Trauma Denial: What Is It and How Can You Work Through It?

Around 50-60% of all people experience trauma at some point during their lives. Trauma can significantly disrupt your life and affect your emotional well-being. In addition, it’s a precursor for numerous mental health issues like substance use, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

That said, people process trauma differently. Where some may experience their emotions intensely, others might feel numb to them. Some find that their trauma defines everything they do, and others seemingly repress the events that happen to them.

Trauma denial can occur after a particularly distressing event. Rather than feel or confront the trauma, this sense of denial disconnects you from it completely. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Trauma Denial?

Trauma denial happens when you attempt to create an emotional distance between yourself and an adverse experience. This process is often unconscious, and it’s a natural coping mechanism for distress. In many ways, your brain is simply trying to protect you from feeling overwhelmed.

As a survival tactic, trauma denial may be beneficial in the short term. You can stay sharp and focus on moving forward. It may seem like you have everything together. Likewise, you might believe you can function without any impairment. These effects, in turn, offer some semblance of control.

But in the long-term, trauma denial comes with a steep cost. Your mind and body still store what happened to you, and symptoms often come out in different ways.

How Do You Know If You’re Denying Trauma?

Trauma symptoms and trauma denial aren’t always obvious. Even if you know you experienced a trauma, you may not realize if you’re suppressing your feelings or symptoms.

But you might be denying trauma if you:

  • regularly minimize what happened to you (“It wasn’t that big of a deal”)
  • compare your experience to others (“Others have had it much worse”)
  • intellectualize your trauma (“They did that to me because they were abused themselves”)
  • frequently dissociate or “numb out” when thinking about the past
  • get angry or defensive when others bring up the trauma

Trauma denial can exist on a spectrum. In milder forms, it may entail you trying to avoid or control your emotions. But in more severe forms, trauma denial can be as extreme as completely acting like something never happened.

Coping With Trauma Denial

The idea of confronting your trauma may seem terrifying. That’s reasonable. However, coping with trauma doesn’t need to be this process of total, uninhibited immersion. Instead, it’s often a gradual experience of validating your feelings, accepting your past, and taking care of yourself moving forward.

Acknowledge Your Pain

People often believe they aren’t allowed to feel negative emotions. So instead, they justify traumatic experiences or criticize themselves for feeling the way they do. Sometimes, they assume that they should stop dwelling on the past and just move on.

Gratitude and positive thinking are helpful for healing, but invalidating your emotions only perpetuates denial. Instead, try to be honest with how you feel. Identify what happened and let yourself be with the feelings.

This process can be painful, but authenticity is integral to your recovery. If you want to move on, you need to be able to know what you’re moving on from.

Trust That You Can Cope

Sometimes, we unconsciously deny our experiences because we think we can’t deal with them. We assume confronting our feelings might unravel us entirely.

Try to embrace a mindset of strength and competence. The past is in the past. While looking at it may be uncomfortable, you are not just a sum of your feelings or experiences. You can cope with these difficulties.

Practice Grounding Yourself

Once you start to embrace authenticity within yourself, you may notice that your emotions seem larger than life. This is a normal reaction after trauma denial- it can seem like you’ve opened the floodgates!

The following grounding techniques can be valuable to help you cope:

Deep breathing: Close your eyes and take several deep breaths. Inhale for five counts, and then exhale for five counts. Repeat at least five times.

Positive visualization: Imagine a safe and serene place that stimulates a sense of tranquility. When you feel anxious or depressed, visit this place to calm yourself down gently.

Five senses: If you feel yourself spiraling, spend a moment and consider your five senses. Identify five things you see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell, and one you can touch.

How Therapy Can Help

Trauma denial is a common defense mechanism. But trying to deny the problem doesn’t make it disappear- in fact, suppression often makes things feel worse.

That said, processing trauma can be challenging and painful. It’s important to feel supported during this vulnerable time.

Therapy can help. Together, we can explore your trauma safely, and you can learn healthier coping strategies to manage uncomfortable feelings. Contact me today to learn more!

4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759
(512) 988-3363

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