Why did I yell at them?
A guide to transforming YOUR Trauma
I want to share my experience and relationship with trauma, a loaded word that can get thrown around in all kinds of situations. I often heard the word trauma and thought it had to be derived from a horrible experience that ruined someones life. Not something that had happened to me of course...
In my opinion there tends to be a societal stigma around the word trauma. The dictionary defines trauma as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” (A little dramatic..?). As if it were reserved for people who had terrible lives, and 'we' must feel sorry for them, then look the other way, because for the rest of us... our lives are fine and we need to get on with things. Yet if we were to admit we had experienced some type of trauma ourselves, everyone is waiting for that BIG story... The word traumatised sets a tone that something or someone is wrong, broken, fragile, weak or shameful (the list could go on).
This is not to undermine people who have experienced severe trauma.
I feel inspired by this topic as there is a golden thread which can potentially lead to great inner healing and the experience of contentment and beauty within each one of us. Of course with a topic of this nature there are going to be contradictions and a need for balance, as with anything in the human experience. I have also seen the topic of trauma taken to the other extreme, where everything appears to be a huge process, as if life itself stops (this to me, comes from a lack of understanding and in a lot of cases spiritual ego – the over inflation with ones sense of struggle and self importance where the process takes priority over everything).
What does trauma look like then...? Amongst all that life throws at us, I believe it to be true that we ALL come from dysfunctional families (not matter what). Humans are dysfunctional. With this in mind, us humans are collecting all sorts of crap from the day we are born (or before). There is nothing wrong with collecting this crap (and it is no ones fault.. especially not your family's), yet it does need to be acknowledged and dealt with (which I will explore later). The experience of traumatic situations continue throughout our lives and tend to be especially bad in times of vulnerability such as personal loss, being bullied, wronged, ignored, disrespected, patronized etc. All types of abuse, including self harm, cause trauma which can be experienced either through your physical body, mental body or emotional body. As these scenarios build up over time they turn into trauma trigger points, which are quite conveniently stored in these bodies to be released at any unknown time.
Let me say here – NOone is broken.
In saying that, being human we all experience trauma, in fact more frequently than we may think. Obviously in varying degrees, yet everything adds up and starts to create some interesting and at times frustrating tendencies and reactions in our daily lives. All these little drops of trauma (our crap) start building up in our emotional, mental and physical bodies. The little drops start accumulating when we are children (thank you Freud), they continue to build up throughout our lives, although as we age these drops coagulate and it becomes a lot more challenging to shake them off.
Being a visual person I like to think of this build up as a pile of dirty dishes, and no one else is there to clean them for you. It gets messy, cluttered and well hard to live in. As time goes on the pile gets bigger, the dirt sticks and the motivation to even open the kitchen door starts to completely disappear! Most of us have a reference point to what this feels like in our daily lives – Now, picture this as your internal landscape... what are we taught to do? What tools are we taught by society to clean our internal dishes?
Image credit: http://www.bobobibi.com
As I have mentioned, trauma collects in our mental, emotional and physical bodies. It manifests and expresses itself in more ways than I will ever know. Trauma hurts, it can breed anger, sadness, guilt, shame, a feeling of overall disgust and even mass rejection (the list could go on). What is felt by the individual is then dealt with by that individual using the tools they have acquired over their lifetime of conditioning (by society, family, peers, school, work etc). Whether you had the 'perfect' upbringing or you came from horrible abuse is irrelevant. The felt experience is the same as trauma is a part of the human experience. This does not mean we *sigh* and say – 'thats just life; now get on with it!' What is that teaching us? Who is that helping?
For the sake of clarity I will refer to what I see as the four main emotional groups, which trauma can fall under – Anger, Sadness, Guilt and Shame. You may experience any one of these, or all of them. This can be the major tool to recognise that you are being triggered. Through awareness we find acceptance, through acceptance we have the opportunity to transform the emotion. I will refer to another four main groups here..
