Healing From Unresolved Trauma Requires Readiness

Young woman discussing her problems with female psychologist

It can be so hard to see someone you care for suffer from symptoms of unresolved trauma: living in fear, unresolved anger issues, hypervigilance, immobilizing flashbacks, tendencies to reenact unhealthy family legacies and the inability to maintain healthy connections in relationships.

It can seem obvious from an outsider’s perspective that someone with unresolved trauma has a lot of work to do to address the suffering they are experiencing and how their unresolved issues are preventing them from staying in healthy relationships with others. And being in this time of excessive stress can exacerbate symptoms of unresolved trauma. It can seem more urgent now that steps need to be taken to address their unresolved trauma so that they are not struggling as much.

An intriguing book, When Ancestors Weep: Healing the Soul from Intergenerational Trauma by James A. Houck, provides insight about why some people seem resistant to addressing their unresolved trauma. He shares that one of the major psycho-social-spiritual obstacles he runs into when counseling emotionally wounded people who he describes as being genuinely frightened and demobilized by their potential for healing and growth is that, “… when they catch a glimpse of what healing and wholeness might look like for them…they may be tempted to sabotage themselves into old ways in order to avoid embracing what healing requires of them, e.g., forgiveness, letting go of bitterness, resentment, etc.”

He explains how bitterness can be so deeply entangled in their souls, it is almost impossible for them to let go of it. Envisioning being able to experience something better can cause a high level of vulnerability. 

psychologist talking to senior woman patient at psychotherapy session

Indeed, forgiving, freeing, reclaiming and embracing the potential of one’s life does require courage, openness, and a shift in thinking from a linear process, to a more open-ended, expansive perception of time and space. Although each person walks his/her own path, embracing forgiveness, healing, grace, and love occurs as each person is ready. No one can do this for another; the door healing can be shown is that one must turn the key and walk through.”

It is natural when you love someone to feel an urgency to help them actively work on their unresolved traumas. Sometimes it is clear that these unresolved traumas are hurting your relationship with them and may even be hurting you.

But how do we nurture readiness? It’s helpful to be encouraging and accepting that someone may not yet be ready to do the work they need to do. Simultaneously any of us who is in a relationship with someone with unresolved trauma needs to practice self-care because sometimes that person’s unresolved trauma creates issues that are hurtful.

Pensive middle aged patient sitting on couch and bending over table during consultation with his counselor

Doing the work of healing from trauma is bound to be painful. Knowing that a person intuitively knows they have to rally their courage in order to shift their thinking can help us remain patient and hopeful. We need to appreciate and respect that the journey of healing is theirs. We can have a role in it by being facilitators, supporters and nurturers of the process but we cannot insist or try to force somebody to turn that key and walk through the door to find healing.

If you are someone with unresolved trauma who recognizes yourself in this information and knows you are not ready to dive into the hard work of resolving trauma, you are not alone. Readiness is a journey that each person takes on their own. Have supportive people around you who are patient and encouraging without pressuring you. No one deserves to suffer the repercussions of trauma, especially childhood trauma. And no one deserves to feel they must please others and address their unresolved trauma before they are ready to.

In these times of extra stress, unresolved traumas have a way of being even more painful to experience. Do what you need to do to manage your trauma symptoms and know that when you are ready, there are ways to move beyond just managing symptoms to working on resolving underlying causes.

Invitation for Reflection:

  1. Is there someone in your life with unresolved trauma who seems unable or unwilling to address it? How does that make you feel?
  2. What can you do to promote both patience and acceptance as you respect the need for that person to be ready to actively address unresolved trauma?
  3. What are some of the specific things you can say or do to communicate your appreciation for the courage needed to dive into actively promoting healing?
  4. If you are someone with unresolved trauma who doesn’t yet feel ready to actively address it, how can you nurture yourself and accept that you may need time to become ready to do the hard work of healing?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute