Coping With Trauma by William Klein

The act of birth itself is traumatic. We enter from a womb of comfort and security into a bold, daunting and dissonant, chaotic, hurried fluorescent lit world – bloodied and wet, sticky, being handed from one to another and relying on multiple sensibilities to hold a frantic awareness calmly, serenely with understanding and poignant culpability. 

The first cry is real. It is a cold yelp of new uncertainty. When the umbilical cord is cut, our hunger, our insecurity, sleeping in a cradle separate and apart from the maternal presence takes some sorting out. Welcome to the world.

This is a welcome into a world of abundance and first-rate technology. Imagine that same greeting in a makeshift room that doubles as a hospital, a church, a school house and any other needs the community sees fit to use it for, as it is the communal facility set up for the common good. A child is delivered by an elder who relies on her wits and ancient practices to keep it alive due to lack of supplies and financial resources in the community. Some don’t have the same prenatal care that others do. A baby learns in the womb that it’s going to be a tough go.

Back to the first scenario. The child is brought home from the hospital. If the home life is not ideal, if the child is not fed on a consistent time table, if the ones who care for the child are unable to cope with a new psychological undertaking, the road is rocky from the get-go.

Consider a person who has been lost in uncertainty for years. The parent does not bond with the child. If that person has not figured it out, how are we expected in our short lives to grasp what this new incarnation, this new encounter is all about?

We tend to learn from birth that we need to make a nest of comfort that works for ourselves and learn to fight and scrap for food. We learn that we are disconnected from and feel a sense of separation venturing into the world. This “sense of separation” becomes habitual.

Biblically speaking, it is called Original Sin. We have to find our way back to God and paradise. We venture forward seeking to eat from the second tree in the Garden of Eden, the “tree of immortal life” that will provide for us the splendor of paradise we once enjoyed.

In the meantime, our personalities are formed. The pain and hurt that our significant others bear is taped on our minds, played back time and again, as we are told by others what is real and what is false. Rivalry in survival becomes apparent. We struggle to grasp how we will fit into this world. We make our way. We take advice and hope that the person imparting it has good intentions. We may learn later the person doesn’t.  We are burned. Time and again.

Conditioned to think in fearful terms, this state of being forms the neural grooves in the brain. We learn by repetition and the failures and successes that helped form us.

We all have experienced traumatic experiences in our lives, some more than others. Those born in a violent culture may take a kill or be killed approach. Trauma persists. In our day-to-day act of survival, we experience mental, emotional, and sometimes physical pain and suffering. Notwithstanding, our culture does not even address this fact.

We carry that trauma with us.  Most never learn to cope with it, so they find ways that work through survival.

Most of the problems of addiction stem from the idea that people are trying to fill the gap in their hearts with something to compensate for the hurt they’ve experienced. Pain is alleviated by sublimation, through denying it, not addressing it and medicating it through drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, eating or any number of ways to avoid dealing with it directly.

Trauma specialist Dr. Gabor Mate’ was born into the holocaust in Hungry.  He was given to his grandmother and was physically apart from his mother. The early childhood experiences he faced were traumatic. His redemption came in the fact that he recognized it and was able to cope with it. He in turn is helping others to see their trauma with fresh eyes.

Mate’ notes, “We often make assumptions about why people let us down or abandon us when there are countless reasons for why they cannot attend.” Our past tends to trip up the present. Mate’ notes Buddhist concepts when he says, “It’s not what happens to us, it’s how we perceive what happens to us.”

Paraphrasing Mate, “We don’t respond to what happens. We respond to our perception of what happens. That’s what the Buddha said. It’s with our minds that we create the world. We respond to our interpretation of what happens. Secondly, of all the possible interpretations for what happens we choose the worst one. Thirdly, you didn’t choose it. Your brain jumped to the conclusion automatically…This stems from trauma that was experienced in childhood.”

“First, we must be aware of the fact that trauma is real.” Mate’ says, “We don’t respond to the present moment, we respond to the past.” This is a problem. The goal should be that we learn to live in the present moment and respond mindfully to it with a sacred understanding.

We personalize everything in life. It’s natural to do this. The great teacher Joel Goldsmith teaches in his theology that we need to “impersonally impersonalize.”  In other words, we need to form a sense of objective reasoning that impersonalizes any given experience good or bad – a form of detachment. We don’t detach from how we feel.  We detach from how we perceive the problem, thus we face the problem head on.

Eventually we will develop a skin of radiance, a sheath of the Holy Spirit, and we are clothed in divine light. Problems may still penetrate, but that is because we’ve undressed from the sheath of light and are naked and vulnerable to the world. We’ve forgotten that we are clothed in the single garment of God’s love.

Trauma is not something to be taken lightly. Some people have been hurt so badly that they refuse to ever address what has hurt them.  Still, we need to be honest with ourselves. We look to the role of religion and spiritual development to help us move beyond. 

Jesus and his followers were spiritual healers. In scripture, Jesus sees the spiritual wounds and heals them. He empowers the lame to recognize the thing that was holding them back, to live for good and strive to move on. When he appoints the followers to heal, they are wandering psychologists, bringing theological virtues to world weary people and showing them a better way to approach problems.

True in the beginning we may be a floundering gloppy mess, but, in the end, we are well formed creatures of spirit advancing beyond chaos and the dark to a healing light of Oneness.

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