This is by no means an academic piece of writing, just my ponderings and ramblings.

I’ve been wondering about how power, the abuse thereof most obviously, is intimately linked to trauma. So much of my reading about trauma recognises the loss of control, or being over-powered as a key cause of trauma. There are some obvious examples; rape, child abuse, torture. I’m wondering whether power or a sense of control is in some way a factor in all trauma.

In my own case, I have not been exposed to physical threat or domination. Rather, my loss of control had to do with life circumstances – the sudden death of a significant person in my life at an age where I was not resourced to manage and adapt.

Judith Herman defines trauma along these lines:

“Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning”, and further “traumatic events are extraordinary not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary adaptations to life”.

External and internal

No doubt there are external events that trigger trauma and these vary significantly, but internally, as Judith Herman says, there is a consistent theme, a loss of control, connection and/or meaning and an overwhelm of our ability to adapt. I’ve encountered an attitude that measures the justification of trauma based on the external event. I’m not sure this is helpful. We’re all unique. Notions of little ‘t’ trauma, and big ‘T’ trauma, as if the measure of severity related to the external event. I’m certainly not wanting to swing the pendulum the other way and trivialise the significance of exposure to traumatic events. Front line workers protect the rest of us from exposure to much of the unpleasantries of life. I for one am extremely grateful for that. I certainly acknowledge that these service providers are at much greater exposure, and therefore risk.

My concern is more about trivialising a person’s experience of being unable to adapt to circumstances that some may deem insignificant? Is that person somehow not justified in being traumatised and experiencing the impact of a dysregulated nervous system? Can we actually measure the justification of trauma based on external events? I’m advocating for an acknowledgement of our individual and unique response to life. And, to recognise that people with trauma are doing the important work of re-attuning. And, that it is significant and important work. If a person with a sensitive nervous system finds it difficult to adapt, that is no less significant in impact, irrespective of the trigger.

If you’re paying attention, you’re traumatised

Someone said[1] that “if you’re paying attention, you’re traumatised”. I think that sums it up. It’s all of us, we live in a world that is challenging at the best of times and currently even more so. It isn’t surprising that so many of us are currently struggling to stay balanced. I don’t think any of us need to feel concerned about whether our response is justified. If our nervous system tips out of balance it’s an opportunity, perhaps even evolution at work.

As the owner/occupier of a sensitive nervous system, I’m interested in recognising the benefits of this sensitivity. Could it be that this sensitivity to the harshness of our world comes like a calling to re-attune to a new way of being? As Matt Licata says, what the world needs now more than ever is “embodied, sensitive, open, warm, empathic, kind human beings who can listen deeply to one another and inside themselves, and to bring these realizations into the neural circuitry of the world”.

The relentless need to perform and achieve

Could it be that we’re beginning to turn a corner and discover new values in place of the relentless cultural need to perform and achieve? To perhaps bring into question the harshness of some of our systems and structures?

One of the most pervasive beliefs of people experiencing the symptoms of trauma is “there’s something wrong with me”.

My greatest fear during episodes of trauma symptoms (depression, anxiety) was that I would somehow be disqualified from life. That I would firmly establish myself as unworthy and be banished from the human family. Unfit, not measuring up, unacceptable, on the scrap heap.

No wonder I spent so many years striving to over achieve. Driven by an obsession to prove my worth, to justify my existence, my right to be here.

Loving what is

Beginning to learn to love what is, not argue with reality, touching down, landing in a place of acceptance of everything as it is, has been the journey home. As someone hell-bent on the pursuit of some future success, achievement or arrival, I was very rarely present. But, finding that out, starting to witness that exhausting pursuit and ceasing it, has felt like turning the titanic. It’s been hard work, but so worth it!

We are hard-wired for happiness. We know when there’s something wrong, something robbing us of our birth-right. Our motivation to hunt it down, seek it out can be relentless. In my experience, only when I have been exhausted and spent have I actually had any chance of touching it. Discovering it because it is already who I am. And, all my efforting and constant distractions, quite simply, were covering it up.

The hard and important work of re-attuning

Perhaps the world/our world would be a better place if we could just be a little softer and gentler with ourselves. To listen to the messages from our nervous system when it needs rest and soothing amidst our changing and often threatening existence. And, to allow space and time for those around us who are doing the hard and important work of re-attuning.


[1] I apologise that I cannot reference the source but it really resonated with me at the time, stayed with me and then I couldn’t track it down