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Healing from trauma and abuse

Everything we go through in life leaves an imprint on who we are. If you’ve experienced something very distressing, it’s normal to have a strong emotional reaction. And it’s normal if the event(s) change the way you see the world, how you feel about yourself, and the way you interact with others. If you’re suffering, or struggling to cope with life after trauma or abuse, here are some things that can help.

You deserve to heal

Sometimes trauma is obvious and easy to recognise like a car accident, or a fight. But other times it can be subtle and hard to recognise – especially if it happened when we were very young, or if it was inflicted by someone we love. In any case, our emotional wounds require our love, care and attention in order to heal.

No matter how deep your pain, remember, with the right support you can overcome harmful past experiences – they don’t have to define or control you.   

You can get through this

What is trauma? 

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing/harmful event, series of events or circumstances. Not everyone responds in the same way to trauma, but often trauma results in long-lasting effects; including on our mental health, physical health, and social, emotional or spiritual wellbeing.

Trauma can include things like:

  • Accidents 
  • Natural disasters 
  • Grief and loss
  • Racism and Islamophobia 
  • Abuse (below) 

Remember, a trauma doesn’t have to seem like a ‘big’ thing to anyone else to leave an impact on how you think, feel and act.

Trauma can be a one-off or build up over time, for example, if you’re constantly criticised or picked on and it starts to make you feel worthless.

Childhood trauma

Many lessons we learnt as children when our brains were still developing stay with us even into adulthood – that’s normal. For example, if when you were young a parent didn’t speak to you when you got bad grades at school, and as a result you start to think of yourself as a failure. As you get older, and become successful, you still struggle with the feeling that you have failed and it starts to affect your mental health. Or if you grew up in a home witnessing constant fighting and shouting causing you long-term stress and fear of relationships, so when you have an argument with your partner you struggle to cope. 

If you had a particularly turbulent childhood, if you experienced loss, abuse, bullying, neglect, family breakup, parents struggling with their mental health, financial worries, or anything else that caused you a lot of distress, these experiences increase the likelihood that you will struggle with your mental health, even if your situation as an adult is very different now. There is no shame in this. It is normal for our start in life to affect us.

Even if we had a great childhood, we will be carrying some unhelpful baggage from childhood – because we are human. We all learn things that don’t always affect our self-image, self-expression, and relationships in the best way. We usually don’t notice this until we notice certain unhealthy patterns showing up in our lives that we can’t seem to break out of. That’s why getting to know yourself better, (perhaps with the help of a therapist), is a really good idea, even whether or not you’re going through anything challenging. 

What is abuse? 

Abuse is serious, harmful, and can be incredibly traumatic. Abuse can happen as a one-off incident, or series of events. And sometimes we might even be fully aware that what we have experienced is abuse, particularly if we’ve grown up to think what we are going through is a ‘normal’ part of life, or if we believe the abuse was our fault. 

Abuse includes: 

  • Psychological abuse – criticism, coercive control, gaslighting, blackmail, isolating someone, humiliation 
  • Physical abuse – violence, assault/injury, deliberately putting someone in harm’s way, threatening behaviour   
  • Bullying – harassment, name-calling, violence, slander, gossip, spreading false rumours, physical and psychological abuse 
  • Sexual abuse – non-consensual sexual activity, inappropriate touching, rape, revenge porn  
  • Neglect – lack of care, love or attention, denying necessary help or assistance 
  • Spiritual abuse/religious abuse – manipulation through religion, abuse of religious authority (can include the above forms of types of abuse)
  • Stalking – obsessive harassment, following and threatening behaviour whether online or in person
  • Abuse of trust – stealing passwords, sharing confidential information with others, breaking promises   

Remember, abuse is never ok. Abuse is never your fault. 

