So, as you may know, Childhood Trauma Coaching is my latest brainchild. It’s interesting, as I’ve tried for years to “get it together” with a group for Substance Use Disorder (addiction) and Yoga. It just somehow didn’t feel like an authentic fit for me because, while I AM a yoga therapist who works with people with use disorders. I am not a person in recovery from use disorders. Needless to say, if I didn’t feel like I fit, I also wasn’t exactly successful with it either.
I’m a family member, and I identify as a family member in recovery. But it just didn’t feel TO ME like I belonged there, telling people how to get better from something I don’t really have firsthand experience with.
I’m incredibly grateful for the journey, because it’s brought me to my truth. It’s not that Everybody Did it To Me, it’s that who I was from childhood, and how I showed up, brought me into The Frequency of Trauma (Thank you Tommy Rosen, for your very insightful talks about The Frequency of Addiction), along with many others who share the same issue as I do, regardless of how we manifest it – Trauma.
I am of the belief that EVERYONE who has a use disorder has trauma in their background. That doesn’t mean that everyone with trauma has a use disorder. We each deal with our demons in our own way. Maybe one person isolates. Another person shops too much. Someone else gambles. Yet another person tries to Fix other people, whether those people want fixing or not. Our lack of comfort in our own skin and the NEED to look outside ourselves for something to make us feel
normal IS the identifying behavior.
Yes, I still go to the meetings that helped me 24+ years ago, because I haven’t outgrown them. I’m way better than I was, but I am still me, with tendencies that, left unchecked, will send me on the downward spiral that leads to anxiety, depression, isolation and despair. I still need to remember to pick up the tools that have helped me to heal or I risk creating new wounds in both myself, and in others. The root of it all, though, is the trauma. I believe that Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. C-PTSD, is an epidemic in our society.
If you or someone you know fits this profile, there IS help and hope. Yes, I work with trauma survivors as a yoga therapist and coach. I started the website Treating Trauma with Yoga and the private Facebook Group of the same name, to help others find useful tools for relief from the shame, the denial, the overwhelming isolation and sadness that accompanies those of us who walk this road.
But, I’m not the only one out there working with trauma survivors. More and more, this issue is starting to be addressed. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk started a wave or awareness with his book, The Body Keeps the Score. I know it opened up my eyes. The Crappy Childhood Fairy ( I LOVE that name!) is on Facebook and on YouTube, where Anna Runkle offers Her solutions to the problems of living with and healing from C-PTSD. Lisa Danylchuk uses yoga as well, to help
people with PTSD and C-PTSD on YouTube. Her website is Y4T, or www.yogafortrauma.com I’m sure there are more that I don’t yet know. But I feel a kinship with everyone who has this history and particularly with those who found it necessary to their OWN healing path to speak out, be transparent and talk about the realities of trauma and the ways we’ve found to heal and help.
If you’re new to this idea, I recommend going to the website www.AcesTooHigh.com for more information and resources. And, if you want to talk, if I can be of service, please let me know.
Meditation, Not Medication
I was writing a Facebook post when I realize I had mistyped and that my spellcheck had autocorrected my mistype into medication and not meditation. My initial response was to curse spellcheck as usual, but then it hit me how often people USE medication instead of meditation. I had been procrastinating on writing this post about meditation, so perhaps the universe was giving me a message?
Step 11, in the Steps for all 12 Step programs, says: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him…” Yet many people only work the prayer part of this step. Many say they’ve tried to meditate but can’t focus. Others see a religious overtone to the idea of meditation. Still others ﬁnd the idea sort of scary, as though it’s some sort of magical ceremony and they might be turned into something unrecognizable as a result (Yes, I’m kidding… Sort of.)
