Human Stories

Working with trauma

Many people ask me how I work with trauma. Here, I’d like to share a few principles through an example from this week where I was providing support to a woman during a mediation session with her partner:

My approach to working with trauma:

Slowing down and trusting the body; The body creates a pathway of healing

The essence of my approach to working with trauma is slowing down. When the ‘trauma’ is triggered, I slow down to honor the body’s experience and also to gently and compassionately meet the painful story/stories (which I sometimes like to refer to as ‘unproductive conclusions’) and check them with reality
(**At the end of this text, I have added a few words about my understanding of ‘what trauma is’.)

Here is an example from a Mediation I did last week with a couple:

One month ago, he invited her to a multi-day dance workshop. While seeing people dance, she froze and was in a great deal of pain, thinking: “Why can’t I dance? Why do I feel so insecure? Why can’t I simply join in and dance like everyone else?”.
We slowed down. She then recalled a memory: When she was a child, she couldn’t help but dance. She used to dance all the time, everywhere. However, she abruptly stopped in her early teenage years. She then realized: It stopped right when the long sexual abuse she experienced started.

Connecting to that memory brought forth heavy tears. With all the many impacts this traumatic experience had on her, she realized it took away her passion and love for dancing. That brought a significant wave of mourning….

Allowing the mourning to take its course is not an easy task. Her brain wanted to rush forward, repeatedly thinking, “Okay, what should I do now?”. From my perspective, there was nothing specific ‘to do’. ‘Mourning’ is the body’s wisdom charting the path toward healing. It knows the rhythm and it knows the direction. Her body simply needed to cry. Thus, we remained with her tears until she gradually grew quiet and found rest. She mentioned feeling more space within herself now.
Naturally, gently, and slowly, we then began to pave a path that felt safe enough for her to return to dancing while honoring each ‘body signal’ along the way:  She realized that she wanted to enroll in a dance course focused solely on ‘simple techniques/steps,’ where she could pause at any moment and not be pushed to move faster than her trauma allowed her to.

It took time to arrive at that point, as along the way, her brain kept saying, “Come on, why am I making such a fuss about it…”. Whenever the brain sought rapid results, the body froze.
I so loved that each time we then slowed down to trust the body’s rhythm; not only for allowing chunks of tears to be shed like a cleansing rain to the soul. But also for the new messages she could then discover and integrate into her system: Your sadness and mourning have space to be. Your feelings are precious. You exist and you are worthy. Which is a healing to the painful stories that followed that trauma. And the climax: Your trauma was not caused by you; it happened to you. Beautiful, warm tears rolling down the cheeks, accompanied by gratitude…

Meeting reality as reality is (clearing the painful story):

When experiencing trauma, we form conclusions (painful stories) that have a significant impact on our lives. These become our beliefs about ourselves and the world, such as:
“I am a burden”, “People are not to be trusted”, “I am unloved”, “No one cares”, etc.

One of the core of my attraction to NVC is that it helps me making slow steps towards being in reality as reality is. This allows me to free myself from the painful stories I carry from the past, stories that unconsciously influence countless choices and behaviors in my day-to-day life.
I call it ‘Reality check’:
In her inner conviction, the woman believed she was a complete burden to him and all the people at the dance event. She thought she had ruined the entire event and cast a shadow over the atmosphere.
Her partner attempted to reassure her by saying, “You know, you’re not the center of the world,” but she couldn’t she could not take in…

He said that he was moved by her experience, by her trauma. However, it couldn’t sink in; she couldn’t believe it. It was too rapid. Trauma, as is often the case, acts as a filter (or a wall) between me and reality. Just like elephants that were trained within the confines of a cage and then, even when set free, continue to restrict their movement to the same amount of space as that old cage, humans operate within the confines of our limiting beliefs. It’s hard to perceive the more compassionate reality that stands right before us.

To change this dynamic, it asks slowing down, moving in harmony with the body’s rhythm: I took the role of the man expressing his messages to her. I slowed down sentence by sentence asking her to reformulate it back until she could absorb them… this led to the emergence of a fresh, beautiful stream of large, warm tears, followed by her first warm, restful smile.
And as an unintended outcome, the man said to me, “Wow, I couldn’t have articulated myself any better; I feel so heard through your words.” 🙂

With the hope for gentleness and compassion towards the most delicate spots in our soul,

** Shortly my understanding about ‘trauma’:

Many different people relate to it differently. My sense of it is:
Trauma is an intense past experience that has left two types of imprints within us:
(A) Body:
It has left an impression on our body’s cellular memory, which can lead our body to react in certain ways such as ‘fight,’ ‘flight,’ or ‘freeze’.
(B) Brain:
It has left an impression on our brain: When we pass through an intense experience, our brain tries to understand it: how come that life can be so painful??? It searches an explanation.
In this ‘search for an explanation,’ it often arrives at certain ‘conclusions’ or ‘painful stories’. These are interpretations about reality, attempting to answer questions like: why did people do this to us? What within us led to its occurrence? And what does it signify about the world and life. For example: I am a burden / People are not to be trusted / I am not loved / No one cares / I am a mean person / etc.
Especially if the intense experience occurred when we were young (but not exclusively), these conclusions are mostly formed unconsciously. They reside deep within us and influence our responses to similar situations in the future.