Emotion (dis-ease) - TRANSFORMS - Emotion (ease)
Anger – Strength
Sadness – Courage
Guilt – Acceptance
Shame - Love
One of the common threads I have noticed in my work lately is how much personal trauma can destroy the people around us – therefore looping back and ultimately hurting the individual (whether the interaction is big or small / someone we love or a complete stranger). Say for example, 'George' heads to the market to buy his fresh produce. He asks a stall holder how much the organic carrots are as he cant quite see the sign. The stall holder (after a 'stressful' day) snaps 'Are you stupid?! The price is right in front of you!' George retracts into himself for a moment before responding. He feels hurt and guilty for his mistake. His response will be based on his trigger point at that time. (anger, sadness, guilt or shame). The interaction between George and the stall holder is perceivably unpleasant for both parties. With both of them being triggered in one way or another. If the experience of the trigger is not seen or accepted it will resurface. Whether it be instantly, later that day, or next week they are likely to experience a further reaction of either anger, sadness, guilt or shame. George feels a sense of guilt over the interaction, in seeing this as a triggered feeling rather than a rational reaction he is able to release and transform the emotion. This is not to say don't have emotions, it is teaching us to be pure and present in our emotional states. Own the mistakes, the hurt, and work to transform them through the way you are with yourself and others (clean your dishes). Obviously situations will vary depending on circumstance and what triggers each individual.
Without an ounce of awareness to where this behavior may be coming from, being angry or sad for something that seemed so irrelevant or feeling completely guilty and shameful over what you have done (or who you are) can be a very self destructive space to be in and adds to that pile of dishes. Yet here is your opportunity to become aware of the emotion you are experiencing and ask yourself 'Is this who I am?' Or is it time I tend to some of those dishes? Accept there are dishes to be done, take a deep breath and notice the emotions as they pass through, there is always a deeper thread that allows you to see beyond the reaction you have just had.
Being happy is more aligned with contentment than an outward expression of happiness all the time. Being triggered can be an incredibly powerful process, as with acknowledgment you are allowing the emotion (traumatic experience) to in fact leave your body. There are no set tools for everyone and every situation is going to require different tools. Take time to work out what yours are.
Traditional Meditation is NOT for everyone.
Yes meditation is an amazing tool, when you are in a relatively good place yourself. What happens the rest of the time? Tools for managing the ups and downs of daily living will vary (from individual and throughout ones life). For example - high intensity training, deep breathing, ocean swims, screaming into a pillow, plunging your face into an ice bucket, yoga, running, watching Netflix etc. Find something that is the least destructive to your body, mind and soul. (CAUTION here is where 'addiction' can get its wings). Be real with what actually works for you and start there, start anywhere and over time your tools will refine. The most important aspect is having awareness to the reality that what you are feeling is a trigger from past collected trauma and it will pass. We are looking to keep the inner harmony alive and for you to access that deeper feeling of self love, contentment and understanding. Start to find gratitude for the experiences that are being offered, even through a traumatic situation there will be a point where you are able to see the profound teachings of this experience (again this is not to say what happens to you was 'meant to be', it is giving you the opportunity to release the hurt of trauma and come back to your natural state of ease). This is where we start transforming the emotions (re-wiring our mental and emotional bodies).
Transforming perceived negative emotions into positive ones will be a subtle, sensitive and deeply personal process, there are different ways of doing this some that will work for you and others not so much. (To be clear, emotions are not wrong or right and when I refer to positive and negative – it is merely a guide to help bring you from a state of dis-ease to a state of ease). Look at what the emotions create within you and how this can be felt in a different way (there are always two sides to every coin). For example recognise that in a state of pure anger this could be seen as a raw expression of strength. That deep sadness can be flipped into incredible courage, the fighting feeling of guilt could be settled into understanding and acceptance. The lowest feeling of shame could be softened into love and compassion. It takes patience and a desire to understand ones self, this process can be happening at any time, in any activity – look at yourself, your reactions, what upsets you, where you find peace and why. Start to merge, integrate and lead yourself back to a feeling of wholeness.
The reason I believe this can help is because once we recognise the reality of what being human is, we can equip ourselves with the tools to truly be the best versions of ourselves. Life is hard enough, no one is without challenges – understanding we all experience trauma to some degree gives us the freedom to see it and move through it with ease, as well as cultivating compassion in our hearts for the people around us. Bringing awareness into our lives to the past, present and future trauma that may take place, we are able to observe, express and move on with the great honor of living!