see people whose trauma was years behind them, but then they’d wake up and something would trigger it again.
That’s normal, so even if you experience a wave of panic or guilt or frustration from time to time, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love yourself.
Know that you’re worthy
I cannot stress this enough: You are so worthy. It doesn’t matter if you wore a dress the night you were sexually assaulted or if you said something rude to the person who abused you. It doesn’t matter if you drank too much or if you went home with someone bad. You are worthy of so much love.
To the people who made a mistake, whose trauma was self-inflicted, this applies to you as well. Everyone makes mistakes. We all have regrets that we wish we could take back. The literal definition of trauma is a “deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” If you’re distressed over this traumatic event, it shows that you have remorse. You are worthy of so much love, too.
Self-love is not bound by condition or event. No matter what has happened or who you are, your trauma does not define you. You deserve as much love as everyone else, especially from yourself.
You’re a new person
The hardest part of experiencing trauma is knowing how much it changes us. After a traumatic event, we’re no longer the same person. We’re brand new with different fears and worries. Often, we may choose different interests or try other things.
This is normal. Changing who you are after a traumatic event isn’t always a bad thing. If you’re suppressing the trauma and not healing from it, then changing your outward appearance may be a coping mechanism.
However, once you’ve healed and recognized that your “self” is no longer the same, it’s freeing. It’s okay to be different. You don’t need someone’s approval or opinion on what you can and can’t do. Get a tattoo. Change your hair. Pick up a new hobby. Whatever it is, take the time to find out who you are now.
You may have to find yourself all over again. Once you do, show that new person some love.
10 ideas to practice self-love
Loving yourself doesn’t come overnight. As amazing as that would be, nothing good comes easy, right? If self-love seems completely out of your wheelhouse and you don’t know where to start, it’s okay. I have some easy ideas that you can try out:
- Find a safe space that you enjoy and go there alone.
- Ask yourself what you want for dinner. Go and get it.
- Take a class on something you’ve always wanted to do. Do it with a safe friend or by yourself.
- Read a book or watch a show solely for your entertainment.
- Take an extra-long, extra-hot shower.
- Spend some time outside—even if it’s just in your yard.
- Stand up for yourself on anything and everything.
- Practice meditation.
- Do an exercise that you enjoy.
- Make or buy a dessert that you love and enjoy every bite.
These small ideas are actual items that I’ve done in the past. When it comes to self-love, there’s such an amazing movement on social media right now. However, for those of us who have experienced trauma, self-love can be intimidating. We’re just learning to deal with everything else, so how could we possibly learn to love ourselves?
I get it. Self-love is hard.
It’s probably something that most of us will continue to struggle with, but it doesn’t have to be a huge event. Start small when it comes to self-love. Do something that you like, but don’t make it a big deal. Each day, continue to do small things for yourself. Once you start doing this, you’ll realize that self-love comes easier.
You don’t have to learn anything from your trauma
Sometimes, you just need a little reminder of how important you are and why you’re deserving of love. As Dr. Jordan Peterson says, “Don’t underestimate your value in the world.”
Many people want trauma victims to come out on the other side of their trauma having learned something. It’s supposed to be this life experience that teaches us some epiphany, but I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Your trauma doesn’t have to be a learning experience. It’s okay to be mad, be frustrated, and react to your trauma.
You don’t have to make nice with the bad in your past.
However, you do have to learn how to cope with it. Then, you need to learn to love yourself. Don’t let your trauma take away more time from you. You’re worth more than the hours you spend thinking about it. I know, it’s so hard, but learning to love yourself is the most important thing you can do. Let’s recap:
- Trauma can be a small event or a big event
- You may not directly experience trauma or may have self-inflicted trauma
- No matter the trauma, you’re worthy of love
- Self-love will boost your self-esteem and better your relationships
- Healing is not a linear process
- Self-love doesn’t have to be big—start small
For those with recent trauma: I’m sorry. I feel your pain, and I understand the wild range of emotions that trauma brings about.
For those with past trauma: It’s okay to still be upset. There will always be days that are harder than others. This is normal, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for it.
No matter how you put it, trauma is difficult. It’ll tear you down, expecting you not to get back up.
Prove your trauma it’s wrong. You’ll keep getting up, you’ll keep trying, and you’ll learn to love yourself again. It’s not the easiest thing in the world, but trust me, your self-love will conquer all.
If you’d like some support in learning to love yourself, I recommend checking out Ideapod’s free masterclass on love and intimacy. You’ll learn a number of valuable strategies to love yourself and develop healthy relationships in your life.