trauma & conditioning
When we experience traumatic events, an abrupt contracting reaction takes place in our nervous system. Our survival instincts are activated which affects our heart rate, our breathing, our hormones, and our brain activity. At that moment, this sudden rush of adrenaline and other reactions in our body are useful, as they can assist us in responding adequately to dangerous situations. Animals that suffer traumatic experiences literally shake it off after they have reached safe circumstances. The body-intelligence of animals guides them to release the tension and residual energy, and their minds don’t interfere. Humans seem to have lost this natural skill and they often store the traumatic memories in their system. Then, when they experience something that resembles the trauma, their system starts re-living the old trauma and loses sight of the current circumstances.
Sometimes trauma is experienced stretched out over time, rather than during one isolated incident. When a child has experienced physical or emotional neglect from their caretakers throughout their childhood, the absence of loving and nurturing attention can be just as damaging to the nervous system as experiencing invasive trauma. Their system receives long-term conditioning that prevents healthy and balanced development into adulthood. Sometimes our conditioning isn’t necessarily traumatic, but simply very strict and dogmatic. In cases of highly overprotective parents, rigid religious upbringing, or discrimination, we develop limiting beliefs about ourselves and about life. When strict beliefs are imposed on us consistently as children, our unconscious mind starts to accept them as the truth about our reality. We also receive conditioning from education and media when we grow up in modern societies.
The result of our traumas and conditioning is that our naturally abundant flow of life-force energy becomes stagnated. The tension is stored in our system, ready to be reactivated by an experience that resembles our traumatic past experiences. To be able to flourish in life, to have healthy relationships, and to deal with challenges constructively, we need to heal and integrate the parts of us that have become frozen in time. When we neglect to engage in this process and keep encountering triggers that reinforce our old beliefs, our energy becomes increasingly contracted, potentially resulting in disease. The process of de-conditioning and healing can take time and requires commitment. An important shift that needs to take place is that we take full responsibility for our lives, our experiences, our energy, and our feelings. With that attitude, we can stop escaping intense feelings, and we can start to heal our wounds and the frozen parts of ourselves. Several highly effective approaches can assist us during this challenging part of the journey.
One of the key components of long-term healing from trauma and conditioning is understanding ourselves and how our mind works. To have deep insight into how we developed into the person we are today. When we understand our inner mechanisms, we can become aware of our responses to experiences that resemble our traumas and we can consciously experiment and practice new and healthy habits and beliefs. We can then also look at our past, our mechanisms, and our feelings with less resistance and judgment. Instead, we can be just as compassionate with our inner child as we are with others that have suffered challenging circumstances. Psychotherapy assists us in this journey and helps us put the pieces of our puzzle together and reclaim the pieces that have gone missing.
Another crucial component of deep healing is releasing the trauma that we have stored in our system. Where the inner work during the previous component is often more observing and analytical, this process invites us to fully dive into ourselves and let the waves of overwhelming feelings, memories, associations, and sensations rush through our whole system. In trauma release approaches, feelings and memories are welcomed to resurface in the current moment. We re-live the traumatic moments, but in a safe setting where we are guided to consciously release it. Our body-intelligence and our breath are fundamental tools in this approach. Some trauma release styles take place in a relatively calm and structured way, and others involve more catharsis and spontaneous emergence. This creates room for a new foundation in life, for more relaxation and trust, and for new feelings and beliefs.
An important and often overlooked component of our inner work is shadow work. The human species prefers to focus on where we are heading. We have a resistance against diving into our inner darkness and being brutally honest with ourselves about what we find there. Yet, integrating our shadow-parts has a profound healing impact and catalyzes our growth process. Our shadow is our disowned self, and it holds everything we deny about ourselves. It consists of hidden parts of ourselves that have been suppressed for a long time. The qualities that we deny in ourselves, we tend to see in others; the psychological term for this is projection. We are usually not consciously aware of our projections and our shadow-parts, yet for our loved ones they’re often clearly visible. Our ego and our survival mechanisms tend to get in the way of seeing ourselves and our behavior objectively, so it can take dedication and support to embrace and integrate our shadow-parts.
Family constellation offers the ability to improve the dynamics we have in our relationships with others. It zooms in on the family system we are part of and it looks at how we relate to different elements within the system, such as parents and siblings, but also influential themes such as a disease or loss. The roles we played in the primary relationships with our parents and siblings are often re-created during adulthood in the dynamics with our partners, friends, colleagues, and children. Family constellation is a powerful method that assists us in recognizing and healing difficult entanglements in our family of origin so that we can liberate our current relationships with loved ones and our relationship with life from the old patterns.