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9 Signs We Are Healing From Trauma

A look at the most common ways survivors recognize healing and growth.

Key points

  • Many ask, “How will I know when I have healed?” When the pain of healing feels too intense, we want to know when it will end.
  • Each of us has our own journey, and we are the best judge in our own healing.
  • Decreased self-doubt and increased self-compassion are reliable markers of healing.

Often when the pain of healing feels unbearable, many survivors ask me, “How will I know when I have healed?” This is a normal question, as we want to know when the pain will end, and when we will see the figurative light at the end of the trauma tunnel. But the answer is not so simple. Conquering a trauma history is nothing like climbing a mountain or completing an obstacle course. There is no identified, objective peak. No hanging a flag or taking a victorious selfie.

Instead, everyone’s peak will look different. The goalpost will likely move throughout your life. You may think you are your best self at 45 years old only to look back on your 60th birthday at how much you still had yet to learn.

Source: 3652586/Pixabay
Source: 3652586/Pixabay

While each of us has our own journey, and you are the best judge in your own healing, here are some common details survivors report noticing as they near the healing or maintenance stages in their recovery:

  1. Decreased self-doubt: Survivors report feeling fewer episodes of self-doubt. They will learn to trust their own decisions, their recognition of red flags, and their remembrance of the past and the trauma they experienced. They will start to hear fewer self-told messages of, “Was it just me?” and decrease the number of dismissive statements such as, "Many had it worse."
  2. Changes in health or body: When we start to heal one aspect of our being, mentally or physically, it causes a chain reaction that spurs improvement in all other areas of life. Maybe one day you realize you haven’t had any nightmares in the past couple of months or that you can now look at family pictures without crying.
  3. Being less offended or bothered by others' boundaries: If your household was chaotic and your caregivers were disrespectful of personal boundaries, it can be hard to learn that other people deserve their own boundaries as much as we do. Survivors entering the healing stage start to recognize themselves being more understanding of others' boundaries and being better about setting their own.
  4. No longer having conversations with "them" in your head: You know those moments when you think of what you would say when you confront the people who have wronged you? Many people want to have their moment in the sun, sharing their feelings and experiences with a neglectful caregiver or another who hurt us, even if they were forced to listen. Many survivors report that they notice fewer of these conversations in their head as they heal.
  5. Increased comfort acknowledging—and feeling—your feelings: Instead of dismissing your feelings, feeling shame or embarrassment over them, or doubting their legitimacy, you start to learn that the only way to process feelings is to acknowledge and allow them to be felt. Survivors approaching healing find themselves more equipped to let themselves respect their feelings and start taking steps to process uncomfortable ones in healthier ways.
  6. Increased comfort with asking for help from others: Instead of believing yourself and your struggles to be a burden on others, you learn to trust in the kindness of the people who support you and learn that they want you to be happy and well. Not only do survivors who arrive at healing report finding it easier to ask for help, but they also recognize how the external perspectives of others benefit them in their journey.
  7. Increased self-compassion: Self-compassion is when we have compassion for ourselves. Many survivors struggle with this, as it was not shown to us in childhood. But as we heal, we learn how to show ourselves kindness and grace for the mistakes we make as we grow.
  8. Ability to recognize when something has triggered you: In many ways, developing self-understanding is a lifelong process. But, as we heal, we are able to recognize when something triggers us—that feeling of being brought back to that feeling of the little child standing helpless while being yelled at, for example. This does not mean that the triggers won't happen, only that we will be able to recognize them as being drawn from something deeper, instead of coming from the present situation.
  9. A decline in self-soothing or self-medicating: Survivors will notice a decline in self-soothing behaviors. Perhaps you notice that you are not reaching for the comfort foods—or substances—you once depended on every evening. Please understand that many times self-soothing behaviors can merge into compulsive behavior or addiction. Many are unable to decrease their use of food or substances without treatment, and this is OK; it does not mean you are not “healing” the correct way. There is no shame in seeking support.

As with any trauma, recovery from abuse is not something that someone can expect to wake up one day and notice they are healed. It is much more gradual, and you are likely to notice small changes. The truth is that we never really get over it: You have to keep working at it. Healing doesn’t mean you stop feeling negative feelings—only that you feel them when it's appropriate to do so, and you are able to recover from them without staying activated.

More from Kaytee Gillis, LCSW-BACS
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