We need to Stop Doing What Isn’t Working
Whatever the excuses we use to avoid getting quiet with ourselves, the bottom line is this: we live in a stress-ﬁlled, sensory-overloaded society. Our minds and emotions, as well as our physical well-being require some downtime. Time NOT spent worrying, arguing, stressing, ﬁghting trafﬁc, meeting deadlines or connecting to the Internet or our TV sets. The pharmaceutical answer is anti-anxiety meds, antidepressants and pain management prescriptions, and in our hectic world we crave the one stop, quick ﬁx, thinking that we can just go back and continue to do what we’ve been doing once our minds, emotions and bodies are numbed out enough to stop protesting. The problem is the mind and body are complaining for a reason – they’re trying to tell us something – “NO!!” (It’s that two letter word many of us seem to have so much difﬁculty with in all areas of our lives). And for those of us prone to overusing substances there’s an even bigger reason to avoid the so called ‘easy way’ – the risk of over-using pills is real.
Meditation Just as Effective as Medication
Taking 5, 10, 20, even 30 minutes to meditate daily is a great step to changing the habits and patterns of stress in our lives, and will also reduce the chance of being addicted to medications.
But perhaps the best reason not to turn to drugs ﬁrst is that they really don’t work any better than meditation does. A study from John Hopkins University, involving 3500 subjects, found that meditation was just as effective for treating depression, anxiety and pain as the commonly prescribed medications for those afﬂictions.
And, in a study from Wake Forest Baptist University, meditation beat the pain reducing properties of morphine! Meditation was found to be 40% more effective in reducing the intensity of pain and 57% more effective in reducing the unpleasantness of pain than
morphine and other pain relieving drugs. Meditation works against pain by reducing activity in the somatosensory cortex and increasing activist in other areas of the brain.
“I Don’t Have Time” The “I don’t have time” excuse, which really also links with the above misconception that we really need to live in the dysfunctional ways we always have, is all about the illusion that busy means more effective. There’s a Zen proverb that says, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” What I understand from this is that if my life is truly too busy for me to set aside 20 minutes a day to do something that will have a positive impact on the whole rest of my day, then I really need to take a break because my thinking has become deranged.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Peter McWilliams, proliﬁc author and activist wrote, “Some people think that meditation takes time away from physical accomplishment. Taken to extremes, of course, that’s true. Most people, however, ﬁnd that meditation creates more time than it takes.”
Here’s a list of some extremely successful people who are regular meditators who all agree that meditating has helped them to be the successes they are in their chosen ﬁelds:
- Arianna Hufﬁngton – former President and Editor in Cheif of the Hufﬁngton Post Media Group
- Larry Brilliant – former Director of a google.org
- Russell Simmons – Hip Hop mogul
- Robert Stiller – CEO Green Mountain Coffee Roasters
- Ray Dalio – founder of the worlds largest hedge fund ﬁrm, Bridgewater Assoc.
- Rupert Murdoch – Chairman and CEO of News Corp.
- Oprah Winfrey
- Hugh Jackman
- Angelina Jolie
- Leonard Cohen
- Paul McCartney
…And a host of other well known actors and performing artists
“I Can’t Stop Thinking!”
The reasons given are sometimes complex, but the bottom line is frequently due to discomfort with the idea that they have to stop thinking, or the experience of trying to stop the thoughts during a meditation practice and failing. That shouldn’t be a surprise since our minds are designed to think, and the ‘thought’ of trying not to think seems an impossible feat. And yet, our thinking is often what gets us into the most trouble.
Our minds may well be uncomfortable with the perceived loss of control that could come from a conscious decision to quiet the thought process. The question becomes, what is it that will be taking control if my mind steps aside?
The answer is, we are not merely our thoughts. We are also the Higher Mind. Not the mind that runs on about what to have for dinner, why that person was so mean or complaining about commuter trafﬁc. The Higher Mind is the mind that knows the truth; that doesn’t let us get away with the lies we try to tell ourselves. The Higher Mind is always in the present moment, unlike the thinking mind which tends to dwell in the past and the future. And, beyond all knowledge and thought we are ‘That’ which can observe the thoughts. ‘That’ is our essence, and it is That which is present within us, with thoughts or without them. At the center we are a Soul. The ineffable Spirit.
