In this article, we review 10 hopeful signs you are healing from trauma. Be sure to check out our companion article that discusses the signs your body is releasing trauma. Whereas in that article we identify the somatic (body-based) markers of trauma healing, here we discuss the big picture signs you are healing from trauma.
Before we get into these healing signs, let’s first briefly review how trauma therapy works and what the trauma healing stages are.
Trauma Therapy & Trauma Healing Stages
Although this is an article about how to recognize the signs you are healing from trauma, I’ll briefly discuss therapeutic approaches that play a role in this process.
According to trauma experts Christine Courtois & Julian Ford (2013), trauma-focused therapy is generally understood to have three phases (trauma healing stages): (1) safety and stabilization (2) controlled reprocessing and (3) working through. They do not necessarily unfold in sequential order.
It is also important to understand that not all therapies focus equally on the ‘controlled reprocessing’ part, which refers to reprocessing traumatic memories in a safe and collaborative process. Some somatic therapies focus more prominently on working through somatic expressions of traumatic memories stored in the body.
Examples of trauma-focused approaches include EMDR, hypnosis & Ego State Therapy (EST; a therapeutic approach that focuses on dissociated self-states and utilizes hypnosis), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and Somatic Experiencing. Some of these are therapies and others a set of techniques that can be integrated into a broader trauma-focused therapy.
Trauma-focused therapy can be insight-oriented and reparative. Thus, many trauma therapists have backgrounds in psychodynamic therapy and attachment theory. Others may have training in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Although going into detail about these approaches is outside the scope of this article, it is important to understand that trauma-focused therapy helps elicit trauma healing stages.
10 Hopeful Signs You are Healing from Trauma
Below are 10 examples of signs you are healing from trauma:
1. Feeling safe in your body
There is a reason that trauma therapists agree that the first phase of trauma treatment is ‘safety and stabilization.’ Safety is the foundation of the house of healing. You can’t do the other types of healing without feeling safe first. When you feel consistently safe in your body more frequently, that is a very clear sign that you are healing from trauma.
2. Being connected with your body
In general, traumatized individuals often experience their bodies like a broken thermostat. Another example is Goldilocks and struggling to find the ‘just right.’ Sometimes it’s too cold and you’re somatically detached. Other times it’s too hot and you are way too aware of how your body feels.
Being more consistently connected with your body is another of the important signs you are healing from trauma. Being connected with your body is about being more mindfully present.
Somatic or bodily presence is only one form of presence. Mental and emotional presence is about being connected with what is inside. Another term for it is mentalization, or ‘holding mind in mind’, whether yours or someone else’s. People who are healing from trauma begin to have greater access and awareness of their inner lives, and what it feels like to be themselves across different experiences.
4. Greater curiosity about yourself and others
One of the clearest signs you are healing from trauma is greater curiosity about yourself and others. In fact, I would argue that curiosity is a bedrock of traumatic healing. Many of the signs described below cannot happen without curiosity.
Curiosity means seeing things less concretely and behaviorally (e.g. ‘what you see is what you get’, ‘things are the way they are’, ‘it is what it is’) and beginning to wonder why things are the way they are. Curiosity means asking questions and not accepting things at face value. When you are curious, you can also face challenging emotions and beliefs with the flexibility necessary to tolerate, incorporate, and integrate them with what it means to be you.
5. Feeling like yourself even when your moods, thoughts, and bodily sensations change
Many traumatized individuals have difficulty accessing a core sense of self (e.g. ‘this is me’) across changing moods, thoughts, and somatic sensations. It is really important to be able to locate and recognize what makes you who you are no matter what you are feeling.
6. Being able to hold multiple experiences (self-states, feelings, thoughts, sensations) simultaneously
Relatedly, a really important marker of posttraumatic healing and growth is the ability to hold multiple experiences together. For example, you can feel hatred, sadness, and alienation towards an abusive parent, while also feeling love and closeness to them. One feeling or experience doesn’t negate the other. Part of healing is being able to recognize that they can exist together side by side.
7. Having a deeper understanding of how your past & present are connected yet distinct
If you remember from earlier, people who are traumatized often subconsciously and somatically live out their pasts in the present. A related way this happens is through patterns, schemas, and templates playing themselves out in relationship. It’s like you keep having the same type of relationship with partners and friends that you did with a family member(s) with whom you had a difficult attachment relationship.
When all of this begins to happen less automatically, that is a sign that a shift is occurring. A great way of describing this is that the lightbulb goes off closer to the moment: “I know what this is” or “I know what’s happening now.”
