...the idea is that you kind of look reality straight in the face, you know - doesn't matter how ugly it is - and you try to find humanity in it. You try to find beauty in it. You try to find hope in it. So you cannot beautify it. But at the same time, you should find these tiny things that - you know, that would make, sometimes, a very violent and unhappy occasion still human and emotional.
~ Etgar Keret, in his great interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air
I've never been able to quite articulate this experience I walk around with but I suspect anyone who has lived with trauma might understand it. I have many emotions and at the same time I'm very sensitive to the pain of others. I don't want to impose or somehow make their pain worse so I tend to hide my feelings. As a result, I've struggled with this notion - how can I be the full expression of myself without causing harm? This from the Israeli author Etgar Keret's interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air offers insight:
GROSS: Since your father survived the Holocaust literally in a hole and your mother managed to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto - although her parents did not - when you were growing up as their child, did you think that you weren't allowed to experience pain or sadness because your sadness, your pain couldn't compare? It was like nothing compared to what they experienced as children.
KERET: Well, I felt that I was allowed to experience. But I made an extra effort to hide it from my parents, you know? I think that by reflex I felt that - you know, that they had suffered so much that the least I could do would be not to add to the pain that they've experienced in their lifetime. And I think that there's something about these attitudes - that it also kind of pushed me toward writing because what happened was I kind of had this very strong superego that - you know, it started with my parents. But it continued with the entire society - that I was always very much aware of what people wanted of me. And I didn't want to make them feel unhappy.
But at the same time, there was kind of a very strong id under it that wanted all kind of things that I couldn't express. And fiction suddenly became this place where I could write about all my desires, but nobody would have to pay a price for it. Nobody would be unhappy if I would eat five desserts or punch the people who deserved punching or kiss the people who deserved to be kissed, you know? So there was something very liberating about it, you know? Fiction became this kind of, like, padded cell where I could run and hit my head against the wall without kind of causing any harm - not to the wall and neither to my head.
I was reading about how a challenging past can lead to a happier present when I stumbled upon this nugget:
"the signs of unresolved trauma—withdrawal and isolation, feeling overwhelmed in the face of life’s ordinary ups and downs, not being able to move forward with one’s life and progress toward achieving one’s goals—and take appropriate steps to bring unprocessed trauma to resolution."
I've definitely been there before and I know I'll be there again. I dig myself out with help and by facing the emotions I don't want to face.
And I find that the article is true. I've definitely faced some adversity and find I treasure the little things in my life. Like my shower's water pressure. Every day I get in and think, "I love this shower."
Cheesy, I know. But true.
“I do think about getting hit, though,” he said. “And I definitely am the way I am because of it. I am quick to react. I am quick to protect myself. I am very comfortable with people yelling at me. And I am very comfortable telling people exactly what I think. I am very comfortable getting personal.”
I often think that I am learning, truly learning for the first time in my life. Why? Because the trauma of my childhood took up so much of my cognitive processes - in childhood, my twenties and frankly most of my thirties. A stressed brain is not completely available to take in information and focus on the task at hand. A stressed brain is just trying to survive. “What the science tells us about how stressed brains react to change, loss or threat is that children will often violate rules because they feel profoundly out of control. It’s a survival reaction and it may actually be intended to control the situation.” Chris Blodgett, a clinical psychologist who directs the CLEAR Trauma Center at Washington State University, in the NYTimes
Even when I was in the midst of my stressful childhood, I knew it affected my ability to show up but I didn’t know what to do about it nor did my teachers. Today I see so many kids and adults who are still dealing with the trauma in some way, shape or form. Understanding that trauma is not just being in a violent community but a violent home – physical and/or verbal, is a big deal. And it doesn’t even have to be abuse – it can be a chronic chaotic environment or one of neglect.
I’ve talked about ACE here before. Where are you on the list? How is trauma still showing up in your life? What are you doing to overcome it?
I can tell you from my own experience, you can overcome it. But it’s work. And the first step is getting in touch with your emotions. They are okay to have – all of them. The goal is not to suppress them or over-identify with them, but to regulate them. How do you regulate your emotions? You first label them. “Oh, I’m angry” is a good start. Then you let them rise and then go away. You don’t dwell on them. Then you explore the thoughts that gave rise to them. What triggered the emotion?
Then you question/challenge the thought.
Then you choose how you want to be in the moment.
Don’t let these steps fool you – this isn’t easy, but practice makes it easier.
Then you find that you're calmer, your more at peace. Form there the world opens up, and you're ready to learn.