Updated: Jul 21, 2021
We’re all traumatized. There are various degrees of severity and different levels of awareness, but traumatized we are. No one gets away unscathed… it’s so human. Admitting this doesn’t make you weak or a victim. Trust me, I’m an eternal-only-slightly-annoying optimist who’s as averse to pain as you. But admitting it IS the only way healing is available, which means the trauma is acknowledged, faced, healed, and released. In other words, we are freed from it and the lingering effects still influencing our lives.
How do I know you’re traumatized? Because there are ways you are reactive in your life that are habitual and unconscious. And/or there are aspects of your life that feel stuck and repetitive. And/or there are ways you hide from intimacy while simultaneously craving it. And/or there are aspects of your life that lack fulfillment no matter how much you have perfected them. And/or there are ways you have settled for control in the seeming absence of love.
Why does this matter? These traumas were essentially unresolved painful experiences still alive in you today as if they happened, well, just today. And as long as they stay unresolved, they will continue to hold you back while you are trying your damnedest to soar.
Our definition of trauma is going through a major revision as our species becomes more emotionally intelligent. Trauma was once narrowly understood to describe a profoundly tragic event that negatively impacted people and their lives. Unaddressed, these often make people more susceptible to illness, anxiety, mood disorders, behavioral challenges, etc.… This is often the focus of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. What is being brought to light more and more are the “little” traumas we have all endured in being unconscious humans raised by other unconscious humans.
These “little” traumas are essentially painful moments we didn’t know how to deal with. In other words, we felt bad and didn’t have the resources to help ourselves feel better. It could be as simple as the moment your Mama looked away when you wanted her attention (rejection). Or the angry tone in your Papa’s voice you assumed you caused (insecurity, fear). Or a divorce where a parent left the house or the state (abandonment). It could have been a single moment or a series of infractions that added up. In any case, we were hurting, and for whatever reason, our source of comfort (our primary caregiver) was unavailable or, worse, the cause of our pain.
Some of you will read these words and get irritated and argumentative…
“I had a great childhood! Don’t project your Debbie-Downer crap on to me!”
And others will feel so seen and understood…
“Yes! OMG! You see me! My parents really hurt me! I’m not sure I can ever forgive them! But talking about it seems to make me feel better, so I do… a lot.”
Whether you’re irritated or relieved about the news that we are all traumatized, I’ve got some good stuff for you in a series of articles over the next couple of months. I offer this to you because I love you and want the highest good for you. When our wounds are triggered, we become tense and reactive, which prevents us from experiencing true happiness, connection, and fulfillment. Going through the pain (not denying or getting stuck in it) is a necessary journey in our evolution… individually and collectively.
Here is a brief summary of the process of healing our everyday run-of-the-mill childhood traumas:
Step 1: Acknowledging our pain/ wounding.
This is essential. Otherwise, the rest of the process won’t make sense. I’ll spend more time here in the first article trying to convince you or validate you.
Step 2: Taking 100% Responsibility.
This is not the same as self-blame. See more about this topic in an earlier post: Self-Blame vs. Self-Responsibility. In taking 100% responsibility, we are not exactly saying we caused the pain, not at first anyway. Rather we are taking 100% responsibility for healing it now. This one will be for those of you who excel in Step One. In fact, you might have made a comfortable home there, but the pain isn’t getting any better.
Step 3: Turning toward ourselves.
Our wounds were caused in our primary relationships and, therefore, will be triggered in our primary relationships. Because of this, it is easy to try to fix our relationships or the other person rather than heal ourselves. Imagine a relationship where both people have a massive gash that needs tending. Now imagine each of them struggling to take care of the other’s festering lesion and ignoring their own (we often call this love). While this is happening, each of them is fighting and resisting the other’s attempts to control them; I mean “love” them. Neither of the wounds actually gets tended to, so both people get sick and die. Okay, so maybe they don’t die, but the relationship likely will.
Now imagine a relationship with two wounded people, each taking loving care of themselves while giving the other the spaciousness and freedom to do the same. In this case, the wounds actually heal. The people survive; in fact, they thrive and skip off through a field of dandelions holding hands. This is a relationship rooted in wholeness. Can you imagine a world filled with whole relationships? Ahh, what a wonderful world this could be! While it is so human to have been traumatized, it is also within our capacity to be kick-ass caretakers to ourselves. It is learnable… but rarely taught, which brings us to Step 4.
Step 4: Tenderly sit with our sadness, grief, and powerlessness.
We either avoid pain at all costs or wallow in it as the excuse for being stuck. Unfortunately, lovingly witnessing pain without getting caught up in it is not a skill most of us have developed, but we can.
To sit with pain means to witness it with no judgment, no fixing, no rejecting, no doing. This can feel counter-intuitive because, typically, pain is a call to action. However, without first sitting with the pain, we often reactively use ineffective relief strategies that simultaneously guard the source of the pain against actually healing. As a result, the source of the pain lives on, and so, the cycle continues. But it doesn’t have to…
Step 5: Challenge our core beliefs.
As humans, we are meaning makers. This means we assign intention, purpose, and significance to what we experience. The meanings we came up with when we were wee babes are called our core beliefs. Because we never had all of the facts, we generally just made it all up according to our core needs to feel like we matter and can influence our world.
We must gently guide our wounded self to examine its core beliefs and help update them with the Truth. This can take time and lots of repetition. It can also be excruciating. My first reaction still can be self-judgment and shame when I think of the things I’ve said and done or not said and done because I held a belief that was a lie. Ouch! This is where the next step comes in…
Step 6: Forgive ourselves.
We always do the best we can with what we know at the time. Once we know better, we can do better. Knowing happens at many levels. In fact, simply leaning on intellectual knowledge can hinder knowing something at a cellular level. That’s why it’s easy to keep repeating behavior you “know” is not working.
Forgiving ourselves is not an intellectual process but rather a soul-level transformative practice. We essentially forgive ourselves for holding the past versions of ourselves accountable to what we “know” now and lovingly accept ourselves as we were then.
Step 7: Repeat Steps 1-6 as often as necessary.
It took a moment or series of moments to create our core beliefs and a lifetime of reinforcing them. Patience and repetition will be required to transform them. There may be layers to our pain or a gradual awakening, but we prove our love and assert that we matter every time we take ourselves through it.
This 7-step process is an inner journey whereby we become the loving presence we crave.
I have known about these steps for years but resented the notion that I had to do it for myself. This was a stall, especially in Step 2, that kept me longing for something in my relationships that I was unwilling to give myself. This caused me to be needy in most of my relationships. However, once I grieved the fantasy that it would come from outside myself, I have been more alive, empowered, and open to life.
It’s not that I have arrived at some magical enlightened place. I just now have the inner resources to love myself through the pain when it surfaces. Sometimes I’m grace-filled and rooted in my consistent practice; other times, I still feel needy and resentful. It’s a default of mine that I may face for a lifetime. In either case, I’m here for the ride and growing in my capacity and confidence to navigate my way through it. May the rest of this series support you in navigating your own wild ride.