But when we start talking about spirit is when many of those afraid of getting pulled into a religious practice they don’t want, start to balk.
“I’m Not Looking for a New Religion”
Meditation is not religious, although both meditation and prayer are used in many religions. Meditation is a spiritual practice. If we accept that we need communion with something, some power greater than ourselves, the collective consciousness, God, HP, whatever works for you, then we must accept that we need a way to communicate with that power. I have long heard and subscribe to the axiom that “Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening.” If all we do is talk, then we are likely just giving our Higher Power ‘marching orders’ rather than taking direction. The latter of which is, in my opinion, much more effective. After all, who am I to change the plan?
There is no deﬁned deity involved in meditation unless you are getting your practice from a particular religious group, in which case, yes, there could be. But there are many types of meditation including Transcendental Meditation (TM), which do not specify or deﬁne what it is that you are choosing to listen to. The simple breathing meditation offered [here on this site] is also an example of a meditation that doesn’t specify, or even refer to what might be sending you messages. It’s simply a technique to help the mind get quiet so that whatever It is that speaks to you can be heard.
It is not magic, but the idea of stopping the incessant chatter of the mind may seem magical to some. And to me, ﬁnding the ability to step back from my busy mind is a gift worthy of pursuit. That quiet space of peaceful silence ﬁrst thing in the morning is better than the time I used to spend with my cup of coffee and the morning news by far.
What Science Says About Meditation
It’s not only the ability to quiet the thoughts during meditation practice that’s amazing, but also the ability to be less reactive to outside inﬂuences; calm, considered decision making; a lessening of anxiety; and the ability to sleep more easily and deeply.
The following scientiﬁc studies are deserving of mention when considering whether the practice of meditation will serve you. After all, we get package inserts with every prescription we take telling us the effects and side effects of the particular medication and we know we should read it. It’s my hope that reading the scientiﬁc studies below may help to give you motivation to just try it.
An eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter in just eight weeks. It’s the very ﬁrst study to document that meditation produces changes over time in the brain’s grey matter.
Sustained meditation leads to neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally on the basis of environmental input. Richard Davidson a University of Wisconsin Neuroscientist states, “Experienced meditators exhibit high levels of Gamma wave activity and display an ability continuing after the meditation session ends to not get stuck on a particular stimulus They can control their thoughts and reactiveness.”
Sara Lazar of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program and a Harvard Medical School Instructor in Psychology: “Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological beneﬁts that persist throughout the day. This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”
Dr. Randy Zusman summarizing a 2008 Massachusetts General Hospital study stated that meditation is better than blood pressure medications for reducing blood pressure in patients with high blood pressure. The relaxation of meditation results in the formation of nitric oxide which opens up the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
A UC Davis research study found that meditators have signiﬁcantly higher telomerase activity. Telomerase is the enzyme that builds Telomeres – the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. Longer telomeres means we are likely to live longer.
A 2008 study found that HIV patients who meditated showed no decline in lymphocyte content compared to non-meditators who showed a signiﬁcant reduction.
In the November 2014 issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Researchers at Harvard Medical School-afﬁliated Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Boston University (BU), and a few other research centers reported that the difference in the meditation practice used made a difference in some of the effects of meditation.
Although neuroimaging studies have found meditation decreased the activation of the amygdala (a part of the brain responsible for processing memory and emotion) before, those changes were only observed during meditation. This study tested the theory that meditation could produce a long term reduction in the response to emotional stimuli.
The study was done with one group learning and using Mindfulness Meditation, one group using Compassion Meditation and a third group as the control group not meditating.
They found that the Mindfulness Meditation group had a decrease in activation of the amygdala in response to all stimuli, supporting the hypothesis that meditation can improve emotional stability and response to stress. In the Compassion Meditation group they found the activity in the amygdala also decreased but those who reported practicing Compassion Meditation most frequently outside of the study, it was found, had an increase in activity in response to images depicting human suffering. This lead scientists to posit that Compassion Meditation could lead to an increase feelings of compassion to the idea of human pain. It also led to decreased depression scores, indicating that compassion for others can also correlate to increased compassion for ourselves. It was also stated that meditation may result in enduring, beneﬁcial changes in the brain, especially in the processing of emotions.
