Tag Archives: trauma

Healing the Brokenness

Tuesday of last week was one of my favorite days of the year: Global Oneness Day. Every year, October 24th is a day dedicated to celebrating the underlying reality of Oneness. Humanity’s Team, the non-profit that started Global Oneness Day, hosts an all-day online summit where they gather thought leaders in various panels to talk about not only waking up to our interconnectedness, but also ways to more fully live and embody this truth. As we embody Oneness, we can more effectively come together to implement the solutions needed to avoid global calamity and create a world of health, well-being, and flourishing for all.

This year’s panels were all fabulous, but one stood out to me because it connected so many dots between the healing work I do with individuals and the healing work of societies and the world. One woman in particular impacted me the most, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, who was on the “Restoring Real Community” panel. She is from South Africa, and the panel was discussing the concept of uBuntu, which can best be defined with this statement: “I Am Because You Are.” The concept became globally recognized after Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu explained in 2008 that uBuntu means that a person cannot not exist in isolation, and that this is the essence of being human.

This is a beautiful concept. Unfortunately, uBuntu often remains just a concept and not fully lived or embodied for people who have been traumatized. Dr. Ramphele spoke of this in relation to transgenerational trauma, but what she shares here applies to any kind of trauma:

When people have been traumatized in a transgenerational sense, their brain function alters, and it requires healing. That healing is not [only] about psychiatry or taking drugs. It’s about reconnecting the brokenness. Without that reconnection, human beings find it extremely difficult to have empathy, which is at the heart of uBuntu: “I Am Because You Are.” You don’t only know uBuntu — you feel it. And if there is brokenness, you lose your capacity to feel itHumiliation is the most traumatic bearer of pain. If we don’t heal that humiliation, then we have people in society who may speak the language of uBuntu, but they don’t feel. So there is a big gap between what people say they are and what they actually demonstrate.

uBuntu compels us to forgive — not because we feel sorry for the wrong-doer, but because without forgiveness, the brokenness will remain. To the extent that the person who humiliated me continues in that practice, that person is further damaged. I need to sit down with the person and hold hands — physically or spiritually — and say, “I forgive you, because you and I need to reconnect.”

That is why we do the work of healing trauma. She says it so beautifully and so poignantly that there is almost nothing more to say. Trauma, whether transgenerational or not, dramatically affects our capacity to be in healthy relationship. It affects our ability to feel connected both to ourselves and to others. To say we are interconnected is all well and good, but if we cannot feel it at an embodied level, the concept alone is almost completely useless. Needless to say, societies are built upon relationships. The health of a society is built upon the health of the relationships between the members of that society. Trauma happens in relationship, and it must be healed in relationship.

Dr. Ramphele speaks of forgiveness as the means of healing trauma. I have found in my own journey that forgiveness is key, but it is not all that is required. Healing the brokenness also requires a certain kind of grounded, compassionate support from others, a willingness on our part to trust and accept that support, and the slow work of building our capacity to be fully present with our experiences in the here and now. Compassionate presence is what allows for integration and healing of the brokenness caused by trauma.

I am grateful for people like Dr. Ramphele who are so eloquently and beautifully sharing the message of what it takes to embody Oneness rather than simply know it as an intellectual concept. We must heal the brokenness inside and in our relationships to truly live uBuntu.

My prayer is that we all have the courage to turn toward the parts of ourselves that have been hurt and embrace them with loving presence, so that we may know, embody, and feel the truth of our deep and unbreakable connection. We can do it if we do it together.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Lately, I’ve taken a tumble down the rabbit hole of trauma and trauma therapy. To say I’ve been humbled is a bit of an understatement. It has been an eye-opening process to see myself in the words and the stories I’ve been reading. I mostly don’t remember my childhood. The impact of trauma in my life has been pervasive and far reaching. Honestly, though, I would have denied it only a few years ago. I would have said I’ve never experienced trauma. I would have said that the amnesia, and the depression, and the rage, and the way my body shuts down have nothing to do with trauma. I would have said, “I’m lucky,” and I am, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never experienced trauma. In fact, now I would venture to say almost all of us have.

Just yesterday a new meme started going around Facebook: “Me too.” People were putting it on their walls to signify they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein. If we asked the same question about trauma, I’m guessing pretty much anyone who is honest would say, “Me too.”

I’m going to write a lot more about trauma in the coming months. But for now, I will say this: We can heal. I’ve been healing even being in some level of denial and ignorance about how trauma has impacted me. Our bodies, hearts, and minds want to heal. Our whole being wants to come back into harmony and equilibrium. As I practice presence — whether through meditation, heart-centered practices, feeling energy and creative forces, or tracking my body sensations — the energy held in my system around trauma inevitably arises. I don’t have to make it happen. I don’t have to dredge up painful memories. That energy is patiently waiting for the right opportunity — the right conditions — to begin the process of healing. It wants to be met in a new way. It wants to be digested, to resolve, and to let go.

