Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Why Are Memories of My Past Trauma Coming Back Now?

Therapist & Patient Therapist & Patient

"I've been fine for years. Now I have nightmares every night and can barely function at work. What's going on?" "I thought I was over it. I even went to therapy as a kid! Why is it all coming back again?" "I feel like I'm falling apart, but the abuse was years ago. Does this mean I'm getting worse?" One of the first things survivors of sexual abuse ask me when they come into my therapy office is, "Why now? Why are these feelings and memories coming back now?" Often, the underlying question is, "I was fine before, but now I'm struggling. Am I going crazy?" If you're having this experience - being suddenly overwhelmed by a past trauma - let me reassure you the same way I reassure the people, I work with in my office. No, you're not going crazy! As difficult as it may be to believe, a sudden reemergence of old feelings is often a sign that you're ready to heal on a deeper level.


Recovery from Trauma Happens in Stages

Healing from a trauma such as sexual assault or abuse happens in stages. In the first few days after an assault, we tend to shut down because the emotions feel so overwhelming that we can deal with them only in small doses. For ongoing sexual abuse or molestation, this shutdown state may last for the entire time the abuse occurs. Eventually, in the days, weeks, and months after an assault occurred or the abuse ends, we usually find ways to "put the past behind us," to regulate our emotions and to build a stable life. We may still experience some triggers or have some nighnnares, and we don't typically forget about what happened, but over the years we start to feel "normal." Then, sometimes, all those feelings come roaring back. What's going on?

When the fear, the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the heartache -- all the emotions that were perhaps too painful, too complicated, or just "too" in the immediate aftermath of the trauma -- suddenly reemerge, your new task is to sit with those emotions and let them have their say.

In my experience as a therapist, what's happening is that some deep, inner part of you finally feels safe and stable enough to address the leftover emotional fallout that's been patiently waiting for years. Your job right after the trauma and in the years since the trauma occurred has been to find stability. You developed successful coping mechanisms that let you function in the world without falling apart. Those are invaluable skills that are going to get you through the next part of your recovery.


You Are Strong Enough to Feel Vulnerable Now

When the fear, the anger, the sadness, the helplessness, the heartache -- all the emotions that were perhaps too painful, too complicated, or just "too" in the immediate aftermath of the trauma -- suddenly reemerge, your new task is to sit with those emotions and let them have their say. They've been patiently waiting for you to develop the strength to cope with them successfully, and if they've shown up for you now, after all this time, they think you're finally ready. You are strong enough to feel vulnerable for a while.

So what do you do? How do you cope without getting overwhelmed?


Therapeutic Changes, P.C.

311 E Dickens Avenue
Northlake, IL 60194

Office: 708.562.0656
Cell: 630.936.3311
Fax: 708.562.0998
Email: joyful428@sbcglobal.net