Illuminating the Darkness
Finally, I will leave you with a quote from the Buddhist monk and best selling author Pema Chodron, who I alternately curse (for showing me my own disease of perception) and love (for the same reason).
“What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we’re closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.”
– Pema Chodron
What is Chronic Family Trauma?
Chronic Family Trauma (CFT) is a term of my own devising as codependency doesn’t say all that I believe needs to be expressed about living in the equivalent of a war zone within the structure that is meant to support and nurture our growth as children and adults – The Family. This can come from living with people suffering from use disorders, as well as living with those who struggle with mental illness, or, frankly, people who have been traumatized as children themselves. It is intended to be a description, not an indictment.
Almost is Never Enough
“It’s hard to get enough of something that almost works.”
I heard that line a while ago and I haven’t been able out get it out of my head. I know most people with substance use issues will respond to that with a visceral understanding and a “YES” from their souls. But I wonder whether the unseen and unheard majority, those affected by the use disorders of others and C-PTSD understand that this same principle is in play for us as well.
Our adult relationships almost work. We replay the childhood dynamic, marrying people who we want to give us the love and the comfort we could not find as children. Often those people also have use disorders and/or C-PTSD, because that’s the dynamic we know. It’s how we feel “at home.” But home was never what we wanted it to be. We try once again to make something that causes us pain feel good. And it can almost work.
This is how we become addicted to relationships – getting it almost right, having people in our lives who almost meet our needs. There is love at the core, but the love is warped by our unmet needs and we fall victim once again to our own internal demons.
The dance we continue to dance with the those we love, creating the chaos of more lives affected by dysfunction, is scary and yet mesmerizing. We are drawn in again and again not so much by the other person’s promise to change but by the very fact that it’s so close to right – but not quite. And it is not ever enough.
Because the real key to happiness doesn’t lie in something outside. Contentment and real joy come from our love and acceptance of ourselves. Only then can we connect to another and find real intimacy. There’s another saying that I love – a play on the word Intimacy. “Into Me, You See.” If we can’t let people see us as we truly are (because we don’t think we’re lovable), we’ll never find the connection we seek. If those we love wouldn’t love us if they knew us, if we can’t love them exactly as they are, then real intimacy will be impossible. We’ll forever continue to live our lives trying over and over again to get a different result – because it is actually impossible to really get enough of something that almost works.
Yoga Brings Balance For People in Recovery
Hatha Yoga, the most popular and well-known style of yoga, has its beginnings in India with the Hindu tradition. The word “Hatha” comes from two Sanskrit words: Ha, meaning the Moon, and Tha, meaning the Sun. The word “Yoga” also has an entwined meaning here. “Yoga” is generally thought to be derived from the Sanskrit for “Union.” Hence, Hatha Yoga is the union or balance of the Moon and Sun nature in people, or the cool with the ﬁre. This balance is desirable for all but is especially helpful with PTSD, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) as our natures conﬂict and cause imbalance within the body. That imbalance and discomfort is what people with PTSD, C-PTSD and SUD seek to medicate and avoid with drugs and alcohol, food, sex, love, Internet, gambling, etc.
Kundalini Yoga Was Introduced as a Therapy for Substance Use Disorder (SUD), aka Addiction
There are many oﬀshoots of Hatha; Tantra, Viniyoga, Anusara, Iyengar, Power Yoga, Bikram, and Sivananda are a few of the most popular. Kundalini Yoga is an exception; its lineage traces its roots to Tantra, which is a Hatha Yoga style, but Kundalini practice went in diﬀerent directions from Hatha.
Kundalini was introduced to the U.S. by Yogi Bajan as a therapy for the Western culture of overwork and stress. According to him, overwork and stress caused mental dysfunction and addiction became a way to cope with the dysfunctions in our lives. Kundalini is a valuable tool in the toolbox, and its Kriyas (posture and breath) and Pranayama (breath) practices are incredibly helpful when used with knowledge and awareness.
