I hesitate to have my first article in a long while be one of such a heavy topic, and yet perhaps it’s fitting for what’s happening in the world today.
In the past, I’ve spoken and written about the idea that very few of us are immune to addiction. If we’re not addicted to hard substances, we’re addicted to screen time, binging/purging/starving, perfectionism, self-improvement, co-dependence, sugar/food, work, victimhood, pornography/sex, exercise, control, and more.
But why are we so addicted?
Addiction tends to fill a void, and that void is a gaping sense that we don’t belong. Yet this lack of belonging is often quite subtle. We might have lots of friends, stay plenty busy with activities surrounded by people, have a “successful” career where we’re appreciated, and do all the “right” things that are supposed to make us happy.
Yet we feel empty.
Something’s not aligned. We feel lost. We have no sense of deeper meaning. We wonder what it’s all for.
In my years of coaching, and my own life’s journey, I’ve come to see that while belonging is a critical element, the lack of which can lead one to find connection through addiction, there’s another element lurking below the surface that’s a deeper root of our malaise.
For years, I’ve underestimated the potent effects of trauma on the human psyche. I’ve bought into a limited definition of trauma, as so many of us do, which also limits the potential for proper healing. The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who’ve experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.
This is a very limiting list of “traumatic events.” The origin of the word trauma is from 1690s Greek, meaning “a wound, hurt, or defeat.” By the late 1800s, we have the definition as indicating a sense of “psychic wound or unpleasant experience causing abnormal stress.”
Yet our culture is conditioned to rest in the idea that trauma has to be “big.” It has to come from violence, or sexual assault, or a massive disaster.
Does the loss of a loved one not qualify as a traumatic event? What about the betrayal of a friend, or the defamation of one’s character? Is abandonment not a traumatic experience? Or being forced to grow up too soon? Predatory capitalism puts us in a state of distress regularly. Is that not also traumatic? Would watching a disturbing film or facing our inner demons also fit into the category of trauma?
I would argue that all of these and so many more are valid examples of trauma.
If we take the most general definition of trauma as being a wound or hurt, or a traumatic event as being “emotionally distressing or disturbing,” then it would be safe to say that every one of us has experienced trauma.
New York Times columnist David Brooks offered another indication of trauma saying, “Wherever there is trauma, there has been betrayal, an abuse of authority, a moral injury.”
Are we not living in a time rampant with betrayals, abuse of authority and moral injury?
These examples are not as specific, and perhaps not as violent as the examples of disaster, war, terrorism or rape listed by the American Psychiatric Association. In fact, they can be much more insidious. In many instances, betrayal, abuse of authority or moral injury are not realized until we’ve been subjected to them for a very long time.
These types of trauma inducers tend to prey upon the innocent, naive and overly trusting.
How many religious or spiritual organizations have betrayed, abused and maligned those who trusted them? How many corporations and financial institutions have used their positions of power to manipulate people into believing life would be better with their products and services? How many medical and healthcare institutions have focused on dollars more than healing? How many laws have been passed for the sake of special interests rather than the interests of the whole?
All of these are examples of the insidious trauma imposed upon trusting people longing to believe their interests are cared for, and longing to belong.
What can make this kind of subtle trauma even more disturbing is that one subjected to it can easily turn it back on themselves.
One might start thinking, “How stupid I was!” or “What’s wrong with me that I didn’t see this before?” Because of this, the issue is often never faced or talked about, and shame results. Shame is a feeling of not belonging, which brings us back to that longing to fill the empty void inside. Too many people are carrying on in silence, afraid to speak out about their pain.
Regardless of the type of trauma, be it overt and generally accepted as trauma according to conventional standards, or covert trauma that tends to be thought of as “not that big a deal as compared to some problems,” there is a wound. There is a hole within.
While we’re all impacted by trauma of some sort, how we meet and work with that trauma determines how it will affect us moving forward.
When one experiences trauma, it’s not uncommon for aspects of our being to become fragmented.
These fragmented parts are not in coherence with one another, and perhaps not even recognized. One part of us may be strong and able to seemingly withstand anything, knowing well how to survive and make due. Another part of us may be dying inside, wondering how we can deal with one more day. Some parts seem to have it all together, and other parts seem to be missing or elusive.
The wound or hole of trauma is there, often seeking reintegration of these aspects of ourselves that fragmented as a survival mechanism.
Reintegration doesn’t mean that we have to relive our traumatic experiences. Integration seeks to honor that these parts of ourselves exist and long for acknowledgment.
Fragmentation may have us struggling with various aspects of life, such as relationships, health, finances, etc., while doing perfectly well in others. Too often, we live life feeling there’s something wrong with us, when in reality, we’re simply in trauma response. When we begin to see this, we can honor these parts of ourselves, some of which we may not be easily faced, and compassionately invite them back in proper timing. This is a process. It doesn’t happen by simply deciding. It’s relationship and trust building over time. It’s a process of creating safe space and understanding, with self-compassion and courage.
This process often requires reflection and support, guiding us toward new perspectives that can open new possibilities.
This time of year can bring challenges to many. The darkness sets in, along with a stronger sense of the void we feel within. We might feel a stronger lack of belonging. We might feel more lonely.
Yet there’s magic in this time as well. This time also turns us inward to explore the depths of our being. The loneliness calls us to reconnect with the fragmented parts of ourselves that we’ve been missing. When we do this knowing that others are also turning inward and struggling with their own trauma, we can find solace in the knowing that this is part of the Hero/Heroine’s journey of every Soul.
There’s so much more that can be said about the nature of our pain, our healing, and our Soul’s journey to our True Self. For now, if you’re struggling with this journey, I invite you to remember that you’re not alone. I invite you to begin, even in the smallest of ways, to listen to the various parts of yourself. Start taking notice of them. What are they asking for? What feels missing to you? How might these parts be at odds with one another? Can you honor that these parts are all you, and what make you whole? Can the parts of you that feel stronger reassure the parts that feel weak?
This conversation around trauma, including trauma that we may be carrying in our DNA from past generations, has been a significant theme for me this year.
Not only have I been working with my clients around this concept, but I’ve also been working with my own traumas, coming to terms with the understanding that they are in fact traumas that I’m healing from. I’d like to share with you an inspired moment in which I share some of my story in a 5 minute Story Slam whose theme of the night was “Pitch.” It’s somewhat humorous, and yet also potently speaks to the challenges we can have with the various systems we trust and feel betrayed by.
Share your story. Speak your truth.
In doing so, you quickly learn you’re not alone. Persevere on the path, and know that you have all that you need within you to realize the beauty and wholeness of who you are.
If you’d like someone to accompany you on the journey, I would be honored to do so. Please reach out to me if you’d like one on one support.
If you’d like extra support during this holiday season to tap into your inner guidance, consider joining me and my Sacred Nights Community with the Sacred Nights of Winter Journal.
Your healing is within you. Trust that you can do this!