I’ve come to trust this process. I’ve come to see that trauma begins to digest in the arms of compassionate presence. With trauma, our bodies and minds live in the past, though we don’t often realize it. But we can learn to trust the present moment. We can learn to trust our bodies, even when we feel like they have betrayed us in the most horrific ways. We can even learn to trust other people. We can heal together.

Me too.

Turning Towards

A healthy human being is characterized by a wider and wider capacity to experience [with presence] emotion and blends of emotion.” ~Dr. Keith Witt, Integral Psychologist

This assertion from Dr. Witt may sound simple, but I believe it to be extremely profound in its implications. In fact, I think it is key to understanding truly transformational healing and how it occurs. Dr. Witt and Jeff Salzman discuss this topic in Jeff’s Daily Evolver podcast episode entitled, “Transforming Trauma Into Power.” (I highly recommend listening to it in its entirety.)

What does it mean to have a wider and wider capacity to experience and be present with emotion? What is so challenging about it? And why is this capacity so essential for transformational healing?

Having the capacity to be present with our emotions means we have cultivated the ability to turn towards our unwanted feelings, pain, and other undesired material, as opposed to turning away through denial, distraction, or dissociation. One of the reasons this is so difficult is it goes against our most basic survival and instinctual drives, such as our ability to dissociate when experiencing a traumatic event. If we have used a response such as dissociation in the past and it worked to get us through a traumatic situation, our system will remember this success and use dissociation over and over again whenever it perceives danger (real or not). And this response will happen automatically and often unconsciously. That is, most of us are not even aware when we are dissociating.

Another reason it is difficult for us to turn towards our pain is we are often taught that certain emotions are bad and others are good. When we judge our emotions (and therefore ourselves) in this way, we tend to suppress those emotions which we have labeled as wrong. We do this in a variety of ways. We might dissociate (as already discussed above), go into denial, or use distraction (food, TV, drugs, alcohol, shopping, etc.). We might also shame ourselves in an attempt to control our feelings.

Why is it important to build the capacity to turn towards our pain? When we suppress our emotions or are otherwise unable to be present with our painful experiences, symptoms will eventually arise such as anxiety, panic attacks, depression, psychosis, physical & immune system ailments, and in cases of extreme trauma, PTSD symptoms. The way to truly heal is to turn toward our pain and be present with the associated emotions and sensations. If we are able to meet our pain with compassionate understanding and radical acceptance, the energy of the held trauma naturally begins to metabolize, integrate, and heal.

One way to be present with our painful experiences is through what is called resourcing. This is a way of holding a resourced or healthy, powerful feeling in the body simultaneously with a challenging feeling in the body. Holding the two together in this way allows for integration and healing. Dr. Witt describes a simple practice in the podcast (at around the 36-minute mark) which you can try today that utilizes this principle.

I love what Jeff Salzman said when he describes this process for himself: “Whenever I find myself in a depression or anxiety or an anger vortex, I say, ‘This is good news! Here I have this ball of energy, and I have the opportunity to actually turn towards it and move into it.'” It is that willingness and that capacity to “turn towards” that results in growth and healing. It’s not just that you metabolize the experience and now it’s no longer a “block” or no longer causing symptoms. It’s that you actually heal with a big “H,” meaning you grow and you evolve. And that, I believe, is an important part of what life is all about.

Blessings,
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Depression/Bipolar Part 1 – Why Traditional Western Therapies Weren’t Enough for Me

You might think from the title that this post will be yet another rant from one of those woo-woo types who wants to rid the world of the evils of western medicine, particularly in regard to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar.  It’s true, my husband recently declared that I am officially now “one of those woo-woo people.”  Ah, well.  Even if I have crossed over into woo-woo land, I still like to think I can… well, think.  And the truth is that I have seen medications and good counseling save far too many lives to discount these treatments so easily.  I have one friend in particular who says that when she found the right medication to treat her mood disorder, she finally felt like she could be more of who she really is and at long last knew what it felt like to truly live.  Still, in my particular experience with depression (or bipolar II, as it was diagnosed by one psychiatrist), I found that medications and psychological talk therapy were not enough.  What does “not enough” mean?  Well, these treatments did help me to survive because they gave me enough of a boost to refrain from committing suicide (a real plus!).  But the truth is, I still felt directionless, hopeless, and without passion or vitality.  I could not see the beauty around me.  I did not feel gratitude for my life nor see a greater purpose.  I did not feel true joy, love, or inner peace.  I was surviving, but not thriving.  And so I knew I had to find another approach (in addition to all I was already doing) if I ever wanted my life to be about more than always struggling to keep my head just above the water so as not to drown.

