When new trauma meets old | Processing, healing and moving on
Our current global pandemic is doing so much more than what we see on the surface. Issues of hospital overcrowding, protective equipment shortages, poverty and job loss are mainly what we see on the news.
Something I’m also concerned about is the long-term psychological damage this pandemic will cause for so many people, and how this event may be triggering stress and anxiety for survivors of previous trauma too.
I’m concerned that many people are being set up for PTSD in their future, as a result of the scarcity of resources, the fear provoking intensity of media coverage and the panic around them right now. And as we know, if you already have PTSD, the waves of anxiety rippling through our population are triggers for re-emergence of past trauma too.
Allowing ourselves to feel what we feel
Whether we are talking about our physical body, or our energy body, emotions do get stuck. These go on to contribute to a whole range of illnesses. So I think it’s really important for all of us, uncomfortable as this may be, to allow ourselves to feel our feelings right now.
We need to get a little bit uncomfortable in the now, in order to be better in the future.
The temptation for many is to try to block out the trauma and pain of our current situation. This may be through numbing or addictive activities, such as eating, sex or drinking alcohol. Others of us tend to block the current pain out by dissociating, and literally not feeling anything. This is particularly prevalent in pre-existing trauma survivors.
If you experienced any acute trauma or abuse in childhood, then a fairly common way for the body and mind to cope is by compartmentalizing. And if it worked for you as a child, then it may be your default coping strategy as an adult experiencing new trauma, or even when remembering the old.
So we must face our fears and begin processing what we are dealing with now in healthy ways, in order to prevent more problems for ourselves further down the track.
When this pandemic eases and the world moves into our new version of normal, you will be able to bounce back. Just make sure you are taking good physical and mental care of yourself now.
Epigenetics and you
The chances are that you’ve heard of epigenetics and though; “Oh that’s interesting, but it doesn’t apply to me.”
But I wouldn’t be so sure, as with generational trauma, you don’t know everything that your parents, grandparents and ancestors beyond them went through. And the thing is, you don’t need to know in order for their trauma to have been handed down to you in some way.
I recently got together with my 1440 Multiversity teaching friend, Kundalini Yogi Karena Virginia, to talk about this very emotive topic. If this interests you then I hope you enjoy the video below.
The science of epigenetics has shown that how an individual reacts to significant traumatic events can, over time, shape patterns of behavior, brain function and even DNA expression. This is all subsequently followed down through the generations.
If you have family members who were survivors of the holocaust, served in the war, or witnessed or experienced severe trauma or abuse, it is possible that your heightened anxiety is due to inherited alterations in your stress response system.
I find this all fascinating as it may partially explain some of those seemingly ‘irrational’ fears and anxieties. We know we don’t like or trust something, but we aren’t sure why. Looking at it through this lens gives us other possibilities to explore.
But again, it doesn’t matter so much if we don’t get to the original story, several generations back, of why a certain thing triggers us today. What matters most is what we do about it here and now.
How we chose to process and let go of what holds us back, and how brave we chose to be in moving forwards is what will see us get the best results in the weeks, months and years ahead. In fact, your response to the current drama and trauma could even set you on the path to post traumatic growth!
How can we move on?
Back when I worked and studied in the field of positive psychology with Martin Seligman, we looked a great deal at positive outlook and optimism. If you’ve taken a psychology course or read any major textbooks, then the famous Nun Study will not have passed you by.
A positive outlook is correlated with a longer, healthier life. Our life stories (the ones we tell ourselves) are strongly tied in with our outlook on the world. If we have grown up believing the world is a cruel place, we will self-report a disproportionally high amount of drama and trauma in our lives.
Now whether this self-report is based on actual numbers of good versus bad experiences, or based on what we choose to pay attention to and recall in an interview, is a much bigger topic for another time. But the key take home here is the importance of your narrative, the story you tell yourself about yourself.
Are you telling your life story from the perspective of a victim or hero?
An excellent way to begin the process of moving on from trauma, be that past, present or generational, is to focus on your personal narrative.
Take control of your story
There’s a lot to chose from out there, from narrative-based therapy with a counselor or hypnotherapist, to life story writing and more. There is also meditation and affirmations to top you up with positivity in a small, incremental way with daily use.
If you know there are past experiences which have likely set you up for living in a victim story, I’ve prepared a simple process for you determine where you lost your power, and how to reprogram your subconscious mind.
Becoming the hero of your life story is also the subject of an upcoming Masterclass we are offering for free to all of our subscribers. You can start here with our free Life Writing Lesson, and then we will send you a reminder when the Masterclass if available.
For now I’d like to leave you to think about how your own narrative could either help of hinder you in these troubling times, and what small changes you could start making to the way you think about yourself and you future.
I’m confident that meditation will help, as I’ve used it with so many of my students and clients. So I’d like to invite you to take my 21-Day Compassion Meditation Challenge, designed to help you start treating yourself (and others) with more compassion.
While your past is ‘written’ in the sense that you can’t change the events that took place – you always have the ability to change how you tell the story to make it more empowering and life affirming.
Dr. Andrea Pennington (@DrAndrea) is an American integrative physician, acupuncturist, meditation teacher and media specialist. She is the Founder of In8Vitality, a #1 international bestselling author, and the creator of The Attunement Meditation Process, a 5-step mindfulness meditation taught online and used around the world to lower stress, boost resilience.
For more TEDx talks, TV appearances, podcasts and more, head to andreapennington.com.