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  • Writer's pictureLeah Kostamo

Before the Trauma Work: Resource

Engaging in therapy to heal from past trauma is brave work. Though it can result in a lasting experience of freedom and wholeness, it can also be emotionally demanding and is not for the faint of heart. This is why it's important to go into trauma therapy properly resourced.

Imagine one those old fashioned balance scales as a metaphor for the significance of resourcing. Envision the left side of the scale laden with stressors, traumas, heartaches, and the challenging experiences that life has thrust upon you. This side of the scale holds all those moments of feeling terrified, unloved, and/or isolated.

On the opposing side holds all the positive aspects of your life, past and present—moments of ease, connection, pleasure, and relaxation. Achieving a certain equilibrium between these two sides of the scale is crucial before your mind-body system allows delving into and deeply processing trauma. To mix metaphors, trying to do "trauma work" without being resourced is like trying to climb a mountain barefoot and without water. resourced are you?

Some questions to help you assess:

How much of the week do you feel relaxed?

How well are you sleeping?

How often do you do something you love?

Can you list 10 activities that you regularly engage in that make you feel good?

A resourcing exercise:

1. Assess

Make a list of at least 15 internal and 15 external resources (and make them specific)

For example, mine might start out something like this:

Internal Resources (memories)

External resources

running on deer trails on Orcas Is.

weekly walks with my sister

snuggling with my childhood dog

sauna & cold plunges

playing hacky sac with my kids when they were young ... and so on

a morning meditation practice ... and so on

2. Deepen

It goes without saying that you should employ all the external resources you can muster. Go to the gym, cuddle your cat, eat fresh salads, get proper sleep, call a dear friend. Do all these things and more! But also, draw upon your internal resources as well.

Here's how:

Engage your imagination to deepen a specific memory, allowing it to resource you in the present. For example, I might close my eyes and remember the coolness of the air as I ran on a deer trail on Orcas Island. I might imagine the lush vegetation all around me and the smell of cottonwood trees and flowering red currant bushes. I might recall the strength I felt in my young legs. And having spent at least 5 minutes remembering all this, I might notice a feeling of calm arise within me. Next I might observe what 'calm' feels like in my body. Perhaps my breathing slows and my shoulders relax. This noticing of body sensations is important. In fact, it is the whole point of the exercise: namely, to consciously create and then notice a shift in the autonomic nervous system from an aroused state (sympathetic fight or flight) into a calm state (parasympathetic rest and digest).

3. Repeat

Having a little 5 minute imaginal holiday to the Orcas Island of my youth is nice, but when I find myself in a state of stressful overwhelm it's the last thing I'm likely to think of. However, if I were to spend 5 minutes a day, twice a day, every day, for 30 days practicing shifting my attention to this memory; if I daily savour the memory; if I memorize the memory and the associated body sensations, then it becomes a resource at the ready when I need it.

4. Widen

As you get the hang of hanging out in resourced states of calm or courage (or wonder or ....) you can begin to widen your list of resources. Because memory is state dependant, when someone is depressed they are likely to only remember sad or depressing memories. Happily, the same is true in reverse: when you able to more easily access resourced states of calm, you will find yourself naturally recalling more positive memories.

5. Test

Take your internal resources for a test drive. When you notice sensations of anxiety building in your chest thanks to the trigger of an angry exchange with a co-worker, purposely shift your attention to your resource memory. It will be hard. It will not feel natural. If your nervous system habitually takes you to a panic attack or a state of dissociative shut down, then intentionally turning toward a calming memory will feel nearly impossible. But this is what you've been practicing for. You can do it! It is a revelation to realize we can have agency over how we react (i.e. how our nervous system behave) in stressful situations. So be on the lookout for opportunities to practice this new superpower.

A final word:

Healing is not synonymous with resourcing alone. Nor does the ability to transition into a resourced state imply an absence of stress or trauma in one's life. Instead, it is an acquired skill that can be used to navigate challenges and soften triggers. Resourcing clears a path to journey further into the work of trauma therapy.

***Credit is due to Saj Razvi of PSI ( for the scales metaphor and his teaching around resourcing.


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