Grief tending and trauma.. what are the connections? Is all old grief a form of trauma, an injury or hurt that is waiting for healing? Can we heal trauma without support from outside, from humans or non-humans?
There seems to be widening recognition of how widespread trauma is in modern culture – from the Wisdom of Trauma film and on line events to trauma-informed approaches to mindfulness to an increasing understanding of historic and ancestral trauma related to colonisation, gender violence and more. In this post I share some of the insights I’ve come to about trauma, and offer some links to useful resources and places to continue learning.
Trauma and Grief tending
I’m curious about how trauma shows up in grief spaces. Partly informed by what I have learnt in grief spaces I created a body of work called “Healthy Human Culture“. I’m about to offer a series of workshops on this as part of the NowWhat online gathering. Here are some of the insights that I think are most helpful and powerful:
The first is that trauma is always a two stage process – an overwhelming experience followed by the failure of a cultural return path. This might be just being held while you cry; or a community ritual to mourn a death; or a restorative circle after an incident of violence. How might the world be different if we had all had these return paths to well being, belonging and safety as children whenever our trust in the world was rocked? Is that how it feels to be part of a healthy community? How would leaders be different if this was their lived and embodied experience?
The second core insight is that trauma is never an individual issue. The repair has to come from those around the person or people who have experienced the shock, violence or overwhelm. We can’t bring ourselves back from trauma, because our body-mind-feeling system is in shock, and our relationships are ruptured. I believe our wiring for attachment means we expect to be pulled back into life. This is one important example of the gateway Francis Weller names as “What we expected on arrival and did not receive”. So trauma arises when the society, community or family doesn’t have the tools or capacity or understanding to create the healing space. Trauma is a cultural issue, not a personal one.
The third key insight is that a culture’s relationship to pain is key to whether it creates systems of health or harm. If there are no shared spaces to hear grief, how do we know what harm is being caused? If those in power have privilege and are separated from those who are exploited, badly treated, in poverty, dealing with violence, shame or stress, how will they make good decisions for everyone?
Wisdom of Trauma and Somatic Abolitionism
The recent Wisdom of Trauma gathering centred around Gabor Mate’s work and the film of the same title. The film does a great job of noticing the many sources of trauma – from attachment and developmental trauma as children, to traumas of sexual abuse, attack, incarceration, poverty, war and more. It’s like watching the Gateways to Grief unpacked through the lens of a medical doctor with a passion for understanding the truth about trauma. In it Gabor Mate suggests that responses to trauma, including using substance and other forms of addiction, self harm and more all make sense if we look through a trauma informed lens.
One of the speakers at the Wisdom of Trauma conference was Resmaa Menakem, whose book “My Grandmother’s Hands” is a beautiful, detailed, body-informed way in to understanding how black and white bodies have been traumatised by centuries of violence in European and colonial culture, and giving detailed practices to help soothe and repair that trauma as it shows up now.
I love this quote on his website about trauma and how in traumatised culture we mistake it for something else:
“Trauma decontextualised in a person looks like personality. Trauma decontextualized in a family looks like family traits. Trauma decontextualized in people looks like culture”Resmaa Menakem
He’s running an online programme for white bodies / black bodies called “Foundations in Somatic Abolitionism” which looks interesting. His book My Grandmother’s Hands is a really great resource on understanding white and black body trauma, and gives lots of somatic practices to work with beliefs, responses, and our trauma.
I’m grateful for the widening awareness of trauma. Trauma is the thing that could cause overwhelm if it surfaces – which is why humans developed this astonishing capacity to keep it out of awareness. So the start of healing is to feel resourced, connected, supported, calling in what we call Banks of the River, and then be willing to look, hear, to feel or to be with what could not be felt in the past.
For self, for each other, for the beyond human world, for the ancestors and for future generations.