Trauma and Healing: Matters of the Heart

Our hearts seem fragile. When trauma finds us, we are tempted to turn inward, to defend ourselves against the hurt, to harden our hearts. Healing is often about learning to soften again, to face our own suffering, and that of others, with compassion, love, and steadfastness. This is not an easy task.

When we harden, we use a wide range of psychological and spiritual tools to protect ourselves. Denial, dissociation, amnesia, and anger are four tools at our disposal. Dissociation is learned early, usually before age seven. Denial and anger may be learned at any time. Each is useful, sometimes necessary, in protecting us from overwhelming fear and pain. Healing requires lessening our dependence on these protectors.

Dissociation is the province of the individual.  Denial, amnesia,  and anger are readily of service to families, groups, even countries, as well as to the lone person. We live in a culture and nation steeped deeply in denial and anger. Our country denies the acts of brutality, even genocide, some ongoing, committed against Africans, Native Americans, the Irish, and Hispanics. We live in a cultural environment devoid of history, where only the present exists, and where wrongs are erased. A few times each year the cultural biases become more visible: July fourth, Thanksgiving, and Martin Luther King Day stand out here. Often, these great cultural traumas are most visible in the struggles of the peoples effected by them.

A more healthy individual and cultural psyche allows space for history, and feels connected to both past generations and future. Healthy psyches sense themselves as placed firmly on the crest of a wave, a wave stretching far into the past and future. They are connected to the ancestors, and to those whose lives are yet to come. Healthy psyches acknowledge hurts and stand ready to address real grievances. Rather than becoming paralyzed by fear or guilt, they soften into compassion for the real difficulties of being human.

The work of healing is challenging. Healing requires change and compassion, and sometimes, confrontation. Like growing old, it is not for the faint hearted. Yet, we are each invited by Pachamama to heal. We are each encouraged to soften, to once again feel connected to her, to our fellow human travelers, and to all of creation.

Do you have a story of softening to share?

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