Trauma is not one thing; it is a mass of definitions overlaid on the experiences- some acute, some chronic, many both- of real people, whether as individuals, groups, communities, or cultures. In thinking through that list, there is an important subtext: we are all individuals who are part of multiple groups, communities, and cultures, and thus any one of us may have any combination of acute, chronic, or complex traumas at any or all of these levels, and for more than one group, community, and culture all at the same time.
I invite you to sit with that for a moment, as you consider the responses to the current crisis you are seeing in different individuals, groups, communities, and cultures. Sit with the recognition that any one person has an entire personal, group, communal, and cultural history of which you may be only minimally aware; sit with the knowledge that you may be only minimally aware of aspects of your own history. Traumas, after all, may be intergenerational, played out through mechanisms as intimate as epigenetics and as impersonal (but is it really?) as the functioning of a court of law in a distant building in a distant city (or country!) you personally have never seen. And these traumas can affect anything about who you are, how you function, and the contexts you function in. I get it; I feel that tension, that immediate push-back rejection of anything that smacks of being somehow lesser or different because of these things. I am different; I have overcome. I am successful and capable and I have, by the gods, fucking healed that shit, ok? Don’t tell me what does and does not affect me. You don’t KNOW me. I feel it. And it is all true; and it is still nonetheless true that you have been changed by it. How not?
There are some common features to trauma and its sequelae; they affect us all, each in their own way. Sit with that for a moment, too. Everyone lives at a nexus of individual, group, community, and cultural experience, and the weight of history they, WE, each bear. Every one of us has certain of these outcomes affecting us, our parents, our spouse, our priest, our best friend. We all live in relationship with other people and groups and communities and cultures; thus, we all live in relationship with the traumas of ourselves and others. In my next post, you will find some information about some specific things we can do right now to build resilience in this current moment. For now, though, I invite you to stay in this place, with this idea that we all already have a history of trauma at some level, whether at a remove or in our immediate personal experience. If you are open to it, I invite you to try the gentle experiential practice below.
Join me, if you are comfortable, in just thinking with this idea of trauma as a nexus, as something that we each exit in relationship to in regards to our own and others’ individual, group, community, and cultural histories and experiences. I invite you to explore with yourself:
Where in your body do you find tension, resistance to the very idea of this? When you notice those places, I invite you to notice, too, what thoughts and beliefs about yourself and others come up with them.
Where in your body do you sense neutrality? What do those places say to you? I invite you to listen for the messages they offer, the insight.
Where in your body do you sense relief, letting go, dropping a weight, acceptance, willingness? I invite you to hear what these places say to you about yourself and your beliefs and your experiences. I invite you to sense, gently, how it feels to lean into that relief, acceptance, willingness.
I do not intend to tell you what those thoughts and beliefs are or should be. I can tell you that it helps to notice these things with a sense of gentle curiosity- not the curiosity of child pulling the wings off a fly, all clinical distant observation. Instead, I invite you to listen to yourself as you would to a friend or a lover after asking how their day went or what they need, open to whatever is said and to providing the support they may request- cheering or crying or holding them silently. If you sense a place that it hurts too much to look at, to sit with, then don’t. There is neither failure nor shame, but true courage, in choosing not to retraumatize ourselves. If you find that you struggle to engage with compassion for yourself, with a genuine openness and curiosity, a non-judgmental and loving acceptance of what you may find, then perhaps try thinking about it in relation to your best friend or your beloved or a stranger at the bus stop. We must sometimes slide our way into compassion, especially self-compassion, sideways, through opening our compassion to another, and only gently working our way to our own experience and being. And that’s okay, too.