by Robert Grant Ph.D.
Traumatic experiences forces victims to
face issues lying outside the boundaries of personal and
collective frames of reference. As a result they are forced to
confront psychological and spiritual challenges that are
unfamiliar to the average person. Therapists need to recognize
that organizations of self and God are often thrown into
questions or destroyed by experiences of trauma. The
deconstructive power of trauma exposes the lack of substance
and cohesiveness that comprises identity and images of God.
Child abuse, domestic violence, rape,
violent crime, war, vehicular accidents, terminal illness,
unexpected loss of loved ones and natural disasters are
becoming increasingly common. Many consider these events as
back luck or indicators of personal inadequacy. Trauma is life
at its worst. Traumatic events are often unexpected and
horrible. Typically they lead to variety of physical,
emotional, interpersonal and spiritual problems. Lives become
structured around addictions, avoidance behaviors and even
violence. Professional and interpersonal relationships also
suffer. Many professionals believe that several psychological
disorders are rooted in unresolved trauma. Trauma has been
implicated in personality disorders, eating disorders,
addictions, attention deficit disorders, sexual dysfunctions
and a host of bodily complaints. Few would state that anything
positive can come out of experiences that "overwhelm
abilities to cope" and that "render victims helpless
and living in fear for their lives (DSM-IV, 1995)."
Initially, trauma is grounded in pain, loss
and fear. Often it leads to breakdowns. Ultimately, with
proper support and guidance, it has the potential to transform
individuals into compassionate and deeply spiritual beings.
The Dark Power of Trauma
Traumatic events expose victims to aspects
of life that most would prefer to ignore. Trauma creates
confrontations with the lack of security and certitude that
underlie all human endeavors. It has the power to throw into
question or obliterate any organization of self, God and
humanity. The implications of traumatic events assault
anything considered sacred or foundational. Trauma brutally
demonstrates that the ego (the rational aspect of
consciousness) cannot contain or make sense of certain aspects
Most victims feel lost, disoriented and
powerless when former ways of making sense have been damaged
or destroyed. Many lose their bearings, become unsure of who
they are and have great difficulty moving forward. Many wander
indefinitely until new and more comprehensive ways of taking
up life are created. Without support, guidance and reflection
it is almost impossible to develop new frames of meaning
capable of incorporating the life truths exposed by their
experiences of trauma.
Eating from the Fruit of Knowledge
Many do not understand that they have eaten
from the "fruit of knowledge." They have made
contact with aspects of reality that are outside the
parameters of social consciousness. The innocence of the
"taken for granted" has been lost forever. Old ways
of understanding are exposed as inadequate. Trying to ignore
the profound shifts occurring in consciousness is not without
cost. Wounds, along with the implications they have for future
living, must be integrated into new and more comprehensive
approaches to life or victims run the risk of being saddled
with a host of post trauma related problems.
Deconstruction of Ego
Many experiences of trauma, especially
those involving abuse, have the power to expose the lack of
substance and cohesiveness that make up the ego. The average
person knows him/herself in terms of a collage of
internalizations grounded in feedback from significant others,
such as parents, family, teachers, coaches and church
ministers. Hopefully, the victim of trauma carries a lived
sense of self that is grounded in accurate feedback and
his/her unique temperament and gifts. This fortunate
individual is the holder of a "true self" that is
painstakingly constructed over time. The ego or social persona
is the sense of self that most can identify with. Certain
experiences, such as peak, near death and mystical experiences
often project individuals into another realm of consciousness
that is often referred to as transpersonal or spiritual. At
these times the ego is displaced or cracked open. This enables
transpersonal dimensions of consciousness to emerge. Many of
these experiences despite their beauty and sublime character
are unnerving and terrifying.
Trauma, in addition to its ability to
deconstruct reality horizontally, in terms of belief systems
and frames of reference, also initiates a vertical
deconstruction. It either displaces or obliterates the ego.
