Madeleine Kay, a Focusing Practitioner & Trainer
People who have been traumatised by repeated abuse, especially during or throughout childhood, store up fear and pain in their bodies. This includes the neurology of the brain, and via that, all their systems may be affected. It is acknowledged that mental health and learning difficulties, personal relationship difficulties, physical illness and disabilities of many kinds are more common in people who have survived complex trauma. My contention here is that survivors of complex trauma are also disadvantaged in the spiritual dimension of their life.
A frequently reported feature of strong spiritual experience is having a deep, embodied sense of the connection with 'something' much larger than the self. There is a sense of wonder. It is difficult to describe in words. There is a sense of having a profound understanding, grasping something previously inaccessible, that too often slips away to become a memory of an experience and of an understanding that cannot be retained.
Sometimes people describe an experience as 'almost spiritual' - and again describe a sense of connection with something much larger than the self, perhaps participating in a group of people who are united in an uplifting event - maybe a concert, group singing - or a sense of combined humbleness and privilege at having witnessed a wonder of the natural world.
I suggest that to have experiences such as these, we need to be able to feel connected with our own bodies, and with both other people and aspects of the world that cognition alone cannot grasp and therefore cannot connect with. When we feel we are surrounded by a world that is incomprehensible to us, we feel disconnected and isolated, as if we don’t belong. We feel both rejected by and rejecting of people who seem incomprehensible to us - they seem threatening, and we feel unsafe. This experience of relative isolation and alienation is the very opposite of a spiritual experience.
In order to feel connected to the world this sense of isolation, of threat and incomprehension needs to change. Only when we can be compassionate and accepting with other people and the wider world, however briefly, are be able to experience a kind of union with that which we can’t cognitively comprehend.
This needs to start with those incomprehensible, unacceptable parts of ourselves. How can we learn to accept in others those things that we cannot accept in ourselves? How can we reach out to others, of whom we know so little, thus making ourselves even more vulnerable, when we are afraid of aspects of our own selves? We cannot achieve this by reason alone, not even when aided by imagination, longing, and willpower.
But fortunately we have access to other inner resources. Psychological theories and practises have long been used, particularly in the context of a therapeutic relationship, and now body-focused therapies are becoming more common. These can be very effective. It isn't necessary to believe in a spiritual dimension to human existence to be healed in relating to other people and the world. However, I would like to use this blog to explore together with other interested people how the spiritual aspect of being human is affected by trauma and how it can be harnessed to aid healing in those who want to use it.