How can someone overcome PTSD spiritually? I understand that while someone is going through an awakening their past will resurface, but how do I get past it? How long does it go on? Am I supposed to be learning something? How do I know if I’m making progress in my spiritual growth with this process?
In order to answer these questions properly it is best to know something about the sort of experience that you had and/or the particular PTSD symptoms you are experiencing. Would you be comfortable sharing a little about that? Of course such things are often sensitive issues and we certainly understand if you prefer not to share about it in public.
Having said that, there is a general technique that we feel is most central and effective for integrating emotional trauma. It can be more or less difficult, depending on many factors like the degree of trauma, the person’s stage in life, or their personal readiness to process the trauma. In any case, here is a description of the technique.
Give yourself some quiet time, a sort of meditation session, and then as you are sitting comfortably without interruptions, start going back in your mind over the memories that trouble you. You are essentially going to try to re-live the whole experience in your mind, or all of the relevant parts of the experience. The parts can be in whatever order you want or how they come naturally to you.
When the experience occurred, you were probably frightened and shocked due to the unexpected nature of the event and the impossibility of being prepared for it emotionally or otherwise. Usually this causes a person to block portions of the experience, especially emotional aspects, from being fully experienced, as the full experience could have been overwhelming and possibly harmful, especially if the person was very young when it occurred. The goal is to finally process now those portions of the experience that were blocked from being experienced at the time and were suppressed instead.
Go back over the memories carefully, slowly, literally like you are re-living them at a similar pace as to how they occurred. Try to remember as many aspects of the experience as possible. For each aspect of the experience, ask yourself how that aspect made you feel. The key is to be clear and honest with yourself about these feelings that you had, and to allow yourself to really feel them completely. It will help to focus on your physical body and to become aware of the way each emotion expresses itself as sensations in your body. Do you feel fear in your stomach or abdomen? Do you feel anger in your heart? Do you feel anxiety in your chest or back? Do you feel shame or guilt in your head or throat? These are just examples, and everyone experiences emotional sensations differently in the body. (What you are actually feeling is a combination of your emotional body and its influence on the physical body. The two bodies are roughly lined up in form and arrangement.)
As you get into the sensation of an emotion, feeling it and “embodying” it completely, ask it what message it wishes to communicate to you. Allow your intuition to give you the answer. Probably it will come as a knowing—you are not looking for anything subtle or mysterious here—if you are clear and open, you will probably just know what it is about. The messages can be simple or involved. The message of the emotion is the emotion’s reason for being in you, and once you receive the message, the emotion can leave, its job accomplished.
Relief may come all at once, but more likely it will come over time or in pieces, especially if the trauma is deep or complex. Be patient and loving with yourself. Take as much time as you need. Go at your own pace, because this process cannot be rushed.
You may need to repeat the exercise, emphasizing different parts of the experience that present themselves to you, or working with related experiences. This is especially true if the trauma involves multiple interacting emotions (for instance, feeling guilty about feeling happy, or feeling fear or shame about feeling angry), or if interactions with others have brought additional trauma over time. Don’t be surprised if aspects or memories come back to you that you had completely forgotten about.
There are some comforting ideas you can use to ease the stress or pain of doing this, or to keep yourself relatively calm (please don’t feel you need to stay calm however—feel free to express your emotions however you like, such as crying). Choose any of the following, or any others you can think of, that make you feel at ease. You can remember that you are older and wiser now, and stronger, with more experience and better understanding, and you know better now how to protect yourself or to avoid such things at all. Or, you understand better now that what happened was a freak occurrence and is very unlikely to happen to you again. (The “news” always shows us the exceptional cases, and the more exceptional they are the more newsworthy they are. So by listening to the “news” we end up with a skewed perspective of what is normal or what is likely to happen.) Or else, you can rely on your spiritual understanding to know that no matter how painful the experience may have been, you know your reality is infinite, eternal and unlimited, and nothing can ever truly harm you or anyone else for that matter. This truth can be comforting even if you do not feel you can protect yourself now or in the future—the advanced version of the lesson! Above all, you are safe now, in this moment, in the quiet of your home or private space. The events that did happen are in the past and can no longer hurt you, and it is within your power to manifest a future without similar events.
Finally, remember that the emotions may be painful but they cannot harm you in and of themselves. In fact their purpose was never to harm you but to help you, and they have been waiting for the right moment to fulfill their purpose and deliver their message. Once they have done so, you can thank them for their service, acknowledge that they are not necessary anymore, and bid them farewell.
As to whether you are supposed to be learning something, the answer is generally yes, but the choice is always up to you whether you receive the lesson from any given experience, and whether you choose to receive a positive or a negative lesson (for instance, the world is a meaningful and merciful place, versus the world is a random and dangerous place).
As to whether you are growing spiritually, the questions you are asking and the desire you have for yourself to move forward all tell me that you don’t need to worry about whether you are making progress! I feel that you can just keep on the way you are going and it will come, due to your efforts, because you desire it so strongly.
Written by guest contributor, Dr. Eric Antokoletz PhD