There is a ton of buzz around the word “trauma” these days. You hear it used in all areas of media. We have schools teaching teachers about childhood trauma, and everyone is trying to figure out the best way to deal with their own trauma. There are a hundred different methods, from putting your head in the sand to facing the trauma head-on, preferably with a licensed trauma therapist and not someone who is just using the word to take your money. The fact is, we have all experienced trauma in some capacity. My trauma is different from your trauma. Suzie’s trauma is different from my trauma. My trauma is just as hurtful and full of suffering as the next person. Certainly, we place a type of weight on specific traumas.
As a society, having lost a parent before eighteen is considered more traumatic than having lost a parent at sixty-eight, but the trauma is very much real for both individuals and causes both individuals to have changed neurological functions, behaviors, and emotional pain. This categorizing trauma as bad, worse, and neutral doesn’t do anything to help the individual who is trying to cope with their trauma. We have all learned how to cope with our trauma, either successfully or unsuccessfully. Trauma has shaped our beings. It is manifesting itself into the person reading this article.
Some people claim to have “overcome” their trauma as if it disappeared without a trace. Some people have used their trauma to propel them forward into worldly success. Others spend their time trying to sort it out. Many people find themselves wrapped in religious endeavors, trying to combat the trauma with prayers, faith, and leaning on their religious leaders. Personally, I fall somewhat amongst them all. A few weeks ago, I would have stated that I had good control of my trauma. That my personal trauma was just a shadow of who I was, and then, as I explained to some friends that I was writing this article and I did not want them to be caught off guard, I found that old familiar knot in the back of my throat forming and I was suddenly trying to fight the tears that without prompting, started to escape.
This all came about after being with a group of women who disclosed to me that they had been molested and/or sexually assaulted. After I explained my own trauma to them, without the knot, without the tears, they asked me how I had “overcome” it. I rumbled with this idea for some time because I am not sure if overcoming it is the correct verbiage to describe where I am with my own trauma. Instead, I would say it is more of an acceptance. My journey through trauma started at a very young age.
At the time, I did not understand why the three-year-old me would cry herself to sleep with a weighted heaviness and fear of being unloved. I had no idea why I refused to eat. Even as I grew into a teenager who starved herself, I never associated it with my trauma. But perhaps, in some distorted way, it was me physically trying to purge myself from the shame, guilt, and feelings of being unloved. Unsuccessful as this was, I have also tried to “cure” my trauma by drinking myself into the blackness to escape the shame, but ultimately, the memories would flood. As you can see, I am not very good at “treating” my own trauma.
As a young woman, I turned to sex to treat the lack of love I felt for myself and from those who I had decided should love me. I thought if a person wanted me sexually, they must “love me” in turn. Just to be clear, none of this “cured” my trauma. For me, it was learning to accept it. It happened. It forever changed me before I even knew who I could have been.
I lived with anger, regret, shame, and a distorted self-concept for too long. I have spent most of my life fighting depression, eating disorders, and escapism. For me, I have found that there is no “overcoming”; there has only been acceptance and forward movement. I was able to do this by learning Tonglen and Loving Kindness meditation practices that awaken your compassion. I use loving-kindness meditation in my daily practice, and through both techniques, I have been able to gain empathy and compassion for the little girl who will never know who she could have been. I have been able to gain empathy and compassion for the trespasser who trespassed on my innocence.
Through loving-kindness meditation, I learned to give love and kindness to myself. I embrace the little girl inside me. I embrace the teenage girl who struggled with shame and loneliness. The girl who thought, “if only someone would love me.” I give loving-kindness to myself who would get lost in anger, depression, and yearning for life to be “different.”
For years I thought I was unlovable. In loving-kindness meditation, I learned to give myself the love that I so desired. I was able to give my trespasser the loving-kindness that he most certainly needed. This is a difficult subject to embrace—the idea of having empathy, compassion, and loving-kindness towards one’s trespasser. In time, I have been able to move my trespasser from “difficult person” to “neutral person” in my meditations. However, this took me sixteen years; in dharma, we learn that everyone is human, having a human experience and trying to find happiness, even the trespasser.
Did I have to work on myself outside of meditation? Absolutely. I have been doing this meditation for sixteen years. I have worked on my self-concept to go beyond my limiting beliefs. Meditation alone is not going to heal your trauma. It is not a replacement for therapy or medication. For me, it was the most important piece to moving forward past the trauma.
Meditation reduces the hormone responsible for our fight or flight response to danger. Several studies have suggested that meditation reduces the symptoms of PTSD, which if you have trauma, you are likely to have PTSD. Meditation allowed me to let it go and let it be. I was able to accept what happened to me. This acceptance comes in waves; it is sometimes easier than others.
I encourage you to find a therapist specializing in trauma and a qualified meditation teacher before attempting this practice alone. Despite their credentials, not all therapists are created equal or equally helpful to you. This is true of meditation teachers as well. Not all meditation teachers know the ins and outs of trauma therapy; not all therapists have direct experience of mindfulness.
Therapy that includes meditation, and vice versa, appears to be effective for many people. If you are ready to begin a meditation practice, it would be beneficial to find a teacher who understands Tonglen and Metta meditation before engaging in these practices.
Stacey is a Meditation and Mindfulness coach specializing in Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). If you would like more information, you can follow her on Facebook @CoachStaceyTurknett. You can also reach her by email at Stacey.email@example.com and by phone at 850-879-1481.