So I was in a Meeting the other day, trying to de-stress and find resources for a background level of anxiety, and the topic was Judgement. It got me thinking, as much of the sharing was around judgement, as in judging others. However, what hit me was the relationship between How we judge and what sort of reference material our minds have for making those judgements. Judgement is neither good nor bad – it’s how we’re designed – to make choices between this or that. We filter things through our prior experience and our intellect. Everything we observe, with all our senses, is filtered by our experiences. We can think of this like cruise control in a car, or autopilot in a plane. How this matters is that if we have a history of trauma we will tend to filter our judgements using that trauma history, and it colors our perceptions skewing our decisions one way or another – frequently Not accurately. It’s challenging for us to shift this, but necessary, so that we can perceive things through our present awareness and THEN decide whether This Thing is something we want in our lives. Interested?
It’s important to remember that our Judgements of present life situations can be skewed in either direction by trauma. We may look at a relationship, for example, and when it reminds us of a painful relationship in our past, we may run the other way without giving This situation a chance. We may also do the exact opposite, seeing something familiar in the current situation and even though the original situation was very painful, we gravitate toward This one – Because It Feels Familiar. Our ability to discern the truth about life situations in This Moment is colored by past experience. It’s as though we are viewing something through a veil that subtly, or not so subtly changes our perception of the event. We, as all humans do, reference the Past to determine how we’ll react or respond Now, but our histories do not accurately inform our current decisions. The philosophy of yoga talks about this. These past events that lodge in our brains and direct our current reactions are called Samskaras. They are described as “grooves in the brain” that take us down these twisty, turny but familiar roads of response, keeping us from discerning This situation as unique.
Today modern science explains that our minds have a negative bias, created by the amygdala, as a sort of shorthand, for the purpose of keeping us safe. If something was painful in our past, we are much more likely to remember this negative, than we will something pleasant. Because we are remembering something negative that we associate with the present situation, we are quicker to judge, reacting instinctually to the present.
This is great when we’re driving and a car beside us starts to veer into our lane. Our instinctual response is to step quickly and decisively on the brake. However, if you are a complex trauma survivor, things become more complicated.
Complex trauma is created from life situations that are negative and happen over and over and over again, sometimes multiple times in a day, sometimes several times a week, often for years. These events often start in childhood and often involve family members. Because as children, we rely on our families to keep us safe, even though certain situations occur over and over, and even though we may be very afraid during them, we also become acclimated to these negative situations. In this case, because we are incapable of Actually making changes to the unsafe conditions around us, our ability to perceive threat is numbed out. We Need these people and we can’t change their behavior. So, we unconsciously change what we can – our perception and reactions to these negative situations.
We ‘Numb Out.’
Fortunately or unfortunately, numbing out our bodies and minds does work. Sort of. It keeps us from being aware that the situation is dangerous, that we are not protected, not actually safe. If this didn’t happen we might not have survived. But this numbing doesn’t go away when we become adults, which is how so many of us with violence and dysfunction in our pasts, continue to gravitate to these same situations in the present. In this case, the Samskara is misleading. We believe, because this situation is familiar, and it doesn’t trigger fight or flight (because we can’t feel it, remember?) that it’s ok. That we can “fix this” that they really Do love us, etc. Example: As children we needed to believe that our drunken, abusive parent loved us, or how could we survive? We are no longer those small children, but those memories have long lives.
It requires conscious awareness and effort to change these patterns of reaction, and to recognize, acknowledge and accept both the reality of what we experienced and the part of us that is still trying to keep us safe – the child who needs to be loved unconditionally. Our work becomes re-parenting ourselves and keeping our focus in the present moment so that we no longer look to the Samskaras (I think of this as autopilot for the mind) that move us toward or away from situations and people without our conscious and focused attention. If you are interested in learning more about Samskaras, and about how we can heal using yoga therapy and yoga informed trauma coaching – breath practices, movement, meditation and targeted practices both ancient and new, please click this link to my website and Contact Me for an appointment by phone or online using Zoom. I look forward to working with you.
With Gratitude! ,
IAYT certified YogaTherapist and Trauma Recovery Coach