“Trauma causes us to disconnect from ourselves, our sense of value, and from the present moment.” Dr Gabor Maté
I recommend Dr Maté and tell his definition to people at least a dozen times every week.
Trauma doesn’t only happen in war, sexual abuse or physical violence. It is also the chronic fear that arises when we feel alone in the world. It is the contempt on a person’s face and the tone of their voice. It is when we hurt so bad the truth bursts out and we’re not believed. It is when we walk into our house and no one is happy to see us. It is when we have internalized the shame and are relentlessly cruel to ourselves.
I first began studying childhood Developmental Trauma (complex PTSD) about 5 years ago. His books and talks were a key part of my understanding. They ring true for me as I have recovered from complex PTSD and inform my work supporting people in healing trauma through presence and connection.
These are some key learnings from Dr Maté from his talks and teachings and his Compassionate Inquiry workshops.
People find ways to disconnect when they are scared and overwhelmed. The mechanism of fight/ flight/ freeze is triggered. Some people lash out. Others numb.
Children need adults who empathically attune to them, notice their distress, know who they are and delight in them. Children experience emotional and physical neglect as a survival level threat. We turn against ourselves believing we are unlovable or bad rather than risk the shaky bond with our parents.
When a distressing event happens, we believe the most hurtful explanation, then we react to that with hurt or anger.
We have trouble having compassion and kindness for ourselves because we have disconnected from our feelings. Instead, imagine that a dear friend had that experience at that age. If you have children or know children at that age, imagine them in that situation. Would you blame and condemn them the way you do yourself? Children have limited brain development and resources. Imagining it with someone else, it is easier to see the innocence and lack of agency to actually fix a situation in which you felt powerless.
Parents are unavailable or abusive because of their own unhealed trauma/ disconnection. Anyone who does their own healing work breaks the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
Understanding the trauma response helps us to stop blaming ourselves for what happened to us and our responses to that (disconnection, addiction).
Attuned empathy and compassion are essential in healing and (re)connection.
There is hope! We can provide this for ourselves and each other. We are no longer children with limited mental, emotional and other resources.
Study Dr Maté. He is a respected trauma expert and is interviewed frequently. This is a recent interview with comic Russell Brand.
People reach a tipping point where they are no longer scared of being present with the feelings and energy in their body. We begin to welcome everything that arises within. We are on our own side.