Yesterday’s post ended on a somewhat sour note: I had uncovered quite a bit of cultural trauma reflected in my inner voices. Even as I was writing it, I heard the question “okay, so, what am I going to do about that?!?” You might have been left with that question, too, reading the post. So, let’s explore what we can do about cultural trauma! Even though ultimately, I think, it can only truly be healed once we live in a new culture, there are several things we can do.
Well, okay. I don’t really know it all. However, I am experimenting about what we can do and like to share what I have come up with so far. Cultural trauma is complex trauma. Complex trauma consists of wounds that occur over a period of time and in a relationship. Childhood abuse, including spanking and emotional control, and domestic violence are examples of complex trauma.
As Bessel van der Kolk shows eloquently in his book The Body Keeps The Score, our bodies store our traumatic memories. While there are other body-based approaches, like Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, van der Kolk has investigated tools that can help heal complex trauma in particular. The tool that I am most intrigued with, and has the most research support, is Trauma-Sensitive Yoga. This form of yoga emphasizes choice and teaches us to take effective actions (two elements David Emerson stresses as important for yoga that is trauma-sensitive). Like gentle yoga, TSY follows a rhythm or flow to help us return to the present moment. Maybe because it was developed with the help and feedback of complex trauma survivors, I have experienced TSY as very empowering (other forms of yoga have felt too fast, too focused on posture).
The return to the present moment is particularly important. It is hard, if not impossible, to make a change if we are not aware of our patterns and habits. Noticing what is going on inside can be extremely helpful to uncover thinking or reacting that gets in the way of living the way we want to. To help with this, we can write stories that describe our life, investigating particularly those moments where we react driven by something inside of us (it sometimes seems to me as if I have become possessed!). Writing up story snippets can allow us to uncover story templates (or core beliefs) that drive our behavior without much of our conscious choice. It might even be that these story templates are variations of a theme. In my case, the belief “I am not safe!” tends to create a lot of anxiety, preventing me from reaching out to others or taking steps in the direction I want to move. This awareness alone can be helpful! It’s amazing how often I feel relieved simply by acknowledging that my story template (or one of its many variations) was driving my actions.
These two tools interact: Through trauma-sensitive yoga, we (re)learn to feel our body, notice sensations, and be comfortable with that. Only when we can sense that there is something “off” can we notice that we feel uncomfortable with the way we act, an indicator that a story template might be at work. Then we can dig out that template.
And these tools work better when practiced with others. Because complex trauma occurs in close relationships, one of the most important healing supports are empathic relationships. I practice story telling with a friend who helps me see story templates in my actions when I don’t see them. He gently challenges me to look closer, dig deeper – and I can do that because I feel safe with his support. I envision growing this nucleus of a community to a group of people who practice yoga and story telling together.
I expect to find more tools as I continue my healing journey. Once I have tested them out on myself, I will share them here and integrate them into an updated version of my tool guild designed to help us heal cultural trauma.
This post is part of the Your Turn Challenge.