“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”
The effects of trauma, particularly relational trauma, are profound. It creates waves of impact that can overwhelm the body, mind and spirit for a lifetime. It can result in people losing a connection to themselves, to time, to relationships with others, to existence itself.
15 years ago, I was taking calls from children at Childline, when unexpectedly a man in his late 80’s phoned in. He was in a hospice and dying. Between sobs he said to me that he did not want to die before he had told someone that when he was a child he had been repeatedly sexually abused by a teacher in his boarding school. He told me how it had ruined his life, affected his ability to love his wife, enjoy sex or like himself. He was facing death with this terrible untold story and a deep regret that he hadn’t told it sooner.
Telling someone your trauma story may be an important part of recovery from trauma for many people; but how you tell it, when you tell it and to whom, is equally important.
So many people have tried telling others about the abuse they are suffering or have suffered, and the unhelpful response they received compounded the problem and added layers of shame, guilt, confusion and alienation to the person taking the risk to disclose.
The main criticism I have of most counselling, psychotherapy and psychology training is the lack of trauma informed teaching within it. I regard it as social and professional negligence. Many people who seek therapy have suffered trauma of some kind. If the therapist hasn’t had the insight to get additional training in trauma work, then they run the risk of at worst re-traumatising the client, at best being inadequate to help.
The trauma informed training I prefer has somatic awareness at its heart. This recognition of how the body stores unresolved trauma is now well known. The way someone filters and makes sense of their experience is equally important. How the trauma experience affected their relationship to themselves and others, needs to be unraveled. Body, mind and heart all have to be attended to.
I don’t claim that there is one trauma approach that is better than all the others. As with pretty much everything in life, it can be a trial and error process until you find the right approach for you, the right therapist for you, the right time to be doing trauma integration work.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”
When I worked in prisons, I saw people locked up and bundled away from society for crimes they had committed, whilst the crimes against them when they were children, teenagers or young adults were never brought to justice. I felt rage, sorrow and then I felt helplessness. This sense of helplessness in the face of a force larger than oneself is very typical for trauma survivors too. People are unable to escape danger if they are children being abused, young people with limited options, or adults with reduced physical, socio-economic or mental capacity. People who are trapped to endure danger time and time again can be left unable to even feel the danger. The dissociation from themselves and from the abuse, becomes a defense required in order to survive. You don’t get to choose that.
What you can get to choose however, is how you make sense of the abuse you went through, what meaning you give to it, how you relate to yourself afterwards, to others and to the world and if you seek help in recovering from the damaging effects of unresolved trauma.
Recovery from trauma needs to be multidimensional. Involving talking therapies, body therapies, supportive relationships, radical self-care, philosophical, political, social, creative and for some, spiritual exploration. It involves enhancing your connection to your body in whatever ways are right for you. It is transforming old trauma habits into healthier life affirming ones. It is about letting yourself hold hope and imagine a different future. It involves developing your emotional resilience, your ability to assert yourself, your capacity to find compassion for the younger you that was hurt, exploited or frightened so badly. It is about holding in mind that you always come in a context and that context has limitations as well as possibilities.
It also means holding a wider perspective about trauma and suffering so that you can gain a well needed, healthy distance to the experience you went through. A macro approach rather than a micro approach. Although both are required at different points in a therapeutic process.
The somatic approaches I am drawn to promote an empowering of the client so they feel more in control of their emotions, body, thoughts and choices. I avoid approaches that position the therapist as the authority in the trauma work. My hope is for the client to be able to rely on themselves more - and the therapist less - for their sense of well-being, safety and groundedness.