When I saw Dr. Gabor Mate - author and renowned addiction expert - speak in October 2012, he gave a definition of trauma that I wrote down, and since then I’ve been collecting other definitions. I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it is we’re trying to heal. Dr. Mate would say that trauma is the suppression of natural fears and emotions, and that all mental illness is an attempt to get away from ourselves.
Likewise, psychologist James Pennebaker posits that “traumatic experiences do not cause illness. Instead keeping secrets and being unable to communicate about traumatic information – even to one’s self - is what makes people physically and mentally sick. In fact, when people begin to link events, give them meaning, and communicate their experiences with others, they rapidly move toward health and develop good coping skills, regardless of what happened to them”. – quoted from Mary Pipher’s “The Green Boat” (page 76).
Pennebaker isn’t the only one to talk about the importance of communicating these events to others. Chris Fraley studied 9/11 survivors and found that having someone to rely on for connection and support made healing easier. It seems that a connected relationship can make a difference. And when we recognize that trauma isn’t as uncommon as we once thought, we see how important this is (from Sue Johnson’s "Hold Me Tight").
So I’ve saved the best for last. And it’s fitting, considering I just came back from a training that is based on Peter Levine’s work. Though, I found this quote many months before I even signed up for the training. And this is why I do what I do:
"Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside us in the absence of an empathetic witness" -Peter Levine in "In an Unspoken Voice".
Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.