Unpacking Trauma: The Healing Power of Accompaniment

What is trauma? By definition; trauma wreaks havoc in a body, a mind or a system.  Do you imagine the devastation might be less if the person who had the experience were accompanied?

One way to think about trauma, which may seem surprising, is, rather than measuring the magnitude of the horrendous event, we can measure the extent to which the person who experienced the tragedy was left alone with it.  When we approach trauma from this point of view, its after-effects become the evidence that a part of us became stuck in terrifying, isolated, moments of time. 

These little ones hidden within us, the ones we try to care for with self-harming remedies, are formed and then left behind by the rolling waves of trauma, such as; an intensity of loneliness, of terror, or of rage, which as it slowly recedes leaves behind entangled parts of self. The tangles are unchanging in their need; inconsolable, forever desperate, seeking to be soothed by something that is so close to what they most want. Yet it is never enough, because the remedy or compulsion is never the missing thing itself.

We all have these moments in our past, moments when emotion overwhelmed us and left us feeling turned to stone. These knots of memory are beneath our conscious awareness and show up as bubbles of our life energy, pulling us into them and stopping us in our tracks. 

The more such moments a person carries within them, the more they need to heal from what is called “disorganized,” or “traumatic attachment” and to find a way through the thick undergrowth of addictions and compulsions.

The discovery of the truth of these moments of overwhelm (loneliness/abandonment, terror or rage) in our childhoods is gradual. Many start out saying “I had a good childhood. My parents were good people. They did the best they could. I knew they loved me.” 

All these things remain true throughout the healing journey, and yet, our felt-sense of the lives our child-selves lived, becomes more and more complex as we begin to recognize the enormities our inner children’s bodies struggle to digest and integrate. The loneliness that haunted our parent’s eyes from their childhoods; the rages that swept through a sibling or parent; the shame of punishment or contempt that the ones who “cared” for us dished out, during which we disappeared entirely for them as being small humans that mattered.

Each of these moments in time is an embodied, unrelenting experience, that lives within us - crying out for warm accompaniment. Desperately needing to feel time slow down, to be supported to experience tuning into the unconscious contracts our young bodies made in the impact of trauma; forever frozen, straining, or seeking, to be found, thawed, and released.

Unconscious contracts are agreements that our younger selves, our bodies, and our nervous systems make with us (or with our caregivers) to shift into a specific nervous system state that we believed would resolve the traumatic experience.

The most important question that helps us move toward healing is, “Was your entry into, or existence in this world as a child traumatic?  Was your experience of the chaos, the intrusion, the aloneness, or the pain that you perceived, more than you could bear?” 

Have you been accompanied to time travel, with resonant empathy, to this younger self to allow this “younger you” to receive your warm attention, protection, focus and care?  This may need to happen many times, for past overwhelmed selves, and more recent past and present overwhelmed selves. The experience of helpless frozenness can make the present-day world a continual re-traumatization for the little ones who were dismissed, ignored, or teased and ridiculed for their way of being in the world.

As these repeated experiences of self being accompanied are embodied, they grow the soft cushion of earned-secure attachment. This cushion supports and protects the wounded nervous system, and rather than physically withdrawing to manage our sensory environment, we learn to relax and expand our capacity to stay in relationship with our experience of self - in the present moment. 

As the amygdala (the emotional alarm center of the brain) learns to relax, in the presence of the stimulus of our trauma, another part of the brain, called the hippocampus, can then “time-stamp” our autobiography. We make sense! Our body finally gets to experience what we have always longed for; to know we are not alone, we have been found, we really do matter, we can be satisfied, we can be grounded and present, we can allow ourselves to be loved by humans, and we are ready to be welcomed home.


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