How to Heal from Emotional Trauma

One of the most effective ways to use aromatherapy is to move the mind from one place to another. From a worried place to tranquility. From anger to peace. From scattered to focus.

Since the brain processes fragrances in the same localities as memory, cognition, and mood, essential oils can be master teachers and psychological healers. Today we think about how to heal from emotional trauma with support from essential oils.

So, I will begin by stating that, in my opinion (and that's all it is; you are free to make up your mind), aromatherapy should not be used as an alternative medicine for deep-rooted trauma. It is a beautiful complementary therapy that can be incredibly transformative, but using it alongside talking therapies would be my preferred healing mode here.

Where essential oils excel is their ability to move the mind carefully and gently to places you might otherwise not want to go. It's not coincidental that plants like frankincense and myrrh have been connected to religion since dawn. They make you feel that God and The Goddess are near and that you are cared for, instilling faith and reverence in the darkest times.

I also feel there is no such thing as a one size fits all when dealing with emotional disturbance, just as there is no set timeline. I've written about PTSD, so you will know I live with PTSD myself. Sometimes it's there. Sometimes it's not, and while the most inane things can set it off, I can be stuck back in the rage for weeks.

The Mindset of Using Essential Oils To Heal Emotional Trauma

Over time I have learned to remove my head from the process. It's no good trying to "treat" the symptoms, but more, I use the oils to support me through it. They are my friends at the end of the phone. Some are like hugs; others kick my ass and tell me to quit whining and get on with it. Some days sweet basil and her obstreperous nature are precisely what I need, others it will be too much.

So, before we head into this as if it were the textbook version of how to heal from emotional trauma, I want to be clear that it's not that…or that is, I don't intend it to be…more it's a phone book of whom you might want to call to ask for some help. Maybe it's Rose, who knows everything there is to know about when romance hits the rocks, Jasmine, who is the best gatekeeper to rebuild trust after sexual abuse, or Rosemary, who insists you get your head out of memories and focus on work.

We must thoroughly understand why it works this way, but certain smells take you to familiar and new places in your head. They build pathways to open doors that we might not have even though possible in the past. 

You can be flexible about how you use them too. Even a drop of rose oil in your moisturizer helps to rebuild a sense of being pretty and getting your sass up and running again. A few drops of cedarwood essential oil in your bath turn off negative thoughts and gives blissful respite from worry—a perfect peace after the madmen running around your head for hours.

The Benefits of Massage for Emotional Healing

Massage offers a whole host of benefits that the oils can't provide. The healing power of touch is so important, and here in the UK, massage is THE way to administer essential oils. The muscles are such sanctuaries for emotional upset. Think about how you use your body for different emotions and how these then get trapped within the body. Even as you read, focus on how your neck feels and any tension in your back.

There is no better way to release this than to have a massage to undo those knots…relaxed back often allows the brain to follow suit much more quickly.

A qualified aromatherapist will always be your best choice here, but then I would say that, wouldn't I? Even if you can get someone to rub some lavender oil into your shoulders, you will notice a difference. Release those muscles, and you'll be amazed at how much better you feel.

I will say that shock often lodges in the gluteal…the big muscles of the bum. Think how you clench when you are angry and afraid. If you feel defensive, it's both in the gluteal and the upper back, as if you have been hunched over, keeping someone at bay.

If you don't feel comfortable with someone massaging your bum, but you immediately noticed how tight yours are when I brought attention to it, I recommend a tennis ball. Lie on the floor and roll over the ball. Be very gentle because you may find it hurts, to begin with. Counterintuitively, that's good. The pain is because it is so tense. Work at it slowly and gently over a period of days. There's a nice video to help explain what I mean.

How to Heal From Emotional Trauma Using Inhalation of Essential Oils

For me, olfaction is queen.

Who doesn't feel uplifted by a walk in the forest…could you feel melancholy picking lemons in a Sicilian grove? Could a midsummer night's dream have existed without roses?

Whether you use a sniffy stick, have a couple of drops on a tissue, or wear an aroma pendant…giving the mind a chance to work slowly away from the wrong place over to the light is helpful.

Rather than starting with a synopsis of which oil does what, consider energetics. This is the first thing I always teach people when I mentor them. Think about which way the oil moves your energy. Does it move it down to calm you and make you feel more rounded and settled?

Does it invigorate, lift and inspire you?

A straightforward way to guestimate that would be to say that top notes like citruses lift and focus, and base notes like vetiver and patchouli drop the energy down and quieten us.

If you are still determining whether it is a top, middle, or base note, drip a dropout. Top notes speed out. They have tiny molecules, so they have no resistance to getting out of the bottle. They will usually be clear in color but are very thin.