That doesn’t mean you will immediately be able to catch the reaction in the moment or prevent it. But as you become more self-aware and better able to distinguish between past and present, they can feel more distinct and separate.
8. Feeling more confident in creating and maintaining consistent boundaries in relationships
People with relational trauma often have difficulty finding a safe middle ground when it comes to boundaries. Their boundaries are often too loose or too rigid. When the boundaries are too loose they often don’t understand the continual damage that is being done to them in problematic relationships. Or, they may understand but may feel powerless to change the pattern.
On the other hand, one pattern I often see is ‘overcompensating’ for loose boundaries. This might mean trying to cut someone out of their lives. It might mean taking an uncompromising and harsh stance towards anyone who ‘breaks the rules’ without consideration of the context.
One of the signs you are healing from trauma is that boundaries feel easier to establish and maintain. You don’t have to ‘try’ so hard. You become more comfortable knowing what to say and do. A telltale sign of this healing is that it is easier to say ‘no’ firmly and gracefully. I often practice with my clients different ways of saying and non-verbally expressing ‘no thank you.’
9. You no longer feel the need to avoid trauma triggers (people, places, objects)
One of the hallmarks of exposure therapy is that avoidance perpetuates anxiety patterns. Exposure helps minimize the relationship between the trigger and response. Cues become more common and less activating. This exposure extinguishes the fear response.
One way of thinking about trauma-focused therapy is that it is about helping people find different ways to engage their trauma and heal. With your therapist, you can find different ways of talking about, reflecting on, and working through trauma
This makes it increasingly less necessary over time to avoid trauma triggers. Trauma triggers are no longer as activating. As you are able to tolerate them more readily, a healing cycle begins to become more routinized in which these triggers become incorporated into daily life, and thus less scary.
10. You feel interested in having relationships with others
This relates to the last healing sign. If people are less triggering, it can be safe to have relationships again. Trauma therapy rewires neuroception, our neuorophysiological perception of when to seek safety and when to engage others. As our safety feels more robust, we begin to feel more comfortable seeking out others for relationships.
Now that we’ve reviewed the 10 signs that you are healing from trauma, let’s cover a few questions that people have about the healing process.
How Do You Know You’re Healing?
If we look at the signs of healing that we just reviewed, a few key themes emerge that can help you know you’re healing.
First, people who are healing from trauma feel safer – safer in the world and safer in themselves. There is less avoidance that happens because things feel manageable.
Second, because people feel safer, they begin to seek out more relationships and be less avoidant of others. Assuming these relationships are healthy, this reinforces the cycle of safety and interpersonal engagement.
Third, people are more at ease with themselves and more comfortable being present in the moment. With this ease comes curiosity and a desire to know more about themselves and others.
Finally, people who are healing from trauma feel more intact and integrated across different feelings, thoughts, and sensations. There is more of a sense of continuity of self and that feels grounding, no matter what is happening in the moment.
How Long Does it Take to Heal?
Many trauma survivors who are early in the healing process want to know know how long it takes to heal. This can be an unsatisfying answer, but there is no standard time frame for healing. Everyone is different. The best answer is that the process is what truly matters.
Find a good therapist that you feel comfortable with and who seems skilled and trustworthy. Try to keep yourself open to the therapeutic process, even when it feels scary and overwhelming. Make healthy choices that signal a commitment to caring for yourself. And, to the best extent possible, try to lean into healthy relationships in your life.
What’s the Hardest Part of Healing?
Now that might be the hardest question! A big part of answering this question has to do with how your trauma has affected you the most.
For some people, the hardest part of healing is learning to trust themselves again, including trusting their sense of reality. Gaslighting can really erode your trust in your intuition, and there is nothing more sacred than your intuition. It is like your compass in the world, and you have to feel it is reliable in order to feel safe.
For others, the hardest part of healing is self-regulation, e.g. being able to manage your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. This might mean that you feel dissociated. If so, healing could involve finding ways to anchor and reconnect with yourself so that you fully feel like yourself. It might also mean learning how to better contain and cope with difficult feelings or sensations.
One other difficult area in the healing process is learning how to establish and maintain boundaries in relationships. Because trauma can often come from compromised relationships, trauma survivors may feel too wary or too trusting of others as a result. It’s important to learn the right balance of boundaries so that you can begin to feel safe and interested in relationships again.
If you’ve taken the time to read this article, it means you have begun the process of preparing yourself to get help, whether for yourself or others. That is the first and sometimes hardest part of healing, so give yourself credit. It only gets easier from here.