Updated: Nov 19, 2020
"Trauma not transformed is trauma transferred"
Welcome to The Healing Process newsletter, Let's Heal Together, special Trauma edition.
In August this year, I was asked by my friend and soul sister Yemi Joy Penn to be one of five therapists to participate in a documentary she was producing on trauma.
Yemi is a motivational life coach, engineer, author and will be speaking at her second Ted talk as I publish this newsletter.
She is one of those women who brings a refreshingly unique and brave perspective to any subject she explores. Yemi brings her unflinching brand of honesty to the subject of trauma.
Did I choose my trauma? is provocative and for some a confronting title. Reading some of the social media comments on its Facebook page, the title has triggered a few people.
For some the title could be considered victim blaming and can be triggering as it places the burden of abuse on the victim and appears to give the perpetrator a free pass. Many people who've experienced trauma do blame themselves so it can appear that Did I choose my trauma is reaffirming this pattern.
Like the word Narcissist, trauma is used frequently by many without an understanding of its nature or true meaning. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is “an emotional response to a painful or horrific event like an accident, rape, or natural disaster.” However, a person may experience trauma as a response to any event they find physically or emotionally threatening or harmful.
A traumatised person can feel a range of emotions both immediately after the event and in the long term. They may feel overwhelmed, helpless, shocked, and or have difficulty processing their experiences. Trauma can also cause physical symptoms.
I see trauma is a fracture to the psyche that alters and effects the way the brain develops, the way the victim sees herself and the meaning they place on experiences and the world around them.
There are several types of trauma, including:
Acute trauma: This results from a single stressful or dangerous event.
Chronic trauma: This results from repeated and prolonged exposure to highly stressful events. Examples include cases of child abuse, bullying, or domestic violence.
Complex trauma: This results from exposure to multiple traumatic events. For example a child who is physically, verbally or sexually abused over a period of time.
In most traumatic situations there is a perpetrator. Usually the perpetrator is someone the victim know and trusts. Also the perpetrator is often someone who is more mentally or physically powerful than the victim.
This is why Did I choose my trauma can be problematic for some people.
In the documentary I attempt to respond to this question Did I choose my trauma from a number of perspectives.
From a bio-physical and secular perspective the answer to this question is of course, no. A child does not choose the family or situation they find themselves in. A person in an accident did not consciously choose to be in that exact place at the exact time that the accident took place and a woman did not ask to be sexually abused despite how she was dressed.
In my case I experienced extreme physical and emotional abuse from the ages of 6-9. I have a vague memory of an incident of sexual abuse but I've never been able to fully access this memory. From this perspective to answer yes to Did I choose my trauma, may then be considered victim blaming.
Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. Our society tends to be prejudiced against victims. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate this prejudice against victims, and the perception that victims are in any way responsible for the actions of offenders. Sherry Hamby founding editor of the APA’s Psychology of Violence journal says “It’s the idea that people deserve what happens to them. There’s a really strong need to believe that we all deserve our outcomes and consequences.”
She goes on to say, "some cultures are able to recognise that sometimes bad things happen to good people,” she says. “But as a general rule, Americans have a hard time with the idea that bad things happen to good people.”
Holding victims responsible for their misfortune is partially a way to avoid admitting that something just as unthinkable could happen to you, even if you do everything 'right'.
The reality is that bad things do happen to good people. Non of us are immune to the challenges of life and many of us have had traumatic experiences in our past and may have more in our future. In 12 step parlance, we live life on life's terms.
It's not so much what happens to us as to what meaning to attach to those incidents.
As Dr Phil say's "perception is reality" and we are meaning making machines.
What meaning have you given to those things that happened to you? How do you judge or see yourself because of those incidents. Can you accept that it was terrible that you had those unpleasant experiences and from now on choose to not allow it to have power over you, cripple your life, change your choices?
You may not have chosen your trauma but you do have the power to seek the healing that is available to transform your traumatic experience so that it is not transferred to those you're in relationship with.
A great way to do this is of course is through therapy.
By allowing your experience to be witnessed by you and another person.
To be seen and heard in your pain and experience.
To not have your experience minimised
to create a space to access and then detox your shame.
Over time you will move into the place of transforming the trauma and taking control of your narrative.
I believe that like all things the experience of trauma can be an asset and a deficit. As a transformer of trauma, I believe that my soul chose those exact set of circumstances to make me the women I am today. I believe that my strength, compassion, determination, discipline, 'A type personality' are direct results of my traumatic experiences. For that I am truly grateful for all of my experiences, 'good' and 'bad'.
Did I choose my Trauma is a bold invitation to let go of the pain of the past and reclaim your power. It emboldens us to move from living our trauma story, to re-writing and living our healing story. For that I am truly grateful for Yemi's vision and courage.
Please watch the full 20 minute documentary below. You can also make a donation to support this project below. I've also shared Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri's TED talk Trauma not transformed is trauma transferred video below.
In the next newsletter I will explore guilt and shame...see you then.
All the best,
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See you there!