We are living in a world where we’re seeing an amazing explosion of technology. While technology certainly brings a lot of breakthroughs and benefits to our life, it’s also clear that the increase of speed and the complexity of data we’re receiving creates an enormous pressure on our nervous systems.
When the nervous system is integrated and healthy, it can transform that pressure into development and evolution, but when we are already overwhelmed, that increase of speed and complexity can create enormous side-effects, like heightened levels of anxiety, stress, disembodiment, and disconnection.
For example, through the Internet, our social media news feeds present us with lots of traumatic news from around the world. When we hear about all these traumatic events, many of us cannot fully digest that information—especially when we already have preexisting trauma in us.
If you look in your own life and think about all the information you are being exposed to, do you sense that you can feel and digest everything you experience?
Do you feel that your body is synchronized with the speed of data that your mind is consuming?
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is the response of our nervous system to an overwhelming situation. It is actually a very intelligent function because the trauma response has been developed through thousands of years of human evolution in order to help us to survive—to stay in a place of action and choice in an overwhelming situation.
Trauma usually goes hand-in-hand with two major symptoms. On the one hand, our nervous system goes into a state of hyper-activation, creating a lot of stress. On the other hand, we also shut down parts of our bodies, emotions, and our mental and relational capacities. This leads to a numbing and also to a relational disconnect and disembodiment.
Typically, when we think of trauma we think of “shock trauma,” such as when somebody has a car accident or when there's violence or a shooting, but there is another widespread level of trauma called “attachment trauma.” The human attachment process is a very sophisticated yet fragile process and it can be easily hurt. Physical or emotional neglect, abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and many other traumas have severe side effects. Attachment trauma leads to attention deficiency, physical and mental disorders, heightened addiction rates, substance abuse, and nowadays, of course, the abuse of the use of technology.
There is a broader level of trauma, called “collective trauma.” Collective trauma happens when a country is at war, or when there is a genocide, or oppression, racism, or a big natural catastrophe. This is a very important aspect of trauma because most of us, in one way or another, have been born into the aftermath of a collective trauma.
Professor Isabelle Mansuy of the University in Zurich conducted experiments and found that traumatized mice pass on trauma to the next generation through epigenetic changes, meaning, the next generation of mice displayed the same trauma symptoms without ever going through a trauma themselves. The implication of this is that many people may suffer individual symptoms that are actually part of a collective trauma field.
What Are the Consequences of Trauma?
Trauma hurts our capacity to relate because it is often inflicted through inappropriate relation. It hurts our capacity to relate to ourselves and to self-regulate and also hurts our societal regulation functions. Our baseline stress levels become higher, we feel more overreactive in situations, and we burn out faster.
Trauma also hurts a human being’s time, space, and rhythm coherence, and when this goes out of balance we become more disembodied and more numb.
In this way, trauma is like an invisible guest. Trauma is visible only through its symptoms, and trauma can be deeply buried in our bodies, nervous systems, and psyches, and it can stay there for decades.
While it seems like trauma is often a very personal thing—a personal experience or difficulty—if you look closely, you’ll see that the collective dimension of trauma reinforces individual traumatization, and sometimes even fixates it.
It’s as if there’s a collective, unseen elephant in the room that is much broader than the biographical experience we have been born into, that for us seems normal, but it's actually charged with a lot of suffering. And then on top of that, we see school shootings and all kinds of violent events in the world that create another cycle of traumatization.
The collective dimension of trauma is critical to any understanding of individual trauma. We are becoming a global family even if we live locally. We have global issues like climate change that we need to solve together, and I believe we are here right now for a reason. Because right now, the world is ready to make a jump into a wider coherence.
What Is the Potential for Healing Trauma?
The cure for trauma consists of several different factors. First is that we simply become more aware of how massive the extent of trauma is in our society. All we have to do is watch the news to see trauma occurring.
Second, we must improve our relational capacities and learn to read simple trauma symptoms. As trauma is often inflicted through inappropriate relations, the cure for trauma is to have appropriate relations. To heal trauma we can train our capacity to relate, to deeply listen, to feel each other when we communicate, and to increase our relational presence.
In neuroscience, the Polyvagal Theory says that the frontal part of our central nervous system, the frontal part of our vagal nervous system, is actually deeply relational. This means that when we hold and embrace our children, when we deeply listen to our children or to another human being, this part of our nervous system helps to regulate stress. When people listen to us and really care, when a parent does this with their child, it creates a relation that is deeply healing.
Lastly, we can train ourselves in inner awareness. By practicing meditation, contemplation, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, and other practices, we can train our nervous system to rest in deeper states of presence.
As important as it is for each of us to work on our own healing, it is equally important that we learn to recognize and work with the trauma we hold collectively. This can only be done when we come together in groups, and new methods are being developed for facilitating group processes for healing collective trauma. Many people are joining this emerging field and I believe we are on the verge of transitioning into a whole new understanding of healing—one that is essential to our survival and evolution as a human family.
© 2019 Thomas Hübl. Used with permission.