by Brianna Wunderlin
I had two main traumatic events as a child that affected my mind, body, and spirit, though I didn’t remember either until I was an adult. This is quite common as the mind can protect itself until it is safer to start the process of uncovering and healing. The coping mechanisms and triggers are ways that the mind, body, and spirit are attempting in effective or ineffective ways to protect us from further harm. The issue comes when these ineffective ways produce more harm than good, keeping us from living a life that is living resiliently in the present.
Trauma and Dissociation
Trauma affects everyone differently, but often has a physiological response, which is the nervous system’s coping mechanism; fight, flight, or freeze. My main response was flight, which turned into dissociation.
Dissociation can be as mild as spacing out or as strong as part of your psyche split off from the rest. Mine was severe enough that a younger part of myself had split off from the normal track of growth.
Whether we have experienced trauma or not, we are all made of many parts. Processwork has some concepts that support healthy relationships between these parts.
A key Processwork concept, Deep democracy, welcomes all diversity in its many forms and values, listening to all of them. It is one of the most effective tools in my toolbox with clients and in life; deeply listening to all the parts.
Listening means not just hearing, but noticing messages in all their forms – emotions, imaginations, dreams, projections, animals, movements, energy, etc. When we listen to the voices inside and outside ourselves, we commune with the aliveness of the world.
However, if you do not have a quiet place from which to ground yourself, and not get carried away into the information, people, places, or events, listening can be overwhelming.
The Internal Metacommunicator
In Processwork, this place of awareness is called a metacommunicator; the part that communicates about what is going on inside ourselves. This is the voice that can name or comment on what we are experiencing. It allows us to step outside of our experience and communicate with all our parts, instead of being swept away. When we use this metacommunicator, we can take actions with awareness about our inner landscape, instead of pushing on, or ignoring what is occurring on the inside.
This is particularly important for those who feel they are at the whim of their triggers and internal experiences. Many people who have had trauma have a nervous system that is easily overstimulated, and easily triggered. For this reason it is even more important to find a firm sense of stillness and grounding where you can learn to safely receive life.
Tuning into the energy of the earth and its supportive role in your life can help with this. Walking barefoot outside, immersing yourself in nature, or inviting the feeling of support from the earth through the soles of your feet, are all ways you can ground and tune into the energy of earth.
Noticing Triggers and Working with Them
The trauma I experienced created a shattering effect in me. Often when I was triggered, I would dissociate. The experience right before dissociation was a feeling of shattering apart. Technically I was; pieces of my psyche were like, “we’re out of here.”
As I learned, through Processwork and deep yogic meditations, to track my physical sensations, I began to notice these different effects of trauma in me. Common triggers were: anger directed towards me, a spotlight in a group or class, conflict, my internal voice wanting to say something in a group but feeling unsafe to do so, and being seen by others. These usually only triggered me when I didn’t feel safe, which was a combination of me not feeling safe inside myself, and usually some sense of judgement from others who seemed similar to the abuser in my past.
One of the moments I realized this was at a work meeting when someone implicated me in something minor but negative. I felt their words and energy go straight into me. My trained, sensation based awareness brought me to realize I was beginning to go numb and cold. I quickly excused myself from the meeting.
I went to the bathroom, where I could let go into a ball of tears. These tears came from a deep, hurt place that I knew needed to be felt, seen, and heard. I allowed the tears to flow, hitting the sink basin; letting water meet water. As I finally felt the emotions ebb away I went back to the meeting, able to be semi-present. When it was over, I went to the parking lot and I noticed the shattering feeling inside of me, like I had been pulled in different directions.
Using My Facilitator Skills
I called to the parts that had split off; the little girl, who was scared and alone and the me who was conscious and could inhabit my body. I began to facilitate the different voices and bring in the ones that were missing.
In Processwork, these parts, often externalized to allow them expression, are called roles. I stepped into the different roles: the abuser, the one who felt hurt, the protector, the caring and nurturing mother.
At first, the protector and nurturing mother were missing, but I invited them into the scene. I physically made a place on the pavement of the parking lot for these different roles, and I let them speak through me as I moved from place to place.
Parts in Dialogue
Allowing parts to dialogue gives them expression in the world, and grounds them into the present time to be heard, making me more whole. As I have learned to be with these different parts, they are no longer pieces, but make up the whole of me.
On an energy level, these parts once contained parts of my energy. As I re-inhabit them, that energy becomes accessible for me to use with more conscious awareness.
Similarly in therapy or in a group, people can play these inner roles, and the energy landscape, or dreaming, of the individual or group can be seen. The dreaming is the underlying, fluidly-moving river of meanings, roles, and emotions which manifest the surface level reality we all sense and agree on.
Being aware of the dreaming is how you become a creator of your world; owning and learning to access the wholeness of your own energy – the wholeness of you.
Brianna is teaching an upcoming course – Sacred Resilience: Sexual Abuse Healing. Please check out her website for information and updates.
By Brianna Wunderlin, Dipl. PW
Brianna Wunderlin is a transformational coach aiding women who experience emotional overwhelm and stress to find resilience and inner strength.
She has worked most often with grief and loss, spiritual emergencies, trauma, mother/daughter relationships, leadership, and empowering women to embody their gifts and claim their power. She is a Processwork Diplomate.
Brianna has worked with trauma through yoga, meditation, energy work, and Processwork. Her favorite place is nature, and she lives surrounded by sage brush in the high desert outside Reno, NV.
Photo credit: Bekah Russom https://unsplash.com/@bekahrussom