In this podcast (episode #319) and blog, I talk to Kati Morton, a licensed therapist, author, and mental health advocate, about how to identify and cope with PTSD, dealing with social media trauma, reframing toxic self-talk, why things often feel like they get worse before they get better, and more!
In her amazing new book Traumatized, Kati talks about the nature of trauma and what it means to be “traumatized”. Most of us have been traumatized in some way—we all need to talk about our traumas and understand them better so we can heal.
As Kati points out, trauma often goes untreated for years because it goes unnoticed. Even though talking about our trauma can be incredibly hard, it is the only way to begin the healing process. We can’t manage what we don’t acknowledge.
If something in our life is impeding our ability to function, we should reach out to someone for help. But there is a difference between a therapist and a life coach. A therapist must go through a significant amount of schooling and training to get their license, whereas a life coach does not have this kind of background. Life coaches are great when we need a little boost in life to get to where we want to go, but if we are struggling with something major like trauma, we should seek professional help from a therapist, social worker, psychologist, or someone else trained in mental health.
We also need to be more trauma-informed as a society, so fewer people feel minimized, misunderstood or invalidated. Trauma is not just associated with a major event like war or abuse. There are different degrees and types of trauma that can affect us all. There are big “T” traumas, which can be overwhelming like a tsunami, and little “t” traumas, which are like small waves that hit us—we still have some footing, but we are slowly losing control the more we are hit by these smaller waves.
The research around PTSD did come from wartime, but it is not limited to war or large events like it. Psychology is a young field—we are only beginning to understand the breadth and depth of trauma and how it impacts human wellbeing on a physical and mental level. So, for instance, even if we don’t develop PTSD, we can still have symptoms of it, like hyper-vigilance.
Everyone’s experience of trauma is also different, which is why we should never compare our trauma to other people’s experiences. If it is a trauma to you then it is a trauma to you, period.
But what exactly is trauma? As Kati notes, trauma can be defined as anything that happens to us that threatens our safety or someone we care for. This threat to our emotional or physical safety can become overwhelming and we are unable process it—this is how we become traumatized.
This threat doesn’t just happen in person. Social media can be a beautiful thing, but it also has a dark side. Because it connects us all, we can become traumatized when we are unable to process a threat we see happening to us or someone online. This is why we should be careful about who we follow or what we consume on social media.
Trauma can manifest itself in many ways, including self-injury. A lot of people still don’t understand self-injury. People often assume it is a suicide attempt, but it is not that simple. Only a small amount of research has been done on self-harm; we are still trying to understand what it is and why it happens.
Based on the research we do have, eating disorders and self-injury are, in many cases, maladaptive coping mechanisms. This means that someone uses self-harm to cope with a difficult or challenging experience—they try to control what they can, which is often their body. This kind of coping mechanism is often borne out of trauma.
We can also re-traumatize ourselves through our self-talk, which is why we need to watch how we talk to and think about ourselves. If our self-talk is negative, we can use neutral bridge statements to start changing the way we speak to ourselves. The goal here is not to bombard bad self-talk with positive statements; rather, we are trying to change the way we think about ourselves by feeding different kinds of thoughts. Say, for example, someone says “you are intelligent” and your first reaction is to say something like “of course I am not intelligent—I am so stupid because of …”. A neutral bridge statement in this kind of situation could be “I am open to considering that what this person is saying about my intelligence may have some truth to it…”. With this statement, you are opening yourself up to a new way of thinking about yourself—a new thought pattern. You are building a “bridge” to a new way of perceiving yourself.
We need to remember that healing is a process, not perfection. It doesn’t have to be linear. It takes time, and it can be very hard. Sometimes you may feel like you are not making progress or are going backwards, and this is okay. Just know that all the work you are doing is not worthless. It is still there, inside of you, even when you feel stuck.
It can also be very hard to let go of an old narrative or an old way of seeing yourself. Just remember that it is okay to grieve this “old you”. Give yourself permission to really feel this sadness and anger so you can let it go eventually.
Indeed, when you are going through therapy, you may feel worse before you feel better, but it is a different kind of “worse”—you are becoming more aware of what is happening in your life. You are moving out of your comfort zone and away from ways of coping that may have been holding you back. This doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or that the therapy is not working. You are opening up a mental closet, and it can feel overwhelming. Know that it will get better—be patient and compassionate with yourself.
No one said that being or acting differently is easy, but it is worth it. Change is hard. We can’t have real change without some level of discomfort.
For more on healing trauma, listen to my podcast with Kati (episode #319) and check out her website and book. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:30 Why Kati wrote her new book Traumatized
3:20 Why trauma is so pervasive
4:00 The difference between coaching & therapy
6:35, 14:00 Trauma is not just associated with a major event—there are different degrees & types of trauma
15:00 Generational trauma & social media
22:00 Eating disorders & self-injury
31:00 How to find a good therapist
36:00 Why things often feel like they get worse than they get better
42:00 How to change negative self-talk using bridge statements
48:00, 53:00 Why true change takes time & is often uncomfortable
51:00 Why it is okay to grieve the old you
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