Mindfulness through “resourcing meditation” can help us to cope with trauma. It does not replace the need for therapeutic assistance but complements therapy and facilitates the process of dealing with deeply held fear or grief.
The causes of trauma
Trauma can be experienced by anyone at any stage of life. The associated experience of profound psychological distress can result from a natural disaster such as a cyclone or earthquake; a personal life event such as the death of a parent. life partner or a child; being involved in a serious car or transport accident; the experience of going to war or being a prisoner of war; experiencing a vicious relationship break-up; being a person displaced by war; experiencing a toxic work environment over an extended period; being a refugee attacked by pirates when trying to flee a war-torn country by boat (the experience of Anh Do).
People in helping professions can experience vicarious trauma by virtue of supporting others who have had a traumatic experience. So midwives in a hospital can experience trauma when a mother and/or baby dies; professionals providing access to legal aid can be overcome by constant exposure to the recounting of traumatic experiences by clients; police, ambulance drivers and paramedics can experience vicarious trauma as a result of the work they do with victims of crime or serious car accidents; and police and their life partners, too, can experience trauma vicariously as a result of the death of a colleague through violence.
The effects of trauma
Just as the causes of trauma can be many and varied, so too are the effects experienced by people who have been traumatised. Some people experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This usually occurs when a person experiences an event that is personally life-threatening to themselves or others and is more likely in situations where a pre-existing mental illness is present, and/or a series of traumatic events are involved, such as sexual abuse. People who have PTSD will experience “feelings of intense fear, helplessness or horror” and tend to replay the traumatic event(s) over and over, so that their intense anxiety condition becomes locked in.
The spectrum of responses to the experience of trauma is very wide – from numbness and inertia to aggression and violence. People who experience trauma can become withdrawn and avoid interactions; experience de-sensitisation to the people and situations they have to deal with; experience on-going depression; become cynical or distrustful in their interactions; or experience a profound and enduring sadness. They may question their self-worth and accomplishments; experience difficulty in relaxing and sleeping; or be overcome by a deep sense of grief (where someone significant to them has died).
Accessing our internal resources
In a previous post, I wrote about how to use the R.A.I.N. meditation process to deal with fear and anxiety. However, in cases of trauma and intense grief, we may not be able to plumb the depths of our feelings because the experience would be too painful and/or cause flashbacks to the traumatic event(s).
Tara Brach, in the course on the Power of Awareness, described how to access internal resources to cope initially with the psychological pain experienced with trauma. Drawing on her own experience with trauma victims and sound research in the area, she suggests a number of ways to resource ourselves:
- Physical grounding – this involves getting in touch with the feeling of our feet on the ground and our buttocks on the chair. The physical sensation of contact with the ground or chair is important because it enables us to link the sense of safety and security through sitting or standing with our psychological experience.
- Breathing deeply and slowly – this could begin with lengthening our in-breath and out-breath and move to mindful breathing, which includes paying attention to the space between.
- Touch – touching our heart or stomach with some loving gesture that brings warmth to relax our body.
- Talking to ourselves – we can use comforting and supportive words while engaged in conversation with ourselves.
- Envisaging our allies – there may be relatives or friends in our life who provide very strong emotional support and constant affirmation of our self-worth. There are others such as members of a support group for a chronic illness or for loss of a child or loved one. Bringing these people to mind together with the feelings of kindness and encouragement they engender, can build our inner resources to cope with trauma.
- Revisiting a place of peace or relaxation – we can do this physically or just by visioning what it was like to be in our favourite place. It could be by the bay or at the seaside, in the mountains or on the deck in our home-anywhere that gives us strength, renews our spirit and intensifies our feelings of security.
Whatever process we use for inner resourcing, it is important to get in touch with what positive effects we are feeling in our body, as well as in our minds. Tara Brach, in the Power of Awareness course, encourages us to use resourcing meditations based on the above listed pathways to tap into, and strengthen, our inner resources. She argues that these meditations are a true refuge, unlike the false refuges of drugs or alcohol.
Being able to deal with trauma through the R.A.I.N. meditation process (plumbing the depths of our fear or grief) may take months of resourcing ourselves before we can confront the depths of our emotions, but Tara’s own counselling experience with people who have suffered trauma (including PTSD) confirms that it is possible to emerge from the depths to live a balanced and happy life.
As we grow in mindfulness through resourcing meditations, we strengthen our inner resources to cope with the profound psychological effects of a trauma and build up our capacity to deal with the resultant debilitating emotions.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
Image source: courtesy of Maialisa on Pixabay
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