It is the nature of things for humans to be born and to die. To face our mortality can enable us to live life more fully and to take risks. It can also be a source of fear and anxiety. If there is unfelt grief in our systems it may also block us from facing our own death because it is too much to bear.
As humans we also face premature deaths in our family and illnesses and other tragedies that are present in all families. Sometimes these produce grief in our systems that is too big to metabolise.
In addition to these events, humans have also caused, and continue to cause, severe and devastating harm to each other in the family through a range of abuse— sexual, physical, emotional, economic- and also through the collective in the forms of wars and other oppressions. This is in addition to ongoing discrimination on the basis of gender, racial, economic differences and sexual preference, as well as other forms of oppression.
What is trauma? Trauma is being alone with too much. Our systems have a way to protect us when we are overwhelmed. We dissociate and we are not all here as a form of protection. It can happen in once off events which is a shock trauma. And it can happen in complex developmental trauma which is related to relational hurts, emotional neglect and misattunements that are ongoing. There may also be sustained shock trauma. And combinations of different kinds of trauma. We may also engage fight or flight or freeze or other dissociative responses. The thing is that while the dissociation protected us in the moment, sometimes we develop chronic patterns of dissociation and our systems never get to turn the switch back to safety. We may be constantly in a state of hyper-arousal without even realising it.
It may show in a variety of physical symptoms like irritable bowel, fibromyalgia, back pains, migraines. We may also use a range of substance and behavioural addictions that maintain our dissociation and that “protect” us from feeling what is happening and from fully landing in the present moment because it may feel too much to bear.
It is a normal occurrence to have about 30% attunement with our primary caregivers and about 70% be on our own or in misattunement. Part of complex trauma is that even in times of possible synch within the 30% there is a lack of connection and attunement and other basic elements of learning to be with oneself can not be achieved because they haven’t been achieved by primary caregivers.
When there has been overwhelming grief, like with respect to the Holocaust, where the loss is too too great to bear, then we can not access our range of feeling and we need to build many many protections. As we develop a sense of safety in our systems we may be able to transform some of the protection that also takes its form in physical armour. And this also can be repatterned.
The protection of our hearts has its expression in emotional and relating patterns such as:
* codependency- attention on others’ as a way of avoiding attention on feeling ourselves
*fear of abandonment- this can cause us to be scared to make boundaries and to get into and stay in relationships that are not healthy
*enmeshment- because our capacity to feel is blocked and there is fear we do not have the proper boundaries between parents and children and partners between each other. Children may feel like it is their unspoken commitment to look after their parents in a range of ways. (Not just when they are old but from when the children are children themselves.)
*as we do things for ourselves we can feel huge feelings of guilt (this can also manifest the more we open to love and expand our hearts and life and not act from fear.) Internally the voice of survivor’s guilt that many of us may carry if we dare to read through the suffering patterns may sound like this “how can I live when those before me died”.
The material is very heavy. If we can and we want to and we have the resource, it is possible to open ourselves to a richer and deeper experience of ourselves and the world. Sometimes things happen in our lives that make it more difficult for us not to confront this material. As we move through the material we come to see that the gift of being able to feel more and more grief from our family systems and the collective also enables us to connect to many layers of the beauty and sacredness of life. This does not negate the struggle that may still be ongoing, at times or more constantly. We can learn to hold it all in more gentleness. It is a deep learning. Slowly. Slowly.
And in so doing, we arrive at the present moment in deep gratitude from the gift of life.
It is not a gratitude that bypasses what is unbearable, it is a gratitude that has felt that too.
A deep and resilient gratitude, in the best ways, a reflection of the magnificence and resilience of the human spirit.