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4 Reasons I'm Scared to Process My Trauma in Therapy

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm, experience suicidal thoughts or have experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.


Although I first received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the age of 15, I have always managed to avoid trauma work in therapy. For years, I put up walls and quickly shut out any mental health professional who tried to dig into that part of my past. And thanks to my severe depression, debilitating anxiety and blazing borderline personality disorder (BPD), there’s always been plenty for my lengthy list of past therapists to focus on during our sessions.

• What is PTSD?

My current therapist, however, is very different than anyone I’ve ever worked with. While I love that she calls me out on my crap and that she’s determined to find the root causes of my struggles, I know it’s only a matter of time before we start processing the now multitude of traumas that have occurred in my life over the past 20 years. In fact, I know it’s coming because she recently tested me for complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and said the results were “overwhelmingly conclusive.”

Here’s the thing, though: trauma work terrifies me.

And, yes, I’m aware nobody enjoys working through the troubling aspects of their past or processing the most painful moments of their lives. But it’s not just the flashbacks or relived responses I worry about. In fact, I have a whole slew of other reasons why I’m scared to confront my trauma.

1. I’m scared processing my trauma will take away my control.

Trauma survivors often blame themselves for their experiences. While that may sound counterproductive, there’s actually a rational reason for it. When something happens to us, we have no control over it. However, our brains often use internalized self-blame to make sense of the world and give us some semblance of control.

For me, control is everything. When I don’t feel like I have control over a situation, I quickly spiral into negative thought patterns and get lost in my emotional mind. I’ve spent over half my life convincing myself I caused the abuse I’ve endured and the miscarriage I experienced. But if I accept the fact those events were traumatic events that happened to me, not because of me, I lose all of the control I worked so hard to gain.

2. I worry facing my trauma will cost me significant relationships.

When I first experienced sexual abuse in middle school, nobody I told actually believed me. I lost credibility with adults in my life and developed serious trust issues. What’s more, some of my own friends ended up siding with my abuser when it was all said and done.

Every time I share pieces of my past with mental health professionals or close friends, I worry I will once again experience the same disbelief and lose those people forever. While that’s scary enough on its own, there are some people still actively in my life who are very directly connected with these traumatic events. I worry once I accept my C-PTSD diagnosis and start exploring my multiple traumas, I will do something to push the people I care most about out of my life once again, leaving me alone with my emotions.

3. I fear if I explore those traumatic moments again, I’ll revert back to old habits.

I spent most of my teenage years engaging in reckless behaviors in hopes of numbing out the emotional pain I felt. I consumed large amounts of alcohol anytime I could, I tried anything risky I thought might kill me and I did anything I could to harm myself.

Looking back, I’m not proud of how I handled my emotional turmoil during that time. Although I’ve since learned many healthier coping skills through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), I worry I could easily slip back into old habits at any time. I have no idea how I’ll handle processing the pieces of my life I’ve tried to stuff into the back of my mind, and I don’t trust myself enough to not engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb that pain once more.

4. I’m scared processing my trauma will involve forgiving myself.

I like to think of myself as a fairly empathetic and compassionate person. I forgave my past abuser years before he ever apologized, and I quickly found ways to erase guilt for anyone who has ever wronged me since that point in time. However, the one person I refuse to ever show love or empathy toward is myself.

I’ve heard other people say one of the biggest takeaways from trauma work is that, eventually, you learn to forgive and love yourself again. Not only does that sound impossible to me, but it honestly sounds like a terrible idea. I firmly believe I don’t deserve kind gestures from others, let alone myself. So how could I ever do the work it would require to forgive myself and move on with life?

While I know working through my past traumas is the much-needed next step in my journey toward a life worth living, I just don’t know if I can handle it. I’m not scared of opening up to my therapist or even handling the flashbacks, I worry about losing control, my loved ones and most of all, myself. However, I hope I can soon find the courage to let go of these fears and, in time, my past, with the guidance of my phenomenal therapist and encouragement of my closest friends.

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: January 29, 2020
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