Mindfulness is an almost essential practice when we’re recovering from a traumatic past. Whether it’s therapeutic techniques (like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), straight up yoga practices, morning meditations, or reading The Power of Now—there’s some level of mindfulness that’s necessary for our healing. Mindfulness teaches us how to tolerate stronger emotions, so they don’t overwhelm us.
But…there are certain types of meditation that can actually do a lot of harm to us survivors of abuse. Or, at the very least, they don’t work for many of us.
So what are the types of meditation that are helpful, and what ones can be harmful? I’ll just into that in a split second, right after this acknowledgment.
Everyone is different, so it’s possible that your list of harmful and helpful mindfulness techniques may not match this blog. But I’d encourage you to consider this and join the discussion in the comments! This blog is based on consultations with professional mindfulness practitioners (what they recommend people with PTSD avoid), and conversations with trained mental health professionals.
Potentially Harmful Types of Meditation
This is where you sit and simply observe your thoughts, with the intention of clearing your mind. In these types of meditation, thoughts can become very loud and bold (because we have nothing to distract us from them). That means more trauma memories or painful thought processes can come forward. This can create anxiety attacks or increase dissociation, since there’s nothing in a stillness meditation to keep you grounded.
Trauma-based guided meditations:
Guided meditations can be fantastic…but not all of them. Ones that focus on things like “cleanse childhood trauma” or “erase flashbacks” can potentially do more harm than good. They might connect you too strongly to past pain, before you’re ready to process it. If you do want to check these out, make sure they’re created by a trained mental health professional. Even then, they aren’t personally working with you, so it may not be suited for your journey. I’d recommend speaking with your own therapist before trying one.
Body scan meditations:
This is a type of meditation that can incredibly beneficial, but only if you’re in the right place of trauma recovery. (So talk with your therapist first!) A body scan is basically where you rest and observe the sensations in each part of your body. For those of us who have survived physical or sexual abuse, our bodies hold memories of that trauma, so focusing on certain areas can be extremely triggering. There’s also no distraction to keep us grounded, as it’s similar in its observational style to a stillness meditation.
5 Beneficial Alternative Types of Meditations
Basically, try these types of meditation instead!
Yoga (or other similar practices)
Yoga is a great way to focus on releasing thoughts and being in the moment, while staying grounded (because you’re moving your body). This practice works by having you focus on your breath alongside stretching and strengthening sensations. This naturally clears your mind without needing to focus on your thoughts specifically. Alternatives like Tai Chi and martial arts can work wonders too!
Breathing meditations (or breathwork) are when you focus on different patterns and styles of breathing as a way to clear your mind. This is also grounding, but more physically accessible than yoga and you can do it anytime, even in public. Some styles naturally reduce anxiety, like basic three-part breathing (where you compress your diaphragm, calming your nervous system). Extra benefit!
If you like working with energy, these can be a great alternative type of meditation. Basically, energy cleansing works with the principle that our bodies have energy, and when this is unbalanced it can cause or increase stress. So, rebalancing this can be healing (not to mention it’s just mindful to do a meditation!). This includes things like acupressure, chakra work, reiki, or energy-based visualization. The benefit is that this gives your mind something to focus on, which prevents you from getting lost in trauma thoughts. You can do self-guided or audio guided meditations for this!
(P.S. Some you can even nap during! I do this all the time with Reiki.)
This works the same way yoga does, helping you focus on movement in your body to still your mind. Basically, take a walk and focus on feeling your feet on the ground. It’s super grounding, which helps bunches if you tend to dissociate! You can also add in other visualizations, like flower petals blooming with each step, or stressful energy being released into the earth as you walk.
Loving Kindness meditations:
This is a guided style of meditation, where you say a series of self-loving statements, then spread love out into the world and to others. Here’s an example script you can follow! Since it’s focused on words, your mind won’t get distracted by trauma material easily, and you’ll also be connecting with your heart. That’s mindful! You can cut out the section in some meditations about sending love to someone you dislike, if that’s uncomfortable for you. Just focus on someone neutral to you.
Which Types of Meditation Do You Use?
So…as a survivor, what’s your favorite mindfulness technique? Do you use any of these meditations regularly, or are there any you’re hoping to try? Comment below! (If you add a new suggestion, that would be handy for others too.)
Personally, my favorite is yoga and energy cleansing. These refresh me like nothing else, and yoga specifically has helped my body calm anxiety. I can also tolerate a lot more stress than in the past, which means difficult situations are less likely to interrupt my inner peace.