That said, I believe that Hatha is more accessible for students new to recovery. At this stage, the body is untrained and not strong, making participants more susceptible to injury. Also, the repetition of many of the Kriyas is reminiscent of calisthenics and does not induce the meditative, inward focus that I have found to be so helpful to people in recovery from SUD.
I teach Hatha-based classes, however, once students have moved on from detox (where I prefer to teach Restorative I encourage the exploration of diﬀerent techniques and styles of yoga, including Kundalini.
Sometimes We Can All Be a Moody Bitch
Awareness of how trauma has affected my life seems to come slowly. I’ve had some major awarenesses and shifts over the past 20-plus years, but there are still dark corners where I’ll find large, scary monsters. The cool thing is that they turn into shining light once I’m able to look at them with clear sight and compassion.
This clarity happened for me this morning, the situations that presented the awareness though, happened over the past three months or so, and the trigger is over 60 years old. It’s not, unsurprisingly, a short story. So settle in… Months ago, a person I thought I could trust – even though we’ve had some pretty
intense issues over time, betrayed me majorly. I swore “Never again.” I would not be swayed, I would not believe because I wanted to believe. I was done.
Then this person contacted me. I ignored it. That is also part of the dance we’ve done over the years. He contacted me again. I ignored it for several days, but I was still angry and really, most of all, hurt, so I responded with a musical message – the song Too Late by Zucchero, one of my favorite singer songwriters from Italy. His reaction was one word. “Exactly!” Well, yes.
His reaction was targeted to hurt me, just as my Too Late was targeted to hurt him. And I was hurt. I felt the Zing. But I also recognized that I’d opened that door. As I found acceptance with this last bit of venom between us, I got another email. For those of you familiar with the 12 Steps and the process of amends, you’ll understand what happened next. This email was a very thoughtful and open-hearted letter of amends, something that in all our history had never happened before. He’d said things in the past like, “that was wrong of me,” but it wasn’t amends. There was no awareness expressed or apology for harm caused or a recognition of the actual hurt I felt. This was different and I knew it was.
I didn’t know at first, whether it was enough to open the doors again between us, but I knew that I felt lighter, more comfortable in my own skin. The harm had been acknowledged and he was no longer a monster in my eyes. He was a human man, capable of making mistakes, AND capable of acknowledging them.
So, to end this piece of the story, he and I are now talking a lot. We’re long distance, but reconnected and working on keeping communications open between us.
One of the things that happened during the past few weeks is that he got ‘needy and moody again’ and my immediate response was to distance myself. But instead of clamming up and running away because I’d become emotionally distant, he expressed his hurt and his feelings of abandonment. It allowed me to see how my fear of being hurt was hurting him, too. It isn’t about who did what first. It’s about trust and love and keeping the heart open, being willing to forgive. Can I believe that as I am growing and opening he could as well? Yes. I saw it. I wasn’t wrong about my observations. And then he opened up once again in a text. He called himself a Moody Bitch. He recognized that his behavior had pushed my buttons. And my experience is, this is a common thread in relationships between trauma survivors.
How do we move past that? How do we accomplish healing in the face of your triggers, my triggers and a fickle Universe? I think, by continuing to keep our hearts open, by continuing to do the work, by continuing to trust that Something Greater has a plan even when our viewpoint is too small and narrow to see it. This is not a flaw in us, by the way.
It’s just the reality of perspective. There are things so much larger, so much grander in scale that we are incapable of perceiving the entirety. And they don’t have to be the size of the ocean. We are tasked with Keeping Our Feet Firmly Planted In Mid-Air! If we stand still long enough, the Way will become clear. But, we, survivors of childhood trauma, WE see something that triggers a memory from our childhood of something scary and unmanageable, and we either run, fight, freeze or fawn. We react rather than standing still until we can respond intelligently. The amygdala has taken control and we believe we have to fix it. NOW. Moody Bitch.
