We only experience trauma in relation to another. This tells us a lot about the importance of how we relate, and the effects of this upon on us. We learn our first way of being in the world through our interactions with our significant caregiver. This bond is foundational and becomes what John Bradshaw (2005, p. 10) calls ‘the interpersonal bridge’. If this bridge is destroyed, as it so often can be, the child’s root to healthy development is impeded, and we can experience unhealthy forms of shame.
Shame is a naturally occurring secondary emotion, according to Antonio Damasio (2000). For Bradshaw (2005, p. 7), it lets us know our limitations: ‘not one of us has, or can ever have, unlimited power’. Problems arise when we we refuse to accept these limitations. This can be on account of a traumatic attachment to our caregivers and a development of unhealthy shame. If our parents or caregivers have hidden secrets, the child can also carry this disowned shame. Hence with these burdens, rather than see our possible mistakes in life as fleeting, it becomes a reflection of our whole being: ‘I am a mistake’ (Bradshaw, 2005, p. 21).
As the shame becomes internalised, it is possible to take on destructive ways of being, including addictions. Hence, I hope it is clear that sometimes our bodies are not always safe havens. Sometimes, they are not places we can find refuge in. Hence, mindfulness practices can re-trigger these early or late traumatic experiences.
Here are some ideas- we can help our clients to:
- Focus on external visual objects in their surroundings to get them interested in events outside the body.
- Ground, feel their feet and their sensations.
- Get them up and standing, place their backs against a wall.
- Be in the role of observer, noticing the sensations and feelings, rather than undergoing them.
I guess, it is a finely tuned balance between starting to feel ourselves again, and not getting to the place of being overwhelmed and so being re-traumatised.
Bradshaw, J. (2005) Healing the Shame that Binds You. Florida, USA: Health Communications Inc.
Damasio, A. (2000) The Feeling of What Happens. New York, USA: Vintage.
Peck, R. (1990) The Road less Traveled. London, UK: Arrow.