Understanding how trauma damages our world view

Levine 1

Trauma can make the world seem like a very hostile and threatening place.  If our life is full of experiences where we were not comforted, nor supported or understood in the midst of significant trauma (and much trauma results from this happening to us all the time and in many different ways when we are young), we end up existing in a painful place with our brain and nervous system severely overloaded and in fact changed fundamentally through trauma.

We loose a sense of basic trust in the world and in other human beings which makes it very hard for us to reach out and connect.  When we meet further misunderstanding and lack of empathy our trauma is compounded and we cannot heal.  In serious cases we become immobilised by trauma as one of the consequences of trauma is the response of freeze in which we “play dead”, hold our breath, keep small, split off (into dissociation states) or inhibit our own reaction (to ward off attack).  Alternatively we may get trapped in a “fight” response which leads to abrupt explosions of anger which are out of proportion (although perhaps re-triggered due to a flashback.)

Because traumatised individuals are experiencing (intense) threat signals, they project this inner turmoil outward and thus perceive the world as being responsible for their inner distress – and so remove themselves from both the real source of the problem and its potential solution.  This dynamic also wreaks havoc not only on the body but also on relationships.

Peter Levine

Without empathy shown to us by someone who truly understands our condition and can help us navigate its confusing terrain, we have a very difficult time in healing.  And as prominent trauma expert Peter Levine notes, trying to confront trauma directly often fails as the fear reflex is very strong and retriggering our trauma can just end up re-traumatising us further.

In addition trauma is not something that can be healed through the mind alone as most trauma is buried in the body in the form of sensations and chemical reactions which we must come to understand the power of, over our lives and work through the body to discharge and release.

In addition,  before we can even touch base with some of our most severe traumas we must establish a place of safety (with others) and within ourselves, which is not easy to do.  When our bodies and souls have been hurt so much it often feels too painful for us to live in a body  and so we dissociate and as long as we remain dissociated and don’t understand how and why we are we cannot re-negotiate our trauma.

Unsafe in bodies

Peter Levine’s work as outlined in his books Waking the Tiger and  In An Unspoken Voice involves touching base with painful sensations after having established an anchoring place of safety, either with an empathetic witness or within ourselves to which we can retreat when the pain and stress of body states becomes too much.

He recommends a technique by which we can pendulate between painful and pleasant sensations in our trauma work because entering our trauma alone and for long periods is just too much for us and can be re-traumatising.

Part of our healing also involves coming to the understanding that the world is not just a hostile and endlessly traumatising place that we experienced before.  Essential to this healing is the finding of at least one person who understands: an enlightened witness who mirrors back the truth to us but also provides a place of hope for the experience of safety and comfort when we are feeling re-triggered.

Today during my first radiotherapy treatment I experienced a feeling of safety due to way I was handled and the supports that I had worked to put in place by expressing to those concerned how my trauma had effected me, how it was being retriggered and due to be offered support both by a close friend and a social worker.  When things got uncomfortable and re-triggered I placed my attention on the music playing, on the feeling I held in mind of my dog’s soft fur, on the realisation of the kindness shown to be by the radiographer in the process of being set up for the treatment.

During the treatment I was able to see the healing role which the machines were trying to play in helping reduce and eliminate possible cancer cells, rather than see these machines as technological robots that were out to hurt me (which is my past experience of machinery).  This would not have been possible for me if I had not already done many years of work on my trauma, understanding it, as well as my fear and defensive reactions which in seeking to keep me safe from trauma, also stopped me from healing that trauma.

Today I also had a profound experience which may sound a bit “far out” and mystical to some.  As I was laying on the bench during the treatment I looked up to see a cross which had formed where part of the ceiling had been cut out right above me.  In the middle of this cross were three or four little red lights.  I had the thought which came into my mind.  “You are being healing by the sacred light of the heart of Jesus”  “although there is much pain in life there is also a profound amount of love”.

My treatment was soon over.  My friend and I went out for lunch and because she is a bit of a mystic herself when I told her about my experience of the Sacred Heart, she understood.

This afternoon I am aware of how much fear I lived in for all of those years following my trauma.  I am aware of how my traumatised world view, ended up bringing even more trauma into my life, it kept me frozen for so many years and blocked out healing.  I am aware of how important both self and other compassion has been to this healing process and how essential to the regaining of trust.

I am aware too that my healing has only happened due to the gifts of compassion, empathy and insight shown to me by those who understand the impact of trauma, who have been willing to stand beside me and hold my hand as I have confronted my breast cancer and as I have grieved many other traumas.  There are also those who have listened when I have confronted them and validated me when I have shared honestly about how I have been re-traumatised.

It is my belief that trauma does not need to be a life sentence.  It comes into our lives to teach us many things.  We heal by finding a place of safety within which we can find the strength to bear the pain of re-experiencing what hurt, not to keep that experience triggering over and over again, but through giving us the power to release its negative charge and find outside of it, those thing in life which nurture our souls, reconnect us with our authenticity and spirit, and restore within us a sense of the goodness of the world.

The second noble truth states that we must discover why we are suffering. We must cultivate the courage to look deeply, with clarity and courage, into our own suffering. We often hold the tacit assumption that all of our suffering stems from events in the past. But, whatever the initial seed of trauma, the deeper truth is that our suffering is more closely a result of how we deal with the effect these past events have on us in the present.

Peter Levine

Source : http://www.azquotes.com/quote/762865

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