Some of you might also be wondering why medications and talk therapy haven’t been enough for you.  Perhaps you might still have a glimmer of hope that there must be some way for you, too, to begin to thrive, not just survive.  In this post (Part 1 of 2), I’d like to share some of the reasons the typical western approach to treating mood disorders (diagnose, medicate, and support with psychological therapy) wasn’t the cure-all I’d hoped it would be for me.  In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll talk about what did work for me and why.

1.  Fight, Fight, Fight!!  Wait, who am I fighting again?  For me, a big component of my depression was self hate.  I suppose there are some people who are depressed and also love themselves unconditionally, but I would venture to say that would be a rare person.  Usually, there is some component of self loathing, even if it is just because we hate ourselves for not being able to just be happy already.  The way I was taught in therapy and support groups was to look at my depression as a disease, as something somehow separate from me which I had to battle and eliminate.  After all, if mood disorders are diseases like cancer, then we have to fight them!  That’s what we do to survive — fight and destroy!  But for me, seeing my depression as something to battle ended up backfiring.  This was because of that pesky self-hate component to my depression.  It turns out that “my depression” and “me” weren’t actually all that easy to separate.  In the end, all I succeeded in doing was beating myself into a bloody pulp (emotionally speaking).  You see, it turned out the battle I was fighting was with myself, not with some entity called “depression” lurking within me.  The truth is there was no such entity.  There was only me, a person experiencing depression.  All I was doing was heaping another dose of self hate on top of the large, steaming pile I’d already created.  This was one case where I had to stop fighting to win the battle.

2.  I’m complicated, thank you very much.  Seeing depression and other mood disorders as diseases also has another effect:  categorization.  The doctor needs to label your disease (give you a diagnosis) in order to prescribe the correct medications and provide the right kind of counseling to treat the disease.  I must say, I despised this process.  I did not want to be labeled.  Some part of me screamed inside that I am a unique individual, that what has gotten me to this point in my life is complicated and not so easily analyzable and medicated away.   I found the idea of being put into some sort of box called “depression” or “bipolar II” (as if that explains everything and can now be managed appropriately) to be wholly inadequate.  I am not a puzzle to be solved.  Where was the recognition of me, a real, live, complicated person?  This kind of recognition was missing in this whole process, and it turned out it was critical for my recovery.

3.  Medicate my troubles away. Not so much.  I want to emphasize again that medications are absolutely critical for some people.  Sometimes it comes down to life or death, literally.  My intent here is to share my experience, not convince anyone to take or not take medication.  With that said, I have found that for me, at least right now, medications just aren’t the answer.  Part of the issue, I admit, is that I have a real problem with the fact that we just don’t know much about what these things are doing to us.  As I said, we’re complicated.  These drugs do much more to us than help treat our mood disorders (as is evidenced by the numerous so-called side effects, which are actually just effects, of these medications).  But even more importantly, when I finally found the supposedly “right” drug combination according to my psychiatrist (after many horrendous wrong combinations), the effect was a numbing of my feelings.  I could not feel the lows anymore, but I also could not feel the joys.  To me, this wasn’t living.  I admit I could have tried more combinations.  But there came a point for me when I said to myself, “This isn’t worth it.  I need to do this another way.”  I knew deep inside this wasn’t the right path for me.

4.  Analyze, Analyze, Analyze!!  Wait, I’m dizzy.  Through approaches such as talk therapy, self-help & spiritual books, and personal growth seminars, I began to make all sorts of amazing discoveries about my underlying (and previously unconscious) belief systems.  I discovered what they were, where they came from, and why and how they contributed to my depression and every other aspect of my life.  This was transformative and really the beginning of finding my way back to the land of the living.  After all, awareness brings with it the opportunity for change.  But then I fell into what I lovingly refer to as the “self-help trap.”  (I must admit I still stumble into this trap more often than I’d like.)  Here’s how it goes:  1) I see a belief system in myself like “I’m not worthy” affecting my behavior and running my life.  2) I understand where it came from and that it “no longer serves me,” as all the self-help gurus so helpfully point out to me.  3) I nonetheless still behave/feel the same way, regardless of this awareness.  I don’t know why.  It’s stupid (I think).   4) I become disgusted with myself for behaving/feeling the same way yet again.  5) I beat myself into a bloody emotional pulp for doing the same damn thing over and over again.  6)  I feel depressed because I’ve just beat myself up AND I’m a self-help failure.  And down the rabbit hole I go.  This obviously doesn’t work for me.  I had to stop analyzing myself into a hole.

So where did all of this leave me?  Alive, but barely.  I certainly wouldn’t describe my state of being as truly living.  But hope springs eternal (at least on my good days)!  I thought there surely must be another approach that would work for me.  I couldn’t possibly be the only one thrashing about aimlessly in the self-help rabbit hole.  In my next post (Depression/Bipolar Part 2 – What’s Working for Me), I’ll delve into what actually did work for me.  Who knows?  Maybe it will work for you, too.  Stay tuned.

Aloha,

Penny