Base notes evaporate much more slowly because their molecules are more significant. These are the gluey ones that take ages to get out of the bottle. 

It comes out fast…will be sparkly, refreshing, and invigorating. If you have to wait for it, it will be more patient, soothing, and calming.

The reason I stress this is because, often, emotional trauma brings up out-of-place thoughts. You'll know you feel crap, but you can't really name what that crapness is…so rather than trying to do that, think about how it feels…do I feel like I want to slow down? (Vetiver, frankincense)  Do I want to feel more connected in my body…? (Patchouli and cedarwood) Do I want to sense more sunshine? (Lemon, bergamot, yuzu.)

Working out how you want to change the energy is often much more accessible than labeling how you feel. Moreover, we'll talk about the stages of grief, but obviously, there are times when we'll be between two sets…especially as we are learning to control our thoughts a bit better, then something might knock us back a couple of notches.

Again, it's more about knowing which oil helps us feel a certain way rather than saying it fits this particular stage.

So, What Are The Stages of Grief?

According to the Extended Transformational Model, trauma recovery has five stages. However, these are not necessarily linear, and for many people, weaving back and forth between them is very common:

Pre-trauma Characteristics

Here, the traumatic event is a polarizing event that changes some part of your being. "Before it happened I was like this" or "life was like that," almost as if that time is a place you can't quite remember how to get back to. 

  • Rumination
  • Now, the brain turns the event over and over in your mind…

    How did this happen? 

    Why did this happen? 

    What part did I play in it? Was this my fault…?

     It's widespread to have a lot of strong feelings and intrusive memories as you struggle to process the memory.

  • Event Centrality 
  • A turning point as you take stock of how the trauma changed your life and the decisions you make about moving forward.

  • Control
  • Taking active steps to rearrange your life to accommodate and cope with your trauma symptoms.

  • Mastery
  • While the trauma might still wander in and out, it no longer controls your life.

    Your recovery journey may follow different steps. These steps offer more of a rough framework than a pattern you need to trace precisely.

    Signs of Emotional Trauma in Adults:

      • Anxiety, worry, intense fear
      • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
      • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
      • Feeling sad or hopeless about the future
      • Feeling disconnected from what's around you or feeling numb.
      • Confusion, having difficulty concentrating.
      • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
      • Withdrawing from others.

    How to Heal from Trauma Without Therapy

    Fearfulness and Anxiety


    So soothing and relaxing. Studies show how effectively lavender alters brain waves. The constituents linalool and linalyl acetate interact with the body's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and mood modulator, serotonin, to calm the body and mind.

    Simultaneously the constituents engage with the sodium ion channels, which modulate blood pressure, blood volume, and fluid retention.

    Finally, linalool's analgesic properties relax the muscles and ease back, neck, and shoulder tension. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    I always say that Chamomiles sing, "que sera sera, whatever will be will be."

    The strength of their stalks always inspires me. Regardless of how hard the wind buffets them, they remain solid and merry.

    That resilience translates into the flowers, then passes through to the essential oil.

    If you remain very fearful after your shock, I think part of learning to heal from emotional trauma is preventing anxiety from driving the bus. Chamomile teaches you to let go and trust. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    Vetiver essential oil is like a soothing blanket when you feel tense and afraid. Vetiver is simultaneously warming yet refreshing, relaxing, and tranquilizing. It is grounding and serene.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.



    Spikenard essential oil is for the worst of emergencies only. It is mighty for fearful or terrorizing situations; however, it grows on the slopes of the Himalayas and is picked by the local people to supplement their incomes.

    Many parents have to put their children into orphanages for the season to get the best harvest of medicinal plants, so the Spica nod comes at a very high personal cost and is close to endangered.

    There is no better essential oil if you have had a terrifying situation. I especially like to blend it with the arrow; however, you need to put something quite floral scented with them to remove their earthy fragrance. Lavender or rose essential oils are beautiful here.

    However, I will stress that because of the endangered status of this essential oil (it is not critical yet; however, we should observe proper respect,) I feel this is for dreadful situations only, not an essential oil or use in the bath at the end of a stressful day.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    Most vital of all the tranquilizers, malaria almost acts like herbal Valium. Clinical trials show it to be one of the most effective treatments for stress-reduced sleep. However, it smells like a tramp's week-old socks, so blending it with lavender or orange essential oil can also be beautiful.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.



    Frankincense slows your breath and can help comfort you when you need to look at painful things.

