Healing Personal Trauma as a Key to Social Change


I was sitting with a friend recently who was sharing her struggles with really stepping into her life mission of social healing and social change. She was in transition out of her current job and didn’t seem to be ready for what she wanted to do next. She didn’t know how to take the plunge. It’s not the first time I’ve sat like that with someone in the same situation, and things rolled out exactly as they have before: we looked at what was holding her back — fear. Of what was she afraid?

Her own unworthiness, and fear of stepping into a fuller picture of herself and of what she was capable.

She was also a survivor of trauma.

And so I took her through a process that I have taken others, ever since I learned about the long-term effects of trauma on survivors.

This, in combination with my studies of consciousness, affirmed for me what I had also discovered in myself: that the soul has enormous capacity to cope with horrors, and that capacity can be more exactly understood and used with great effect in the healing process.

In other words, if you understand the anatomy and lawful movements of your soul, you can bring about healing and transformation.

But that’s not all.

You can also use that knowledge to bring about healing and transformation at bigger scales as well. Because the learning we gain about our own healing process informs us about how healing happens at larger scales.

Let me show you what I mean.

First though, a disclaimer: I am not a therapist — but as an executive coach and consultant I have found every single one of my clients, from all walks of life, have been dealing with trauma: either their own or in their peace-building projects. I have also had to go on a long, circuitous route to heal my own deep seated patterns, both from my own experiences and patterns I’ve inherited from my family.

I’m going to share a little bit of that learning with you.

The healing journey does NOT begin by examining the original hurt in great detail (that is usually too re-traumatizing) but instead by looking at how you have built up coping mechanisms and how you’ve integrated your experiences in your current daily life.

And by tracing that back to what you believe about the world and about yourself.

Along the way, with the help of a tool like Non-Violent Communication, you can create and practice a new vocabulary. This is important because there is a clue about the soul expressed in the ancient German fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin: you have to find the exact name of your wound in order to reclaim your power. Not the thing that happened to you, though of course that can be helpful in certain circumstances, but precisely in what manner your experiences have affected you in your present life.

The soul will fragment when traumatized, enclosing off that part of itself that is comprised of memory: the memory of the unthinkable. That soul fragment remains detached, protected from disrupting the whole system with too much horror. This is the profound wisdom of the human soul that saves us from system overwhelm, breakdown or even annihilation.

But that soul fragment remains in isolation, stuck in the original hurt. And thus the person remains fragmented, not whole, with corresponding consequences like feelings of unworthiness, dissociation with particular triggers, disconnection from one’s feeling life, and other crippling effects.

In order to re-integrate that fragment, there are two processes that happen simultaneously: one is to strengthen one’s “light” — a picturesque way of saying systematically building a foundation for courage, resilience, empathy, and objectivity (I call this the Witness).

The other process is the analysis of how one’s pain is showing up in one’s life. One should not face one’s pain without a corresponding focus on strengthening.

Focusing on the pain without systematically building up specific capacity for it is destabilizing at worst and ineffective at best; something many of my clients complained about from their time in the therapist’s chair.

In my experience that dual focus results in building what I call organs of perception: in other words, building the eyes to see into what would otherwise be the dark, chaotic, and impenetrable realm of the inner landscape of the soul.

The other thing we need is a taxonomy of the soul so we can understand better what we are actually seeing when we peer within, and also a cognitive kind of feeling (an exact and aware ability, not a subjective and vague kind of feeling I mean) for what healthy movement is like, and what pathology is like. If we have some handrails, some scaffolding built of our knowledge for this taxonomy, we can make better sense of what we see.

Now, I’m going to switch gears on you and ask you to imagine this very same process but now with a group of people, across an organization, across a region, or even an entire population across a country.

Can you do it? Or is this too big of a leap?

I have come to believe that this degree and depth of understanding about the human inner life is exactly what is needed if you want to engage in social healing at larger scales. That is the work of my company Magenta Studios.

The social future depends on all of us doing our healing work, thereby becoming cognizant of the forces at play under the surface, and coming to understand what we see going on there. We must do the hard, bitter work of facing the pain, building our strength and capacity to do so, and finally experience the enormous power inherent in co-creating the society we all want and need, together.

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