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Reframing trauma

If trauma is the fact that you were abused as a child, you’ll never be a person who wasn’t abused as a child. If that was the trauma of what happened to you, guess what? It’ll never unhappen. But if trauma is what happened inside you — the wound that you sustained, the meaning you made of it, the way you then came to believe certain things about yourself, or the world or other people, and if trauma was that disconnection from your authentic self — good news, that can be restored at any moment. As long as we see it that way, it’s a wound that can be healed. If we see it as a bunch of things that happened, that will never unhappen.

Source - Gabor Maté, Definition of trauma: Trauma Is Not What Happens to You, It Is What Happens Inside You. From Dr. Gabor Maté’s interview, posted on YouTube by Skollorg - Jul 23, 2021.

Nobody can ‘treat’ a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event. What has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.

Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself.

The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind — of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves:

  • Finding a way to become calm and focused.

  • Learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations that remind you of the past.

  • Finding a way to be fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you.

  • Not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.

The only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves. The first step is to allow your mind to focus on your sensations and notice how, in contrast to the timeless, ever-present experience of trauma, physical sensations are transient and respond to slight shifts in body position, changes in breathing, and shifts in thinking. Once you pay attention to your physical sensations, the next step is to label them. Learning to observe and tolerate your physical reactions is a prerequisite for safely revisiting the past. A further step is to observe the interplay between your thoughts and your physical sensations. How are particular thoughts registered in your body?

Becoming aware of how your body organizes particular emotions or memories opens up the possibility of releasing sensations and impulses you once blocked in order to survive.

Our attachment bonds are our greatest protection against threat. Traumatized human beings recover in the context of relationships. The role of these relationships is to provide physical and emotional safety, including safety from feeling shamed, admonished, or judged, and to bolster the courage to tolerate, face, and process the reality of what has happened. You have to find someone you can trust enough to accompany you, someone who can safely hold your feelings and help you listen to the painful messages from your emotional brain. You need a guide who is not afraid of your terror and who can contain your darkest rage, someone who can safeguard the wholeness of you while you explore the fragmented experiences that you had to keep secret from yourself for so long.

Source - Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Healing From Trauma: Owning Your Self).

Art: David De Biasio, 'Nothing is Forever'

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