Get help today 888-341-7785 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Demystifying Trauma and Addiction (Part III)

“It shouldn’t have happened that way.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had that thought – or for every time I’ve listened to someone else share a variation of it – I’d be a very rich man.

The idea that what happened shouldn’t have happened is prevalent and powerful in our culture. Most of us invest a ton of time and energy into it. This is apparent when we start to work with past trauma, with the events and situations that shocked us at our core.

As we discussed in our earlier post, Demystifying Trauma and Addiction, Part I, the trauma definition is subjective. Psychological trauma is anything that we experience as deeply hurtful. Often, though, the thoughts we have about the trauma are even more painful than the event itself! One of these painful thoughts is, “That should never have happened to me.”

Examining the Painful Thought

getting over traumaWhile, “That shouldn’t have happened to me” may be true in the sense you didn’t deserve the abuse or the pain you experienced, it’s also false on a deeper level. How do we know that it’s false? Because that traumatic event – whatever it was – really did happen.

Saying that it shouldn’t have happened puts you in a fight against reality, one that is both painful and futile. As spiritual teacher and expert questioner Byron Katie says, “When I argue with reality, I lose, but only 100% of the time.”

Ultimately, “That shouldn’t have happened” is a thought story that keeps us from accessing the acceptance and compassion we need in order to heal from trauma and addiction.

Does that sound cold or unfeeling? Stick with me; I’ll show you how dismantling your old, painful thoughts is one of the kindest and most helpful things you can do to recover.

Healing Trauma on All Levels

In last month’s post, Demystifying Trauma and Addiction, Part II, we talked healing from psychological trauma on an emotional level. We walked through a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) exercise, in which you entered into a dialogue with a disowned aspect of yourself.

Why is this work so important? Because psychological health and well-being come from integrating all aspects of your personality in a holistic, loving way.

Since we worked with the emotional level last month, now it’s time to work with trauma on the mental level. In this post, we’ll address how to forgive judgements, rewrite limiting beliefs, and set yourself free from the pain of your past. We’ll show you some powerful self-counseling strategies that you can use right away.

How to Forgive Judgements 

In brief, judgments are beliefs that we hold against ourselves, others, events, and concepts. What’s one quick way to spot a judgment? Anytime you use the words should, could, and would, you’re probably making a judgment.

Examples of judgments include:

  • “He should have at least called to say he’d be late.”
  • “I could have done better.”
  • “The birthday party would have gone much more smoothly if only the clown had arrived on time.”

Judgments pervade our culture, so sometimes it’s difficult to see the pain that they cause. But if you sit with your thoughts of judgment, you’ll notice that they precipitate mental and emotional upset.

Judgments against ourselves or others cause us suffering…the same sort of suffering that leads to substance abuse and addiction. Fortunately, there is a way out.

How To Spot Judgments and Projections

forgiving judgementsThe first step in all inner work to center yourself in your loving heart as best you can, and then set the intention to heal at the deepest level possible. Next, look for judgments causing you pain and upset. When you’re starting out, it’s often easier to work with judgments against others. Look at your projections, the ways in which you put your own disowned aspects onto other people. For example, you might be carrying around the thought, “My father shouldn’t have lied to me.”

Okay, great. Let’s work with that judgment. Say that your father did lie to you, and it’s getting your goat. Why is it needling you so much? Because his behavior is holding up a mirror for you, showing a reflection of yourself that you don’t want to see. So, turn that thought around to yourself: “I shouldn’t have lied to me.” Ask, Where have I lied to myself?

To take lying to yourself as an example: Maybe you’ve been trying really hard to convince yourself that your dad didn’t lie to you … when deep down, you know that he did! Maybe you’ve been so invested in the story of a father who would never lie that you’ve refused to see the dad you actually have.

How to Forgive Judgments

Once we’ve identified our judgments, the next step is to open up to the unconditional love that we have within ourselves. That part of us – which some call the spiritual or authentic self level – can accept and forgive the part of us that is judging.

Note that our minds often resist this idea, determined as they are to cling to the familiar story that we’re no good. But when we actually try this exercise, our own capacity for unconditional love can surprise us!

Use this framework, and say the words out loud:

“I forgive myself for judging ___________ {name of other person} as ___________ {your judgment: wrong, selfish, bad, etc}, and the truth is _________________.”

Then, forgive yourself for judging yourself: “I forgive myself for judging myself as _____________ {your judgment and/or projection}, and the truth is _________________.”

In the second blank, write down what unconditional love – or your authentic self – says. You’ll probably uncover some surprising truths here.

The authentic self speaks from a place of peace, and its voice sounds like this:

  • “He was doing the best he could.”
  • “He was scared.”
  • “I didn’t know any better, before. Now I do.”
  • “I’m all right now.”

Sit with the new truth, with the resonance of love and forgiveness. In time, you may come to see that, as Byron Katie says, “Forgiveness means discovering that what you thought happened didn’t.”

How to Rewrite Limiting Beliefs

Once you’ve forgiven judgments, it’s time to take a look at your limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are the larger, more global rules you have about how life works. When these beliefs conflict with what actually happens or what is true at the deepest level, you experience mental and emotional upset.

Here are a few examples of limiting beliefs:

  • Parents should be perfect.
  • I should be perfect.
  • The world should be fair.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • There will never be enough for me.

The template to release limiting beliefs is simple; it looks like this:

“I forgive myself for accepting the limiting belief that  _____________ {your limiting belief}, and the truth going forward for me is _________________.” {your new belief}

Again, allow the voice of unconditional love to fill in the second blank. Some examples might be:

  • My parents are human, and that is okay.
  • I am human, and that is okay.
  • I can see the world through eyes of love.
  • I’ve always been good enough.
  • There is more than enough for me.

How to Set Yourself Free

In a word: practice. Commit yourself to working with judgments and limiting beliefs each day. Stick with it for at least a month, and see what happens.

If you do, I’m willing to bet that you’ll recognize the truth in this, one of the Principles of Spiritual Psychology: “Judgment is self-condemnation. Self-forgiveness is freedom.”

If you missed the first two parts in this series, read them here: Demystifying Trauma and Addiction, Part I and Demystifying Trauma and Addiction, Part II.



Images Courtesy of iStock

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.