On Trauma and Hosting Collective Healing Spaces

I participated in a phone call today with a group of 16, giving attention to trauma and collective healing spaces. The premise for those inviting the inquiry is that healing, or at minimum, attention and awareness to historical and individual trauma, may need to precede shared dialogue about vision and possibility.

I have mixed feelings on this. But the inquiry feels important.

Last fall, after meeting with a group of many of the same people from today’s call, I wrote a short article that included these eight “What If?” questions, that work with the narrative of trauma. The full article is available here.

1. All people have trauma.
Not just some. Not just the unfortunate. Trauma is a widely shared human experience, just as is joy or laughter. We tend to accept the latter as common, but the former as isolated. Perhaps this is not so. Many of us have learned to wear masks to cover our trauma. It seems that much of contemporary western society has deemed this OK, a kind of unnecessary shaming.

2. Trauma is rooted in overwhelm.
As stated above, physical, emotional, spiritual. Direct experience and encoded DNA that are substantial enough to induce physical states ranging from constriction and fear to paralysis and debilitation.

3. Not all trauma is the same.
Trauma has many cousins. It is not the same as disappointment or let down. It is not the same as embarrassment or shame. It is not the same as intensity or complexity or confusion. Distinction matters.

4. Trauma doesn’t have to define us; it provides context.
At the root of hosting collective healing spaces is a desire to interrupt pattern, known or not, of trauma and how it’s invisible presence tackles us. Unaddressed trauma often restricts, imprinting toxicity at deep levels, such that, the best of group processes are significantly limited. Working at bigger scale, or deeper scale, requires getting to the roots. People long for a quality of space and relationship together. Awareness of trauma identifies important markers on the map, that are often, surprisingly, shared.

5. “Fixing” isn’t a helpful verb when it comes to trauma.
“Giving room to breath” may be more helpful. At the heart of healing is coming into deliberate relationship. With people. With experience. With events. It is less about forgetting or blaming, though these can be important steps along the way. It is more about being willing to try on alternative ways to relate to people, experiences, and events. To move from singularity of certainty to plurality of awareness. For some it is their profession to work more deeply with trauma. Councilors. Therapists. Psychiatrists. Social workers. For those of us who are process facilitators, I believe we are creating containers of interaction that break an enslaving silence. Not fixing. Just deeper presencing to what is.

6. To heal trauma isn’t to heal it in “them,” but rather, to heal it in “us.”
Contemporary western society has arguably lived the last two hundred years fascinated with a philosophy and practice of separation. In North America, this expresses itself as a rugged individualism. A world of competition, speed, and efficiency. This overarching narrative has legitimized a kind of “othering” in the world. An endorsement of an illusion that we are separate. The story has created the reality. Fortunately, many now are reclaiming a story of wholeness, interrupting the story of separation and the blame and attribution it has created. Arguably, separateness and othering are a tap root of trauma in many of us.

7. Connection to self underlays most practices of healing.
The self that is story. The self that is a group of people. The self that is a seemingly invisible whole of life. Hosting collective healing spaces is about creating multiple formats to access that self. Combining methods is attractive. It creates what so many long for as “safe space.” “Empowered space.” It creates engagement that satisfies the needs of introverts, extroverts, those who speak readily with words, those who speak readily with silence, or with movement, or with song, or with voice dialogue. Connection to self creates belonging.

8. People whose profession is tending to others, often don’t tend enough to self.
It sounds noble, and I believe is, to always “be there” for another. Without fail. No matter what. Yet, this deeply held value embedded in many human service professions can cumulate into an odd kind of abandonment of self, or absence of tending to self.

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