The impact of trauma or abuse 

A traumatic or abusive experience might leave you feeling helpless, terrified, ashamed, weak, disgusted, anxious, angry, depressed, worthless, out of control, broken or unable to cope. You may struggle with negative thoughts about yourself and others, which in turn can affect the way you live your life as a result. Here are just a few signs that you might be struggling with the effects of trauma:

  • Nagging feelings of guilt, shame or sadness
  • Feeling guilty about doing nice things
  • Putting yourself last
  • Struggling to enforce boundaries, for example, saying ‘yes’ when you want to say ‘no’
  • Feeling responsible for other people’s happiness
  • Struggling to form healthy relationships 
  • Finding it difficult to trust people 
  • Worrying about being abandoned, or being alone
  • Isolating yourself, keeping away from people 
  • Feeling angry at God or disconnected from your faith 
  • Extreme emotional outbursts or feeling worryingly out of control
  • Always dismissing or downplaying your own feelings
  • Always telling yourself off because there are people worse off than you
  • Overworking/studying, keeping busy, over-committing to plans, so you don’t have time to dwell on things 
  • Finding it difficult to answer questions like ‘how are you?’ or ‘what do you want to do today?’

If you can relate any of this, you won’t always feel this way. It’s incredibly hard to deal with these types of experiences on our own. Often recovering from trauma or abuse can require rebuilding your feelings of self-love, practising extensive self-care and getting professional support to help you feel better. Whatever you have been through, with the right help and support things can get better. It’s never too late. And it is always worth it. 

There is no shame in asking for help. You deserve to feel good.

“I wish I had reached out for help sooner. I wish I’d told someone how I was feeling and the things I’d gone through. I wasted nearly 10 years in misery and suffering. Talking saved my life. Therapy changed my life. Self-care made me connect to life again. Alhamdulillah! I’m begging you, please don’t make my mistake and suffer in silence. Feeling better was a long process, but it was so worth it.” 

How can I heal from trauma or abuse?

“God does not burden a soul more than it can bear.” – Qur’an 2:286

Set your intention

In case you needed to hear this today: Allah did not create you to live in constant emotional pain or distress. You deserve love and support. You deserve help. And you deserve to heal.

A powerful way to begin your healing journey and reclaim your power is to set yourself a conscious intention to heal all the emotional wounds that are holding you back from enjoying your life fully.

The good news is, you’ve already begun. 

1. Believe life gets better

Believing that healing is possible can be easier said than done. But you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t think they could – so remember to hold on to that feeling. 

Give yourself permission to imagine your dream future. Don’t hold back on any details. If you can dream it, it’s possible.  

You are more powerful than you realise. 

Take a deep breath in, and let yourself believe. 

An angel replied, “So will it be! Your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, just as I created you before, when you were nothing!’” — Qur’an 19:9 

(For exercises that can help with this, check out the dhikr and meditation page)

2. Avoid comparing yourself

While everyone experiences some kind of trauma in life – not everybody experiences trauma to the same degree. 

The same experiences will affect people differently. 

It’s easy to downplay the things we’ve experienced because ‘other people have it worse’, but it’s not a competition. Your suffering is still just as real and just as valid as anyone else’s. You don’t need to justify your feelings.   

If it had an impact on you, then it matters. 

Let go of any guilt or comparison.

3. Try not to judge yourself

Reacting to trauma is not weakness, lack of faith, or some kind of character flaw. You’ve been through something tough – an emotional response is not just natural, it’s necessary! Don’t be put off by other people telling you how you should and shouldn’t feel. Let go of any feelings of guilt or shame so that you can focus fully on your healing journey. 

You’re allowed to feel your feelings.

Let go of any negative self-judgement – accept yourself as you are, right now. It’s ok to be you. It’s ok to feel.

Healing from trauma or abuse requires a lot of patience. 

If you saw a child nervously trying something for the first time, how would you respond when they mess up? Would you shout at them or would you encourage them?

Your situation is no different to this little child. Finding confidence within yourself to embark on this journey might feel strange and daunting. It might feel like you’re not going to make it. But you can, and you are. 

You are going to make it, inshallah. 

And you’re going to need to encourage yourself, and accept that you’re allowed to slip, up or do silly things – it’s totally ok. You’ve never done this before and you’re learning. Be your own supporter and treat yourself with total kindness.

4. Be gentle with yourself

Healing often requires (re)learning how to feel safe in your body, and to love yourself unconditionally. 

Being your own best friend, or perhaps being like the parent your inner-child needs, can be very powerful. You might hear this being referred to as ‘re-parenting yourself’. 

“As for those who believe and do good, the Most Compassionate will [certainly] bless them with [real] love.” — Qur’an 19:96

“I took a while to fully realise that I didn’t deserve the way I had been treated, and that it wasn’t my fault. Learning to love myself was the first thing I had to do to begin healing. Learning not to punish myself, or to believe that I was ugly and wrong was not easy. But healing starts here. It starts with loving, not judging yourself.”

