John Lumiere-Wins: The impact of daily tragedy and trauma on witnesses
There have been hundreds of mass shootings and other atrocities already this year. We have all been thrust into a horror movie that is taking place around us.
Just considering the recent tragedies playing out across the media of our lives — Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton — we all need to recognize that witnessing trauma is itself traumatizing! Whether we are aware of it or not, this is traumatizing for all of us; some, of course, more than others.
Since PTSD was finally named and taken seriously after the war in Vietnam, scientists have been unraveling the multi-ordinal range of trauma’s impacts on us human beings. We are sensitive, complex creatures and there are predictable changes in our neurological sub-systems. These include realms as diverse as our physiology, our somatic sense of ourselves, our mind’s beliefs, interpretations and decisions as well as our perception of and our participation within the neuro-relational field with specific others and the rest of the world. In short, our physiological processes can be disrupted, our bodies constricted and our sense of our self among others and in our world changed for the worse.
When we are witnessing a traumatizing event, cortical processes take a back seat to the instinctive, survival programs in our brain/organism which automatically begin to determine our experience and responses. Blood flows away from the cortex, away from digestion, away from the immune system and away from the skin. Blood is directed to the lower centers in our brain, and to our heart and lungs as well as the muscles of our arms and legs, preparing our organism to flee, fight or freeze. This happens when we witness trauma because, as our mirror neurons sense what is happening to our fellow humans, we empathically experience their trauma in our bodies and minds.
If we are witnessing endless horrors, one after another, our system can get stuck in an alarm response; which may have been appropriate in the moment. But it is certainly not the best strategy for the rest of our lives after the traumatizing incidents have passed. When this happens, we have limited access to our innate abilities to think clearly and respond in an appropriate, balanced way to the events and people around us. Often our sleep is disrupted, we don’t ever feel rested and, without restful sleep, none of our organisms’ other sub-systems work well.
Certainly, we all can see the increasing polarization among us since 9/11 and the parade of subsequent tragedies and traumas. Unfortunately, the corporate media has been inflaming both sides of our ideological divides. Across all sorts of divisive concerns, each side is certain, “We’re right!” And, “they’re” wrong, evil and should be stopped or even, killed.
There is a frightening loss of civility and of our ability to listen. We can’t seem to consider others’ perspectives and reflectively think for ourselves. Rather, many of us are reflexively regurgitating the ideological sound bites defining our position on “our” side of the issues. These painful, limiting and limited patterns of interaction among us only serve to further divide and polarize us; they will never allow us to find common ground and mutually satisfying solutions. Most of us just feel justified and righteous, never even realizing our functional capacities have been reduced by our natural responses to the traumas we’ve been surrounded by.
We need skillful ways of restoring our nervous systems/organisms and our communities to their natural state of calm and civil discourse. These methods exist; but few of us know of them; even if we do, when we’re compromised by traumas, we may not be able to access or even think of them. Because I was raised in a rather violent, dysfunctional family, I made it my business to explore and study several of these useful techniques and processes just to work through the many limitations of my conditioning. There are certainly others, of which I am ignorant, which may be very useful.
Here is a brief list of resources which you can check out to see whether you find them as useful as I have. Somatic Experiencing (TraumaHealing.com) is a skillful way of releasing trauma from the nervous system. EMDR is a technique renegotiating traumatic events utilizing bilateral stimulation which is often helpful — especially its rather recent development, The Flash Technique (https://flashtechnique.com/). The Emotional Freedom Technique utilizes a particular structure for statements concerning the issue and a sequence of tapping on specific acupuncture points; many people find it helpful (i.e. https://www.emofree.com/videos ). Lastly, Cereset (Cereset.com) uses a patented BrainEcho technology to reflect back to the brain what it just did, assisting the brain to relax out of its stuck patterns, restoring natural functions.
What is our natural state? How are we designed to function when all our systems are fully operational and well balanced? We are at ease in our skin. We feel safe and effective in our environment. Our mood is upbeat. We can listen, deeply consider other’s perspectives and think for ourselves. We are both willing to stand for our truth and admit that we were mistaken. We are engaged with our world and we find ourselves naturally, spontaneously responding in kind and skillful ways to what life is presenting to us.
What would it be like to live from and as our natural state as individuals in families, communities, our cultures and our world? Can we even imagine such a state and such a world? If we are interested in creating such a world, first and foremost, we must do the work on ourselves.
John Lumiere-Wins lives in Grass Valley.
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