Setbacks can feel like a life sentence. The effects of injury and trauma seep into all corners of our lives, constricting our ability to work, socialize, exercise, rest and concentrate. We may lose our ability to participate in our passions, the very things that create our sense of who we are. We can end up feeling isolated and alone in our rehabilitation process.
And yet setbacks due to injury or trauma are a natural part of life, albeit a hard reality that we all face. In fact, the rare child escapes trauma entirely, according to Bruce Perry, a teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences. Trauma can be subtler than many of us realize. It is not just events such as motor vehicle accidents or living through a flood that create enduring effects upon our lives. Traumatization is any overwhelm of the nervous system (too much, too fast, too soon) that has impaired integrative functions (Moser, 2016). When we come to the recognition that trauma is a part of life, rather than something to be avoided or tensed against, only then do we begin to perceive more choice in how we respond to our pain and suffering.
So then, how do we navigate this natural part of our lives in such as way that we do not suffer more than we need to? Here are five strategies for navigating change from injury and trauma:
This may sound harsh, so hear me out. I find the word responsibility can carry a negative connotation, implying fault and blame. However, in-built to the word are two words: “response” and “ability”, suggesting it actually refers to an ability to respond. The key to moving forward courageously from a setback is to put ourselves in the driving seat of our healing process. If we decide it is up to someone else, like our physician or physiotherapist, for instance, we disempower ourselves and potentially cut off our healing potential. No single health care perspective or discipline holds the universal solution that will resolve your situation.
Get Curious about the Mental State(s) Arising from the Setback
Neuroscience research reveals that kind observation is most helpful for shifting us out from our habitual responses and fostering growth. So get curious about your response and observe your mental states with gentle curiosity and kindness. Look at how you are holding onto a particular mental state. Say, for example, hopelessness. What is this mental state interested in? What is your mind trying to do? Is it helpful? The act of bringing curiosity to your mental state in of itself can create the space for something different to happen. And, I guarantee you this is not the first setback you have faced. If you like, try this out: Reflect back on a setback you faced in life due to trauma or injury. Get curious about how you navigated that change. What was the result of the change? What positive aspects came from it? Notice there may be patterns or similarities in how you responded to that change that can help inform present or future setbacks. Awareness is a necessary precursor to learning.
Acknowledge your Injury or Trauma as Multi-dimensional
When it comes to navigating our way through a setback, we are not just dealing with one thing, like our physical body. We are not mechanical objects. So if we have physical pain we are dealing with, there will be also emotional reactions involved and interactions with past trauma. If we have a history of unresolved trauma, accumulated stress or have a habit of repressing emotions and then become injured or have a traumatic experience, these events will compound and layer. We are then at greater risk for developing conditions such as chronic pain, malaise, depression and anxiety to name a few. Levine and Philips (2012) describe chronic depression as emotional pain often related to separation, loss, abandonment, and insecure relationships. Regardless of the origin of your setback, the experience will be complex and multi-layered, so we need to acknowledge and treat it as such.
Make Nurturing an Experiment
Cultivate a toolbox of methods to help you achieve relief and freedom from the tyranny of injury and trauma. I recommend creating your very own tailored “Menu of Resources”. A Therapeutic Resource is anything that helps you feel more connected and safer or creates a soothing feeling in the body. They can be divided into three categories: Internal, Somatic and External. Internal resources come from inside. It could be your sense of spirituality or the feeling of being connected to something. Perhaps you have a wicked sense of humour, or you’re a great cheerleader for your friends. Somatic resources relate to your body’s experience from within. They are things like breath awareness, grounding through your body to the earth through your feet, sits bones, or any contact surface to the ground; also the feeling of energy coming up through your body. Finally, external resources could be your home, a favourite park or beach, a beloved dog/animal, fitness coach, therapist or community.
- Exercise: Pick 2-3 Resources, either from the list provided or write down your own. Schedule your Resourcing Time once per week for eight weeks. If you can afford it, give yourself a two-hour time block (you can pair two or more resources together) to allow your Resources to soak in.
Affirm daily, “I am already in the process of healing”
If you are not used to practicing affirmations, this may feel awkward at first. It’s important to realize that our brains cannot differentiate if what we are telling ourselves is a truth or a lie. So if you are telling yourself, “I’m broken”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I’ll never get over this”, your brain believes you. Eventually, those messages translate into the way we see our world and ourselves. So every day, ideally several times a day, write down or say out loud to yourself “I am whole”, “I am enough”, “I am already in the process of healing”.
In my work as a Somatic Trauma Therapist and Rehab Coach, I help my clients discover that the injury and the wisdom for how our body wants to resolve it are side-by-side. So if you want to “get over” something, yet are not willing to be present with the experience of the injury or trauma, your recovery will be limited. Furthermore, trauma and wounding tend to be relational, and therefore the healing must also occur in relationship. None of us does this alone. Even if it’s a physical issue that has created your setback, what might be bringing more pain to your experience is a perceived lack of support, severed relationships or the feeling that we did not receive the due care we deserved.
Doubting you can do it is a natural part of the process of change and healing. In the words of Garma C.C. Chang: “the greater the doubt, the greater the awakening; the smaller the doubt, the smaller the awakening; no doubt, no awakening”.
Somatic Therapist and Rehab Coach,
Jenna Elizabeth De Seta
With over a decade of experience as a Somatic Therapist and Rehab Coach, Jenna is shining a light on the power of somatic and mindfulness-based therapies for cultivating inner strength, ease of movement and resiliency. Her passion is helping clients integrate their traumas and injuries while cultivating a love for their bodies in the here and now. In addition to her private practice, she provides somatic education for fitness coaches and helping professionals, and leads experiential workshops and yoga retreats. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, she believes we wake up through the body and together in sangha/community.
Chang, G.C.C. (1970). The Practice of Zen. Harper and Row.
Levine, P., & Philips, M. (2012). Freedom from Pain: Discover Your Body’s Power to Overcome Physical Pain. Sounds True Publishing.
Moser, M. (2016). Relational Somatic Therapy Certification Program Module 2: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Resolution Work.
Perry, B. (2017). The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook. Basic Books.