4 Powerful Rituals to Help Heal Trauma and Loss
By Tiffany Dzioba, PsyD, LMFT, Executive Director of Promises
The clients we serve suffer from significant mental illness, many times with a co-occurring addiction, and most have experienced profound trauma in their lives. They’ve spent much of their lives struggling with pain that has compromised their functioning and taken away hope. The healing process is aided by finding some kind of meaning or purpose in life, or being able to connect to something bigger than them.
Adding a spiritual healing approach to scientifically proven therapies helps people leap into a transformational process. This is all tailored to people’s individual belief systems and often requires exploring with them what they most need.
Ritual as a Way to Access Inner Power
Ceremony and ritual have long been a way for people of all cultures to connect to their inner power. The subconscious brain does not know the difference between past and present, so release and renewal ceremonies provide a symbolic way to help people begin to separate from their trauma. Some of the most powerful ceremonies include:
1. Burying the past.
One woman was suffering through a complex grieving process for her father. He was a perpetrator and had harmed her as a child. When he passed away she was trying to figure out her feelings. At the core, most people want to love their parents, even if they were abusive, but when they’ve violated boundaries and harmed you, it is a huge conflict. For her, the ceremony involved the release of his ashes. Burying them, rather than keeping them or scattering them, was her way of letting go. She declared, “This part of my life and these things that happened, I’m going to let them go. It’s going to be done. It’s no longer with me.”
2. Writing letters.
Another approach to letting go is writing letters that outline the kind of pain and destruction a particular person has brought upon the letter writer. It is a way to not just release anger, but to give language to the unexpressed feelings that have been pent up inside for years. In these letters, people can write anything they feel or want to express, but they are never sent. They are destroyed by fire (either a bonfire or fireplace) or buried in the ground as a symbolic gesture of being free of the pain caused by the person to whom the letter is addressed.
3. Casting stones.
Many people find healing and renewal from the sea. Rocks and stones are parts of the earth; they are heavy and sink to the bottom of the water. It can be helpful for people to write out the pain or name of the person who hurt them, and cast the stone out to sea. The ocean can bring a sense of cleansing, so this ritual is like a rebirth. Some people feel that naming their pain on a rock with magic marker is like taking it out of themselves and putting it into the earth. Throwing it into the ocean can be a way of surrendering the pain or releasing the abuser so that the pain can be transmuted.
4. Energy healing.
A combination of yoga and energy healing can help move people into quiet meditative states in which a great deal of pain can be processed. One woman was mourning her husband’s death after experiencing his very traumatic illness and decline. Part of her healing was to visualize him in her meditation and imagine him looking young, strong and happy. It helped her process some of the trauma of watching him die. Being able to visualize him helped her connect to his essence and know that there was a part of him that would be with her always. In this kind of grief work, integrating the deceased person back into their lives in a different way brings comfort and security. It allows someone who is mourning to move forward and carry that person in their heart in a new way. It gives them the sense they’re not completely gone; it’s just a different type of relationship.
Some people need to close a chapter in their past and leave that world behind. Others need to reincorporate their loss, pain and loved ones into their lives. Whatever the trauma, rituals can help people feel freer to create a new chapter and move forward with their lives.