Victims are thrust into the realm of the Deeper Self without
warning and preparation. This brutal exposure illuminates the
fact that the ego is a mosaic held together by personal
narration, continual feedback from others and internalized
object relations. Exposure to its lack of unity and substance
is terrifying. Some do not recover from this forced encounter
with a space in consciousness referred to as the "great
Naught" or nothingness. Some decompose and others
fragment. This is the realm from which both mystics and madmen
Support and Accompaniment
Victims of trauma are by definition
"overwhelmed and rendered helpless." They are unable
to weather the shock and impact of their injuries. They need
support and guidance. Trauma exposes aspects of external and
internal reality that have been previously unacknowledged.
Trauma initiates a process of deep spiritual questioning and
demands that victims take in more of reality than was
previously possible. The Spirit demands expansion and is
intolerant of partiality.
The meaning of life is questioned. Old
answers no longer suffice. Priorities are reordered. Concerns
about identity, the value of suffering, the importance of
justice and the appropriateness of forgiveness are figural.
Recognizing the amount of evil and cruelty in the world, along
with the impact these realities have for images of God and the
value of human relationship, demand careful consideration and
continual reflection. Questions of identity proliferate.
Responses to these demands requires more comprehensive ways of
taking up life.
Trauma, in spite of its brutality and
destructiveness, has the power to open victims to issues of
profound existential and spiritual significance. The
displacement of the ego forces confrontations with deeper
levels of self and reality. Trauma throws victims onto a path
that mystics, shamans, mythic heroes and spiritual seekers
have been walking for thousands of years. The difference is
that victims of trauma must work this territory or be overcome
by it. Non-traumatized seekers have the luxury of getting off
the path at will: for theirs is not a life or death struggle.
Theirs is usually a gradual and volitional emersion. They are
able to progressively assimilate the demands of this realm.
Victims are thrust into this realm against their will and with
no preparation. Trauma forces victims to confront realms of
Being existing outside of ego and collective consciousness.
Various existential and spiritual vulnerabilities, such as the
inevitability of one's death, the lack of certitude and
security surrounding human existence and the lack of substance
and unity making up the ego or social self, demand
Trauma displaces the ego and demonstrates that no one is a
self-contained being around which the universe rotates. If
health is to be restored then the help of the Spirit and
others is required. Acknowledging this fundamental dependency
is a critical milestone on the healing path.
Unfortunately many victims of trauma are
misdiagnosed and socially isolated. Most are unable to find
healers who recognize that trauma has thrust them on a path
that spiritual seekers have been walking for thousands of
years. In addition, most do not understand that an ego has to
refortified or established before one can develop a permanent
relationship with the Deeper or Transpersonal Self.
The profound struggles of many trauma
victims are often spiritualized or psychologized by various
caring professionals. Victims need safe and supportive spaces
in which to walk amidst the ashes of their former
organizations of self, reality and God, while dialoguing with
the transformations taking place on every level of their
being. Eventually, the ego must be seen to be based on
collective values. It is not the essence of being human.
Relationships with the "Deeper Self" must be
fostered and developed. In essence, traumatic experiences are
one of the few things powerful enough to get the ego to
release its tyrannical hold over the transpersonal dimensions
of consciousness. In displacing the ego trauma creates access
to the spiritual core of victims.
In receiving appropriate care, compassion
and direction victims can overcome the destructive impact of
trauma, break through restrictive approaches to life, and
become more soulful and compassionate beings in the process.
Traumatic injuries, when accompanied by love and
understanding, do not become places of deadness, denial, and
disease. Rather they become bridges of compassion that connect
victims to all sentient beings. Survivors accept that they can
be broken, overwhelmed and rendered powerless. These
realizations are not considered shameful (as they were at the
beginning of the journey) but are now recognized as the common
ground that connects victims to all forms of life. Becoming
comfortable with one's inherent capacity to be rendered
powerless enables survivors to encounter the brokenness and
wounds of others without fear. Survivors want to do everything
possible to decrease the gulf of disconnection separating
victims from others while simultaneously helping them realize
that the loss of their former ways of being in the world,
despite the tremendous pain involved, is an opportunity to
discover the Spirit living at the core of their being.