Trauma is a part of life. It is what shapes us and what makes us. It teaches us valuable lessons and turns us into better humans. We all remember a distant childhood memory of falling on the ground, hurting ourselves and crying. We remember how harsh the gravel and dust felt against our fresh, young skin before it began to bleed. We remember times when we felt embarrassed and wanted to disappear, or times when we were bullied and felt powerless and scared. Etched in my memory forever will be the time when I was stood up on a date and felt utterly worthless, or that afternoon when I got fired from work, right before Christmas.
But with each traumatic experience, we become a new person. Trauma is perhaps the most effective way in which humans and other animals learn. But it also has powerful transformative and regenerative effects on the psyche and spirit. It is often said that people who have lost something or someone are wiser and nicer overall compared to others. They tend to be less arrogant, more empathetic, more open. But most of all, they seem to radiate some type of quiet, infinite wisdom that connects them to everything around them. When you look into their eyes, you can sometimes see pieces of the universe.
Trauma’s transformative power only becomes available to us when we are brave enough to allow it to take over us, to run like electricity through our body, like a ravaging forest fire that tears through villages. If we surrender to trauma rather than suppress it, powerful psychological mechanisms are activated that resemble a near-death experience, giving us access to a new consciousness that transcends time and space. We become time travelers, connected to the world, to every single plant, animal, insect or bacterium that has ever felt pain. By allowing ourselves to feel our trauma, we connect to an ancient cycle of death and regeneration that defines all forms of biological existence on Earth. Our traumatic experience becomes so much more than just learning “what to avoid next time”. It becomes a spiritual transformation to a new type of existence: open, aware, introspective, connected and compassionate. We become time and space.
All religions have exploited imagery that tries to tap into the power of trauma: from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, to the wisdom of the Karma and reincarnation. But trauma only releases its healing power if the one traumatized allows their unpleasant experience to humble them: to expose them to their fragility, their imperfection, and their insignificance within the larger universe. Only then, can they forgive and be forgiven, and close the cycle of trauma and violence for good. Trauma, when fully processed, can become a triumph over our ego. It is a celebration of our mortality, and of our living spirit.
Failing to recognize that we have been traumatized on the other hand, robs us of this insight. The wounds may appear to have healed on the outside, but in reality we are still terrified. We settle for living in a traumatized world, because we think we have no other option. And before we know it, we begin to perpetuate the cycle of trauma, by inflicting more of it on others and on ourselves. We become blind to the vastness of time and space, and begin to live our life as a series of terrifying, nail-biting and limiting moments of anguish instead. Taken over by an ego that refuses to accept death and trauma as part of normal life, humanity has been on an arrogant quest to prove to itself that it is invincible and infallible, and in fact, immortal. Yet in the course of this quest, humans have created a civilization that traumatizes them, every single day.
Our warped perception of what constitutes “progress” has created a civilization that strives to cover up our trauma rather than process it. Our fear of death, the ultimate form of trauma, has made us enter a spiral of denial. With no access to the insight that comes from fully processing trauma, we are becoming increasingly insecure, restless and desperate to find ways to tell ourselves that we are immortal. Whether this means building more empires, hoarding more natural resources, shopping, or smoking, we are desperately trying to distract ourselves from our fear of death. Greed and unscrupulous growth, the pursuit of success at all costs, have been our psychological coping mechanisms in avoiding, at all costs, to stay in the moment for just one second, and simply be with ourselves: be with our mortality, and begin to truly value not only our life, but all life.
The irony is that all of these coping mechanisms include trauma. The more we refuse to process our fear of death and trauma, the more we create civilizations that worship death and destruction. We are recycling our unprocessed trauma in order to keep ourselves distracted from facing our original trauma, like an adult trying to relive their childhood experience. We have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle. From traumatized, we have become the traumatizers. Part of us is trying to recreate our trauma, because deep down we know that only through processing it can we every feel truly alive, truly ourselves, that we have finally arrived home. Instead we have become a killing machine, destroying everything that moves, lives and breathes on this planet, everything else that is alive. We have trapped ourselves in a cycle of trauma.
As an increasingly panicking humanity runs away from the fires it has set off, the risk is that it will continue to look outside, rather than within itself. It will continue to set off more fires and engage in even more irrational behavior, finding refuge from its unprocessed trauma in the coping mechanisms and dictators who will validate and exploit its fears, and continue the cycle of trauma. How much more pain do we need to feel, or to inflict on ourselves and the world around us, so that we can come full circle?
Our restlessness and insecurity have resulted in a civilization maddened with toxic ambition. In this “always on”, 24-hour society we have created, we have forbidden ourselves to ever sit still, in the fear that we might become aware of our mortality and fragility, or god forbid, begin to question our manufactured reality. We look despise sitting still as a form of laziness, and our obsession with achieving and destroying has brought about a sleeplessness epidemic, causing anxiety and depression to skyrocket. We take mindfulness meditation classes just so that we can remember what it used to feel like to just sit, to need nothing else but our own breath, our own existence. We are beginning to deny ourselves our basic biological functions, including the capacity for emotion.
In fact, in our quest for immortality, we have sought to convince ourselves that we are not from Earth. The industrial revolution, the look and feel of our modern cities, our cars, our houses, have all served to try and convince us that we are not a being of this Earth. We don’t want to be reminded that we are fragile. Our refusal to accept our mortality has meant that we have constructed civilizations which view with contempt nature and the natural process of death and renewal it embodies. They look to shield us and distract us from anything which reminds us that we in fact came from the “wild”, that we are an animal that came out of the jungles and savannahs, and that we will return to the soil one day. We shun nature and the natural ecosystem because they remind us of who we are and where we came from. Yet in our quest to shield ourselves from mortality, we created polluted cities that are toxic to all biological life, including our own. Our corporate world traumatizes us with meaningless soul-sucking “bullshit jobs” which only push paper and CO2 around the globe, and end up pushing us towards anxiety and sleeplessness, for the reward of a salary. As this civilization becomes more and more toxic, it will need to devise more narratives, more coping mechanisms, more consumer rewards to keep us within its grip of denial. Until the day, when it unavoidably comes face to face with its own death.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books
One thought on “Our Unbreakable Cycle Of Trauma”
George, I am again amazed at how well you understand the human predicament. This is important insight to share with all. Thanks Rick