How do you feel when you’re blamed for something you didn’t do?
Often when we think of collective trauma, we consider the victims, most often with our love and compassion.
But how do we compassionately embrace the perpetrator’s reality? Thinking of ourselves as the perpetrator in a collective trauma brings up a lot of feelings. We feel guilt, shame and anger. Often, we feel rejected from the group of people we see as the victims who deserve compassion.
A White European Facilitating Constellations To Address Racial Trauma
I am a white European. Earlier this year, when I facilitated a course about collective trauma with black Bermudians, I gained a firsthand experience of the implicit blame towards me because of my ancestry.
As we opened the field for people to share their painful experiences related to race, story after story poured into our space. “White people” were the perpetrators throughout the stories.
This was difficult for me. What I felt was the implicit blame of my ancestors’ role in the abuse of people of color around the world. I hadn’t hurt anyone in the room personally, but the classroom was filled with tension and impatience. In other words, the room was filled with consequences of the wrongdoing and pain inflicted by white people in the past.
At the Inner Arts Institute, we focus on a mixture of methods to help a person release trauma from his or her body. One major concept behind our work is the transgenerational transmission of trauma.
Studies on epigenetics confirm that our ancestors, grandparents, and parents pass down wonderful traits like our gifts and talents, strength, and our body type. What our family also passes down is unfinished trauma.
But how do unfinished trauma transmissions work? How do we inherit our gifts and long-passed traumatic experiences from family members we may have never even met?
1. Through our DNA
As seen here in a PBS video
about the children of Holocaust survivors
Epigenetics, as written beautifully
within the Atlantic Monthly, Oct 2018
Getting in touch with these three areas help us to become aware of the root of many of our personal issues. Although talking to a supportive person is helpful, talking keeps us in our higher brain functions and does not allow us to access our unconscious or transgenerational issues.
To connect with these issues, we need to stay in tune with our bodies and become highly attuned to our breathing patterns and physical states. When we are triggered, our mind and our logic is of little help. Our nervous system goes into fight, flight, or freeze.
I heard this from a number of people at the Celebrate Life Festival, a dynamic annual European consciousness event that was held for the first time in the U.S. this summer.
Racial division, white supremacy, and white privilege were words that we invited into our midst. They dropped into a sea of discomfort that quietly built, even though many of us could not identify with these words…
Thomas Huebl, who has done significant healing work around Holocaust trauma in Europe and Israel, recently sent out an invitation to mental health professionals, scientists and other professionals to explore what can be done to understand and heal collective trauma.
Last month, 150 practitioners answered that call and made the journey from all over the planet (39 countries) to his Pocket Projecttraining in Israel. They brought their knowledge, skills and resources, as well as the traumas that have impacted (and are still impacting) their countries. I was one of them. I’m now back home, and before daily routines claim all of my attention again I want to share a little of the amazing journey that I was immersed in. I feel a new level of peace within, and my understanding has been upgraded a few notches.
What is collective trauma, and why is it critical that we learn to address it?
In The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains trauma in simple language. He says that our ability to “stay present” gets hijacked by survival-related emotions and sensations when an incident overwhelms us in ways that we cannot cope with. When the event is more than we can process, we dissociate or go numb. Then, the traumatic charge lands in our physical body, where it can be reawakened by something like a smell, a sound or an image that is associated with the traumatic event, sending us back with a flashback to the traumatic experience.
What happens when trauma gets internalized on a larger scale? Collective trauma, sometimes called cultural trauma, occurs as a result of large-scale events like war, genocide, colonialism or terror attacks. The violence and shock is so overwhelming that the entire culture goes numb, disassociates, or finds other ways to create distance from the truth of it. People may survive and move on with their lives, but the actual feelings associated with the event stay frozen, unintegrated, in the cultural body.
This frozen emotion forms an underlying energy around the culture. Unconsciously, its members then see reality through a lens that is fogged up by this unresolved past. And everyone who is born into the culture thereafter simply assumes that this fogged-up picture is reality.
Most Family Constellation facilitators have experienced that moment when a Family Constellation suddenly shifts into a Cultural Constellation. The cultural trauma that impacted the client’s family at some point in history becomes so dominant in the field that it cannot be ignored. It demands to be seen, felt and integrated.
How can this be accomplished?
Who can “host,” or open to such intensity, when the emotion is so overwhelming?
Constellation Work & Collective Trauma – The Boston Marathon Bombing
Our bodies are wise, and they are also deeply connected to our soul as well as the field that we move in and through. When we receive sudden or unwelcome messages from our bodies in the form of illnesses or accidents, we usually react with shock and annoyance. Most of us just want to get rid of painful symptoms as quickly as possible.
But these events tend to come with teachings and purpose. Constellations are a great tool to understand the learning that might be brought through physical symptoms.
Here is a recent example of listening to physical symptoms in Constellation Work.
One of the senior students in our Constellation Learning Circle, Chloe, suffered a fall on the ice in January and ended up with a concussion that left her quite incapacitated for some time. She had been a busy practitioner with a full private practice, and had to take a break from seeing people after her fall. She simply could not handle any stimulation.
Chloe had been on her own journey of personal growth and change through the constellation work and had been amazed at all the positive changes in her life. As a result of so much change, however, she felt unsure of her identity now. She seemed to be reconsidering much of what she liked (or did not like), even down to the simplest things, like foods she had once dismissed but now found appealing.
In the midst of this unfolding process of re-discovery, Chloe had the accident.
When she still could not fully re-engage in her life three months later, she became nervous and asked if we could do a constellation about this concussion.
I don’t like to disturb movements that are in process, so I felt cautious about setting up a constellation in this case, but I also attuned to Chloe’s anxiety and wanted to be helpful. We talked about what might be the right framework and checked in to see if we had permission to explore.
As I listened deeper, the field opened to a yes, and informed me, as it so often does, about how the constellation needed to be set up. I chose to keep it blind.
In blind constellations, the representatives are not informed about whom they are representing. They receive a piece of paper with the name of their representation, which they then put it in their pockets. They do not get to see what is on the paper. This removes from the constellation dynamic the possibility of interference from mental interpretations, allowing the representatives to completely immerse themselves into the felt sense of the relationships we are exploring.
So I wrote four papers and handed them out to representatives, whom Chloe then placed into our circle:
The sign at the Center for Body Oriented Psychotherapy was intriguing. I went to a class. There were about ten people in the large room in the Victorian house in Union Square (Somerville MA), and several of us were new to Breathwork.
Samvedam Randles was our facilitator. In the introduction she told us, “You will lie on the floor with your full attention on your breathing for approximately one hour.”
“You will breathe through your mouth ,” she continued, “ deep into your belly, and then expand the breath up to your chest. You will let go like a sigh. Like this. She demonstrated. “The breath is circular; the inhale goes into the exhale and back again to the inhale. You want to eliminate the pause between the inhale and the exhale. This will intensify the breath.” Continue reading Breathwork as Transformation ~ A Student Perspective→