The meaning we make of things has a huge influence and power over us and then there are the meanings other influences may project or teach, such as the belief in some spiritual, new age philosophies that we ‘chose’ to be here and experience all we are experiencing for some ‘higher purpose”. I am not as big a fan of this point of view these days although I do believe we are all being presented with evolutionary challenges all the time and that the attitude we take to our trials and tribulations does make huge difference, but this is different to being told we ‘chose’ something painful as a way to learn. I just don’t believe that any more.
I have had the thought a lot lately that I did not choose to be born. My parents conceived me as an unplanned child later in life and I didnt chose to be born into a much older family where a lot was already going down before I arrived on the scene. Later in my life and through much inner exploration I have been able to be more objective about what was happening subjectively, internally and implicitly for me as a young baby and child born into this much older business oriented family. I was listening to an excellent programme on Tuesday on the difference between trauma memory and other memoires. Trauma that happens to us before age of 2 is not consciously remembered as our hippocampus has not been formed yet so is encoded implicitly and is only available through sensation not as thought. It is known too that trauma that occurs after the hippocampus is formed affects the size and influence of this part of our brain on us.
I am only minimally educated in my understanding but I remember reading in Peter Levine’s books Waking The Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice how inaccesible to thought such trauma is and how sensation focused therapy which helps us to bear with and relate to pscyho-biological symptoms (which can be both intense and frightening) is the best kind of therapy to help us with healing, integrating, self soothing and containment of trauma. Also since trauma creates fractures in sensation and experience once such body memories are made conscious they can then be integrated into a narrative which helps us to make sense.
The other thing much on my mind this morning was how much self blame is a part of having undergone trauma. And to be told we ‘chose’ something gives us the illusion of some kind of power or control when really we had neither at the time and often found ourselves totally overwhelmed and disempowered. This is why Complex PTSD therapist Pete Walker and trauma specialist Judith Herman remind us how important it is that we who have been traumatised deal with the inner and external criticism and blame that can be heaped on us and how important it is that we develop good boundaries and the ability to fight back if part of the way we responded to trauma was to collapse, dissociate or go numb, or fall into a pararlysis (playing dead so as to escape the threat). Writing the last reation reminds me of how a wounded animal naturally retreats after a wound to try and heal itself by licking the wound, this kind of ‘licking’ for humans may involve repetitive thoughts or rumination which we play over and over again but if too internalised may keep us trapped. And then to be told we ‘chose” it, just adds insult to injury.
At the same time there is something we trauma survivors do have power and control over, that is the choices me make as to how to respond to being instinct injured or damaged emotionally. It may take a lot of time to find any form of power or control or free choice if we remain identified as victims. The truth is we WERE victims at the time of trauma but we do not have to keep allowing ourselves to be revictimised over and over again by telling ourselves things like “I chose it”, or “I deserve it”, or “this was all for my higher good”. In time as Peter Levine explains trauma does give us a gift of recognising how important the spiritual dimension of experience is. If we loose touch with the power of our spirit for life, light, joy and hope, we are disempowered, once we gain access to this power we may find an inner strength and wisdom that was lacking before. Then we can say that trauma had a purpose but not one we chose, still one the world so sorely needs to learn about and from. We trauma victims who have in some way recovered can then become voices for what lies unspoken in our cells and biology and may even, in some way, been inherited from our ancestors who passed it on when they chose or happened to give birth to us.
The link to the programme on trauma and memory can be found here :