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The Body in Therapy

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

"Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections".

It's a funny thing that its so recent that we are bringing the body into therapy. Maybe funny is not the right word, it's interesting.

'The Trauma Body' is relatively new phrase, the idea that we need to connect the body experience with what the person is thinking. We have an experience, we see and feel it first, we then think about it and by then its lodged in the body as a memory.

If you think of children; having fun, oblivious to danger to what might happen, completely in the moment, something goes wrong in the next moment and the child is hurt, if it's not bad, there can be a delayed reaction, so not much felt but then the mind kicks in and says "oh that was scary"! or people are reacting, they see their face or the fear in their voices and they go into a fear, shock response, the body takes that on.

The body then holds that memory. Each time we have a bad experience where we are hurt, trapped, stuck , scared abused etc, the body remembers this, in a subtle or extreme way depending on the experience.

In the buddhist practice of Vipassana meditation, it is believed there are these so called "chungs" of energy known as Sankhara, these are like blocks in the body memory and as you go into deep meditation these Sankharas are said to rise in some form asan experience, pain or it can be a visual experience or a feeling and the idea is, to sit and observe these as they rise without getting attached to the pain or thought, allowing whatever it is to rise and pass... sounds easy, it is not! The nature of our mind is to attach thought and roll in suffering with either aversion or craving, the mind wants to build stories of how much we dislike it or love or need it. this I think is a major part of the teaching, my interpretation of it anyway.

So the belief is we have experiences in life through different senses, speech, (good, bad) hearing, feelings, tasting, generating sankharas, happening through actions, such as bad speech, like speaking badly of someone, we cause ourselves pain as much as the other, then we have to feel and recognise this, as if something is rising within, to just observe it, in whatever form it arises, I know in my experience I have felt a lot of pain, heat, agitation, thoughts but also bliss, the trick is to not get attached within the meditation.

This practice of meditation gave me and still gives me a profound understanding of the nature of the 'Trauma Body', watching as things rise in me and not engaging with them but allowing the pain rise and tears to run until this passes, helped me realise I would not die ( this can be the feeling people who have experienced trauma). By allowing this pain to rise, you can sit within the fear without reaction, not getting into the story that you may fall into an abyss of loneliness and darkness.

I always think of the trauma wound as if it is a hole within the body, a gap, I visualise it in the centre where the heart and heart energy centre is.

When I work with people to understand this hole and the wounding within and around it, its as if the healing of the wound begins. Before this often and they need to feel something else through engaging in impulse control behaviour or addiction such as shopping, sex, gambling, smoking, over gyming , always working, talking, etc; anything to feel something other than that painful wound, that emptiness.

Even if people are cared for in a loving way, the parents reactions and behaviours will have an impact on the child, children are completely reliant on the adults around them to feel safe and to be able to self actualise, to become balanced adults.

We are so vulnerable as children, we see the world as scary and can be affected by the smallest situation , if we have caregivers who are not quite there due to their own upbringing or life experiences, or are not able to provide a safe and secure home environment, this can feel terribly out of control, the way we feel as children and the way we see the world, relies completely on our parents or primary caregivers.

Parents and caregivers are people who have gone through their own experiences and will, without fail put their own fears, judgments and strange ways onto their child in some way or another, that's just being human.

There are very few humans who don't carry a wound (trauma), from childhood or adulthood.

This could be a loss of a parent, child, friend, loved pet, or it could be parenting that did not fulfill your basic needs, or even your individual sensitive needs. Parents and the way the family

runs on the whole do the best they can at the time but this sometimes is not enough or sometimes disastrous. Of course this can depend on their wounds that the parent or parents might carry, they might not be big disturbances within the family or parental behaviour, or they could be more extreme, for example many of the men born into the families of fathers who had to engage in wars in the world, grew up with fathers who may have been wounded physically but more damaging, was the psychological damage, PTSD, often with a raging interior life going on and this could evolved from shame, or fear and many other feelings, they were unable to manage alone.

Sadly often that did not allow them to actualise into the fathers they may have imagined themselves becoming.

Not having the understanding or support needed, due to the trauma they had experienced.

So unable to cope they might lash out at their sons and daughters too, but more often the boys would be on the receiving end of this rage. Leaving these children wounded and not being able to understand why behaviour that did not seem bad, was punished with a ragefull reaction.

Of course some men and women worked hard not to react from their wounding but this took great awareness and bravery to face their demons to manage to act in a more aware way.

Mothers of this time were often depressed having been left alone to do everything and had babies alone unsupported, here we have a whole lot of wounding.

So on it goes, sometimes trauma is looked at as generational, universal or as individual.

It might be safe to say nobody

escapes some form of wounding or trauma all together, life's a journey of experiences, some good, some bad, so often it is seen as the luck of the family your born into that depends the trajectory or your life, but it surely is more to do the parents you are born to and their ability to give you not only your basic needs , as talked about by Maslow and his model of basic needs or Hierarchy-of-Needs-Theory also to be able to manage, monitor or work with their own inner stories.

To work in a 'trauma informed' way as we call it now, is to understand that, we hold trauma memories in our bodies and if we don't make sure the client feels safe and we are able to hold the client in some way with certain tools and techniques, we could open up a pandora's box. We need to understand that trauma is a manifestation of experience and feelings, leading to memories within the mind and body.

People can react in strange ways later on in life, or people often talk about feeling like a child, this is about the inner child experience and the body remembering the trauma, this can take people back, as if the trauma is happening now!

It can be very scary and lead to dissociation, disconnecting from the self, it seems People can begin to do this when the trauma happens, almost as if the psyche splits and the way to self preserve is to split away from the pain.

The wounding can lead to a sense of imbalance in the adult self, either presenting in behaviours such as non commitment, overly focussed on being successful etc or to the other end of the scale as depression and other mental health problems.

I have seen how scary this can be for clients and until they are able to understand the trauma with the help of a therapist, only then can they begin to piece themselves together again and hopefully, fill that gaping wound and repair the split, understand the feelings of disorganisation or guilt that they have carried as if their raging parents reaction towards them was their fault.

By helping the client bring self-compassion and understanding and also doing this as a therapist, rather than blame and judgment. I feel we can help clients see how they can behave in vulnerable or dysfunctional ways in the past and were judged for this, hopefully they can begin to understand the amazing ability we have as humans to split from our pain, allowing them to grow up, albeit in a slightly dysfunctional or challenged way, they are still alive though, still here! Then the healing begins.

The good news is we can heal as humans with the right help, a lot of bravery and determination and care.

If we can heal our own wounds before having our own children we can stop passing on the generational trauma, giving future generations of children a clearer and hopefully healthier future.

-Gabor Mate-


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