What You Need Before You Begin

Trauma is a part of being human and the human experience, it is perhaps unavoidable and is something that most people share even though we may not talk about.

Psychological trauma most often is about relationships, the tragic and sudden loss of a relationship or relationships that should have been caring but were instead frightening, violent, and exploitive or when the necessities for healthy growth and normal development were absent or withheld. Everyone’s health and well being requires that during our formative years we have relationships with adults that create and nurture feelings of safety, trust, value, and predictability. In fact we never outgrow these basic and fundamental human needs. The need for relationships; to feel loved, cared for, accepted and safe is something we all share. It is essential to our very existence that we feel a connection to others, to a community, to a culture. These connections form the core of our identity and what helps us to make sense of the world around us and build a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Talking and reading about trauma, especially for those of us who have experienced our own traumatic events can be distressing and trigger different, sometimes painful or unsettling feelings.  For this reason it is important that before going further within this website you take time to reflect on how you know when difficult feelings are becoming too difficult to manage, how you will know when you need to take a break from this material, how to sooth, comfort and take care of yourself and your own needs and when you feel ready to resume exploring the website.

So take time to think about how you know when you are becoming distressed to the point that it might overwhelm you.  It is natural that this material might make you uncomfortable that is to be expected and perhaps even necessary.  What is important is to pay attention to when you are beginning to feel that your body, thoughts and feelings are telling you to stop or that you are beginning to experience flight, flight or freeze responses. How does your body, mind or emotions let you know you are becoming overwhelmed and that discomfort is turning into something else, something too intense, harder to manage or cope with. Often people affected by trauma will experience either fight, flight or freeze responses when they experience a potential threat to their sense of safety or well being. To assist you please look at the list of flight, fight freeze responses below, possible signs that you are no longer feeling safe and might need to stop. This is not a complete list but may help you to identify what you need to be watching for:


  • Crying
  • Hands in fists, desire to punch, rip
  • Flexed/tight jaw, grinding teeth, snarl
  • Fight in eyes, glaring, fight in voice
  • Desire to stomp, kick, smash with legs, feet
  • Feelings of anger/rage
  • Homicidal/suicidal feelings
  • Knotted stomach/nausea, burning stomach
  • Metaphors like bombs, volcanoes erupting


  • Feeling stuck in some part of body
  • Feeling cold/frozen, numb, pale skin
  • Sense of stiffness, heaviness
  • Holding breath/restricted breathing
  • Sense of dread, heart pounding
  • Decreased heart rate (can sometimes increase)
  • Orientation to threat


  • Restless legs, feet /numbness in legs
  • Anxiety/shallow breathing
  • Big/darting eyes
  • Leg/foot movement
  • Reported or observed fidgety-ness, restlessness, feeling trapped, tense
  • Sense of running in life- one activity-next
  • Excessive exercise

The next part of this process is to know what works for you when you are feeling distressed.  How do you calm yourself and what is helpful in managing difficult emotions.  Remember the object is not to avoid our feelings, which are not helpful, but rather to acknowledge and honour them. As has been said “pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional”.  Suffering comes from trying to avoiding feelings.  But simply acknowledging what we are feeling is not enough it is also important to know what to do when we acknowledge them, how to sooth and calm ourselves.  How do you comfort and sooth yourself?  What practices do you use, maybe there are cultural or spiritual practices you use that help you calm yourself, such as smudging, drumming, chanting or singing, praying, deep breathing, walking, stretching, writing, talking, listening to music.  To learn more about other practices and easy to learn techniques for calming yourself when you feel anxious and/or distressed please refer the video section of this website.

Next: Definition of Trauma >