    Fear can be overwhelming sometimes, and it may feel easier to ignore or avoid facing situations. Frankincense gives you the courage to be able to do so and feel like you don't need to do it alone.

    Importantly, rodent trials show that frankincense can restore sleep deficit, so it's tremendously powerful if you struggle to sleep.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

    Irritability and Mood Swings

    Ylang Ylang

    Most often spoken of for its aphrodisiac properties and its ability to quickly bring blood pressure down, ylang-ylang often gets ignored for its effects on mood.

    Many oils have themes that emerge in their healing. Ylang-ylang's theme is balance. As suggested, it balances the blood pressure but also the emotions.

    It's incredibly soothing and harmonizing and has an almost euphoric property. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.



    Rose is beautifully relaxing and hypnotic. It's lovely for sadness and grief, but importantly it has an anti-conflict property too.

    In rodent trials, rats bred without nitric oxide receptors should fight to the death; however, after inhaling rose essential oil, this no longer happened. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.

    Pineapple Myrtle

    A lesser-known oil from Australia that smells like sunshine in a bottle. It is so playful and optimistic; I like to use pineapple myrtle when there are tense conversations. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.



    Particularly for grief. The best oil to use if you are wanted to learn how to heal from trauma in a relationship.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 37 weeks of pregnancy.


    This is one of my favorite oils for people who want to know how to heal from childhood trauma. It's like an enormous hug that makes you feel that life will be safer. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

    Any of the Citruses

    Lemon, orange, grapefruit, yuzu, bergamot…all wonderfully sunshiny. These work so powerfully in inhaler sticks or aroma pendants. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. Also, do not use old oils. Citruses are rich in monoterpenes that can oxidize quickly, leading to photosensitization.


    One of the main reasons people come and ask how to heal from emotional trauma is because negative thoughts are so intrusive in their minds. They find it impossible to sleep or to concentrate.

    Concentration is odd because you can tackle it from one of two directions. So I always encourage people to ask themselves how they want to feel.

    There can be days when my mind won't stop racing, and I feel all up in my head… frazzled, you know? Then I go to Vetiver or Cedarwood. However, if my mind keeps wandering and I can't focus on anything, I'd be more inclined to go for the herbs.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    So slow and tranquilizing. It's peaceful, restful, and prayerlike. 

    I love vetiver if I am studying or trying to revise something. It improves my memory significantly because it removes the panic about deadlines etc. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    Cedarwood essential oil is probably one of the best-kept secrets of how to heal from emotional trauma. Its critical skill is to cancel out negative thoughts. I use it in all kinds of blends, from ones for imposter syndrome to aphrodisiac ones.

    If you have a critical or undermining voice, cedarwood essential oils are your best friends.

    I speak of them as plural because there are many cedarwoods and even ones that are junipers (to make life more confusing!), but they all have this quieting nature to their medicine. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    So, famously, Peppermint and Rosemary are not my friends. They are way too bossy for me. But they are both tremendously good for trapping your thoughts in an immersed tunnel.

    Peppermint is like a rudder on a ship, pointing you in the right direction down a calm refreshing waterway. 

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.


    She has a severe nature to her. Kind of "Sit down and be quiet, young woman" vibe from a stern but kind teacher.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. It can be unpredictable with high blood pressure, and I would avoid this if you have epilepsy or any delusory condition like schizophrenia or psychosis.

    Sweet Basil

    The bossiest of the bossy chicks. Like a female sergeant major in Afghanistan, she'll check your parachute and then shove you out of the plane. No wishy-washy excuses are accepted about "not feeling up to it." Sweet Basil demands you get out of your head and "Just do it!"

    She's one of my best friends in the world. I'd barely meet any deadlines without sweet Basil.

    Safety: Not suitable for use during the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

    How to Heal from Emotional Trauma with Essential Oils

    Ordinarily, the maximum dilution on most oils is 3%. If you feel delicate, I'd suggest going less. It's incredible how substantial a simple drop can be.

    Again, I wouldn't put citruses in the bath… they can be quite unpredictable on the skin, especially when the last thing you'd need is a rash!

    Massage is wonderful, aroma pendants, or even a little rollerball, cream, or lotion that you keep topping up.

    One of the secrets for dilution when exploring how to heal from emotional trauma is to say less is more, but use often.

    You might do one or two drops, but apply every four hours or so—lots of gentle check-ins and support.


    Be gentle with yourself and remember that this kind of work is known as Subtle aromatherapy. Certainly, we don't want huge oscillations between different emotions. Use it to create small and gentle shifts. This will create a new firm foundation for the future.

    Remember, the key secret to success in healing from emotional trauma is too little and often with your essential oils.

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