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  • Writer's pictureKristy Johnsson

The truth about trauma work

I've been sitting with how popular and widespread trauma work has become, and I think it's awesome. Working with my trauma changed and continues to change so much for me and my clients. I think it's a radical approach to mental illness and emotional distress, and I'm all for radical on just about every level.

And just like anything that becomes a buzzword, it's important to look at how the mainstream understanding of the term and the way it's framed by many practitioners can lead to some misconceptions. Some of this, I think, is just what happens in a burgeoning new field where we lack established, discerning language, but it needs to be named nonetheless.

1. If we aren't careful with how we frame it, it perpetuates the subtle but age-old message that our bodies are broken or bad and need to be fixed. The truth is that our bodies are incredibly intelligent, and western, modern culture interrupts that intelligence consistently. And even there, I'm cautious, because our bodies have brilliant ways of coping and reflect our lack of healthy cultural structures to us. Trauma work is ultimately about listening to that intelligence and trusting it rather than correcting it according to preconceived ideas.

2. It implies an endpoint. We often equate trauma work with distinct experiences or events in early childhood. We tell ourselves that once we heal our trauma, we'll feel better and be healed. But trauma work isn't about returning to an uninjured state and carrying on unperturbed in a sick society. In a society that is traumatizing, to be fully healed from trauma means we recognize the truth of its violence, seeing the depth and breath of its impact on our lived experience and others. Trauma work then evolves into an embodied revolution that requires ongoing engagement by listening to our bodies and questioning our cultural conditioning.

3. Just like any concept, it has its limits. Too often we think of trauma very narrowly, and even as we've more recently expanded its definition, we still leave out a lot of experiences that don't fit in that. Many of us have experiences that we'd easily overlook or have no any incentive to address if we're focused exclusively on healing our trauma. Exploring our embodiment of a disconnected culture, which is the outcome of being socialized in it, requires us to pick up on subtlety and nuance in our experience, and being willing to investigate that whether or not we think that it's "trauma" as we conceptualize it. We don't take our habituated ways of being for granted.

Because of the nature of the society we live in, healing our trauma doesn't end. It doesn't become a sort of "seek and destroy," in which we attempt to rid our body of all trauma. Trauma is not a bane to be controlled and dealt with, but a boon, a doorway into an entirely new way of being in the world, one that is more connected rather than disconnected, grounded rather dissociated, aligned with our bodies' natural intelligence instead of at war with it. In a world of systems that work against all of that, trauma work is not about fixing ourselves, but becomes an inner revolution.

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