5. Prepare for ups and downs

Making sense of difficult experiences can trigger all kinds of emotions and stir up other memories – sometimes at unexpected times. Healing can be messy, full of ups and downs, and that’s completely normal. Remember, it’s normal to feel like you’re leaving your comfort zone. 

You might feel like you’re making progress one day – light as a feather and full of hope – then suddenly you feel like you’re back where you started the next – but don’t give up – it’s all part of the process. You’re making more progress than you think. 

Remember, feelings are temporary – you will get through it. 

Keep going. Every step you take is taking you closer to where you need to be, to learn the lesson you need to learn, to live the life you want. 

“With every hardship there is ease.” — Qur’an 94:5 

6. The journey is worth it

Some people describe their recovery as ‘coming back to life’. 

It’s impossible to know what’s around the corner and that’s ok. It can make us feel a little bit anxious, but it can be exciting too. Your journey could take you in the most unexpected directions. And it is even possible to start enjoying the process.  

Even the littlest breakthrough is a big win!  

Take help when it’s offered. Try therapy if you can access it. Speak to your doctor. Listen to that podcast. Pick up that book. Take a compassionate risk. Step out of your comfort zone. And trust that your effort will always be rewarded in the end. 

“And Allah has sent down rain from the sky and given life thereby to the earth after its lifelessness. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who listen.” — Qur’an 16:65

7. Give yourself some slack

You are not a science project or a maths problem.

You don’t need to ‘solve’ and ‘fix’ everything about yourself.

It’s easy to get into a mindset that you’re ‘broken’ and start obsessing about all the things that are wrong with you. And while it’s true, the more you learn about how and why you behave the way you do, the more ‘issues’ you might spot with your behaviour or mindset, it is also true that you are a pretty resilient human who has come this far and survived. We’re all learning at our own pace, in our own way – and that’s ok. 

While it’s healthy to keep exploring and expanding your awareness, your journey isn’t about changing who you are to become a ‘perfect’ human, it’s about giving yourself permission to shine as you are. 

Perfect does not exist. 

Take time out to explore the things that bring you joy and a sense of fulfilment. 

“Blessed is the One Who — if He wills — can give you far better than that: gardens under which rivers flow, and palaces as well.” — Qur’an 25:10

A note on forgiveness

If you have been wronged, you have every right to feel angry and upset about what has happened to you. What happened to you was not ok, and yes you absolutely should have the right to justice, from society in this life, and from Allah in the next. 

Every act of abuse is a betrayal of the rights and dignity of the abused person. It is also a betrayal of the gift of free will. An abuser carries out their abuse under the illusion that creation exists to serve their ego and desires, as though they were God; instead of recognising that they, in fact, exist to submit to God. So, no, you are not obliged to forgive, but you can choose to do so. 

“…And those who, when great wrong is done to them, defend themselves, The recompense for an injury is an injury equal to it: but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah: for (Allah) does not love the unjust. And whosoever helps himself after he has been wronged – against them there is no blame. The blame  is only against the ones who wrong mankind and tyrannize upon the earth without right. Those will have a painful punishment. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct.” — Qur’an 42:39-43

Something to consider is what ‘forgiveness’ really means to you. Forgiveness is not the same as excusing, and doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting. By its very nature, the act of forgiveness reaffirms that something wrong took place, but flips the balance of power:

“Forgiveness is like saying, you did me wrong. I choose to banish your energy from me.  I forbid you to keep injuring me today through the actions of the past. The past has passed. I have channelled my agony into my own growth. I am stronger now not because of you, but in spite of your weakness – that you tried to pass on to me.”  

It’s ok if you don’t want to, or you’re not ready to forgive someone. 

Helpful resources 

There is a lot of advice out there on the internet telling you what you should and should not do. A lot of it is good advice, but some isn’t. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healing from trauma or abuse. This can make starting your healing journey feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone. To make it a little bit easier figuring out where to start, here is a list of Muslim-friendly resources to help you on your healing journey. 

Be open to trying different things until you find things that work for you.

May Allah replace every hardship and suffering with peace and blessings greater than you can imagine, ameen.

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