Alternatives to Trauma

Alternatives to Trauma

Very often, despair and resignation may be a manifestation of unhealed trauma—specifically trauma that is no longer healthy.

What is healthy trauma?

Healthy trauma is a state of complete or incomplete dissociation from an injury that we do not have the resources to heal. This is why injuries that took place years ago—or centuries ago—can still remain unhealed. That is the nature of trauma—to remain unhealed, until we have the resources to heal.

But what if we do have the resources to heal?

When we do have the resources to heal, and our bodies recognize it, healthy trauma begins to heal, often immediately. However, there may be parts of us that are stuck in “trauma mode,” and do not recognize that we do have the resources to start the healing now.

What about healing when we are living in traumatic circumstances right now?

Let’s be clear that while circumstances may in fact be very harsh, and we may in fact be receiving new injuries every single day of our lives, these injuries only become trauma if we do not have the resources to begin our healing process immediately.

A wound can be traumatic, or non-traumatic. Both can hurt a lot! Both can be deep and severe. The difference between a traumatic and a non-traumatic wound is not a difference of degree of severity. The difference is our degree of ongoing connection to healing resources. The wound taken while in touch with healing resources heals, or at least begins healing, right away. The other may wait for a very long time.

When we are already in a healing process, and in touch with healing resources, new wounds still hurt! But they do not become trauma unless we shut down to our healing resources.

Don’t you wish that we all learned in nursery school how to stay in touch with our healing resources so that (at least most of the time) we can be temporarily wounded rather than traumatized? Or, if we are traumatized, how to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy trauma? Trauma is deeply painful, but when it’s unhealthy it’s even worse—it’s like an infection in the wound, or what Remaa Menakem calls “dirty pain.”

When we have healthy trauma, or a clean wound, healing may still take time, but it is a clear journey full of hope and growth. When we’ve got unhealthy trauma, it’s as though the trauma has grown a shell around the wound, often encrusted with a sprinkling of poison. Over time, remaining traumatized and not healing begins to feel more and more justified, and a whole self-defended cycle of hopelessness sets in. This is fertile ground for despair and resignation.

As healers, we need to be able to recognize when someone’s pain is in a non-healing state. We must recognize opportunistic infections and closures around our wounds, turning them into trauma. In East Asian medicine terms, we must begin deliberately asking, Am I hearing the voice of Fire Poison? Or Congealed Blood? Other patterns of disharmony, which specifically preclude hope and healing?

There are many recognizable non-healing states that we may identify in a healing context, or in our daily lives. For instance, “coping” is not a healing state. It’s like a busy signal that does not allow us to connect with healing resources even if they are available. And for another example: analysis of our pain can help us further dissociate from our pain, even as we appear to be attempting to heal it—but healing and exploring with the mind are not the same thing.

There are many wounded-yet-non-healing states that can hold us in trauma mode far longer than necessary. One last very common non-healing state is blame. Blame is toxic for both the giver and the receiver; it is not the same as clean accountability! Not only is it like an infection in the wound, but it also keeps attention directed outward, searching for justice, rather than inward, where healing takes place.

Please don’t hear me as saying that justice is unimportant. Clean justice, based on accountability, is vitally important to preventing many, many more unnecessary wounds from taking place. That prevention is important! But it is not the same as healing—and healing does not have to wait until after we have achieved justice. It can start right now, even as we march.

Watch my video, Alternatives to Trauma, to learn more about my approach to trauma and healing.

Also, consider joining me for an upcoming Whole Heart Connection Intro for a renewal of access to your healing resources. Find the complete list of upcoming classes here.

Do you want to join the discussion? Find the Perennial Medicine listserv here.

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