Healthy and Toxic Shame
When we suffer emotional wounds, survival systems are activated in our minds and bodies. Built around fear, dissociation, and shame, these systems change how we feel, think and behave. In the short term the changes are protective, but in the long term they distort our internal reality and create terrible suffering. I call the distorted inner reality a ‘trauma-world’. In this presentation I describe trauma-worlds, the protection they offer and the suffering they create. I then explore how we can transform trauma-worlds, and move into a more conscious, vibrant and self-compassionate life.
Fear grabs our attention, taking over our bodies and minds. This is because fear evolved to warn us of potential threats and to spur us into protecting ourselves from those threats.
However, not all fear enters consciousness. Sometimes fear keeps us safe by operating in the background.
I am on a retreat in the middle of Dartmoor. The week offers an opportunity to drop into the shadowlands of our unconscious minds and bodies, and to explore this inner terrain. This essay recounts an archetypal encounter with shadow, fear, and transformation, which was inspired by the outer terrain of the moors themselves. It is published in the anthology, ‘Women on Nature’ edited by Katherine Norbury.
In this conversation I discuss various factors which can contribute to a mother feeling negatively about her child. In particular, I describe some of the challenges that ancestral mothers faced throughout human evolution and how these impact us today. I also explore ideas about the archetypal Death Mother, inspired by the late Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman. I found it a rich and rewarding conversation and am grateful to John Wilks and Our Birth Journey Professionals for the opportunity.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Sara Avant Stover and I explored Death Mother from several perspectives. Sara’s own insights prompted me to move between different areas of my research, and our exchange encompassed trauma psychology, Jungian analysis, anthropology, evolution and personal experience
A vibrant exchange about the creation of emotional trauma, and the fear-laden and shame-filled inner world which form around it.
Discussion of how to define trauma, the trade-offs that come into play in the wake of traumatising events (and their roots in evolution), the difference between healing and curing trauma.
When we experience overwhelming pain and fear, we develop an unconscious conviction that our life is at risk. As a result, survival systems are activated in our minds and bodies and we move onto a different developmental path to the one we would have followed had we not been traumatised. We begin to live our lives from within a ‘trauma-world’.
Introducing trauma-worlds and how they effect our daily lives.
Western culture tends to view maternal ambivalence and hostility as unnatural. Evolutionary research challenges this view. The situations faced by ancestral mothers sometimes made abandoning a child inevitable. Recognising this fosters compassion for today’s struggling mothers, as well as greater understanding of the trauma carried by their children.
It can be more helpful to the healing process if we define trauma by the impact of harmful experiences on us, rather than by the experiences themselves.
Trauma-worlds as the altered reality that we begin to inhabit in the wake of unaddressed childhood wounds.
The Death Mother is best understood when approached with compassionate curiosity and from a variety of perspectives. Here she is explored through Jungian, psychodynamic, evolutionary and anthropological lenses. The aim is to help both mothers who are living this damaging energy, and those who grow up damaged through encounters with this energy.
Marion Woodman was pivotal in forging an awareness of the Death Mother, and the life-denying impact this force has on both bodies and minds. In this powerful interview, Woodman shares her understanding, drawing on Jungian thought, literature, and also her personal experience both as an analyst and as a woman facing her own internalised Death Mother.
I knew that I was an animal. I had studied ecology and understood that I was part of the web of life. I had studied evolution and understood the processes that had forged humankind. But my understanding came from books, and it was not until I lived in Tanzania that it became real to my own body and mind.
How my understanding of the world and my place in it, was forever changed by moonlight and mosquitoes.
How I came to know my evolutionary heritage from inside the fibres of my muscles and the immediacy of my senses.
Precious opportunities for my healing and growth came from Marion Woodman/ BodySoul Rhythms® workshops. In these workshops we called on myths, masks, movement, voice, art and dreams to discover aspects of what we held in our unconscious minds and bodies. This chapter recounts my experience of those workshops. It is published in ‘Love Matters for Psychic Transformation’ by Jungian analyst, Maja Reinau.
The survival system a child develops to protect him or herself from psychological wounding can cause more damage than the original wound.
Therapeutic practice can be enriched by incorporating the latest scientific research on attachment dynamics, trauma, and the neurobiology of emotion.
Recent evolutionary thinking has much to contribute to attachment theory and to the understanding of childhood relational trauma.
Modern evolutionary thinking challenges the ideas that secure attachment is ‘normal’ and insecrue attachment is ‘abnormal’.
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s ideas contribute not only to our understanding of the evolution of human sociality and intersubjectivity, but are also extremely relevant to psychotherapy. This is especially so for those who are struggling with the consequences of childhood emotional trauma.
Being at home in my body when spending a day as a volunteer with Dancer Akram Khan as he worked to create a new work.
Growing research is revealing just how damaging chronic sleep-deprivation is for our brains and our bodies.
The village chairman agreed to the pilgrimage with three Datoga elders to the Ngorongoro Crater. Our purpose was to visit the grave of Gitangda, the revered ancestor and spiritual leader who died over 100 years ago..
When we suffer experiences that are emotionally damaging, survival systems are activated inside of us. These systems are built around fear, dissociation, and shame. They change how we feel and think about both ourselves and others. They also change how we behave. In the short term these changes are protective, but in the long term they create terrible suffering. Indeed, as the changes are incorporated into both our minds and bodies, we start to live from within a reality that is distorted, self-critical and dulled. I call this reality a ‘trauma-world’. In this presentation I’ll describe trauma-worlds, the protection that they offer and the suffering that they create. I’ll then explore how we can transform our trauma-worlds, and move away from their distortions towards a more compassionate and vibrant life.