So, onto more on my reprocessing of trauma history (I warned you this wasn’t a short story). I have a roommate in my place now. She’s a woman with awareness of her own history and willingness to see her part in challenging situations. A couple of days ago, she’d had some situations here in Panama that triggered Her. She’s working on getting her Residency and the government has recently instituted some additional hoops to jump through which has caused her to get moving and get her work done BEFORE those changes go into place.
I had had a long, challenging day. It was 9 at night and I was just eating dinner and watching tv, trying to regulate and relax. She came into the room full of excess negative energy and fear, and proceeded to loudly explain all the things that could go wrong and blaming people who weren’t present to defend themselves. Moody Bitch. MY response wasn’t exactly welcoming. I tried to give her options, things she could do. She wanted to blow off steam. I am not a good person to blow off steam at – I don’t have a lot of tolerance for others strong emotions, in the best of times. That night wasn’t the best. At all. However, after several failed attempts to calm her and lower the intensity, I finally said, “Ok look, I worked all day. It’s 9 at night and I’m just eating dinner. I am watching a show that I want to enjoy. I don’t have the bandwidth for this!” Moody Bitch.
That was all I needed to say. She got it and left the room. Not happy, of course, but at least I was able to watch my show and eat in peace. There was still some hangover energy though, which didn’t go away the next day either, but I felt pleased and a bit smug about my response to her and how I had ‘handled it.’ Moody Bitch This morning we talked about it. She acknowledged that what I witnessed was a part of her process when she feels scared or powerless and doesn’t understand how things work. I acknowledged that her raised voice and looming presence (she’s 6”, I’m 5’1 and I’d been seated) was a trigger for me. I’d felt ambushed by her, and, as I started my journaling today, I realized how this tracked with my history as a child of loud, angry adults and feeling powerless. Fifty eight years later, I am witnessing healing in myself and in my relationships with others.
I was six. My Mom and Dad were in the living room. I was in bed. Suddenly my dog jumped into my bed and hid under the covers, waking me up to the loud voice of my father in the other room. I was startled, and then scared. I know my Mom was trying to placate him, but he wasn’t having any. I got out of bed, and ran to the step down to the living room. I was hysterical, crying, telling them to stop it. What I told myself was that he was scaring my puppy. What my adult self knows today is that I was scared. I couldn’t even get the words out between the sobs. My Mom took me back to bed, tucked me in and promised they weren’t going to talk like that anymore.
But they did. He started yelling again. This time I got out of bed, got a sharp knife from the kitchen and again stood on the step. But I wasn’t crying this time. This time, in a very clear and loud voice I told my Dad, “If you don’t stop yelling at my Mommy I’m going to kill myself!” For years I’ve taken ‘credit’ for being cold and calculating about that. Saying that I knew that threatening myself would stop him because I knew they both loved me, even if they didn’t love each other.
Regardless, when my roommate and I spoke this morning, what I realized is that the history, that memory of conflict from childhood had determined my reaction to loud, big people for the rest of my life. I would try learned helplessness first, hoping they would see how they were hurting me and stop. When that didn’t work, I removed myself. Often permanently. The relationship was over. I would “color them gone.” This time, with my roommate, I found my voice and a way to say what I meant without saying it mean. Today, she and I can mend fences, just as my other friend and I were able to mend a much larger rift.
Is he still “a moody bitch?” Yes, sometimes he is.
The difference is that he acknowledges it. The other day he was depressed and irritable as he was packing up, preparing to go and stay with someone else for a bit because he’d sold his place and hasn’t yet figured out where he wants to settle. He hated having to pack Again. He hated having to put things back in storage Again, etc., etc. Another friend, upon hearing his litany of complaints said, “Isn’t it interesting. Many people would be thrilled to be so footloose and fancy free, able to travel wherever they want, having the time and money to do as they please. You’re depressed and angry.” Hmmmm. Wise woman. He acknowledged, once, again, to being a Moody Bitch. Bless his heart.
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