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Trauma

Healing Trauma Doesn't Mean Needing to Relive It

A continued conversation with psychotherapists Eliza Boquin and Eboni Harris.

Key points

  • Taking personal responsibility doesn't have to include self-blame or shame.
  • If we're the common denominator in our problems, then we're also the common solution.
  • Treating intergenerational trauma with somatic healing helps many people.

This is Part 3 of a conversation with Eboni Harris, LMFT, and Eliza Boquin, LMFT, founders of the Melanin and Mental Health Podcast. Click to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Source: Melanin and Mental Health LLC, used with permission
Eliza Boquin and Eboni Harris.
Source: Melanin and Mental Health LLC, used with permission

EH: It was literally a law that Black people were counted as ⅗ of a person 1. There’s a systemic piece of it that continues to be a struggle. We discuss privilege and bias. Talking about race can provoke a fear of being accused, but if people aren’t willing to talk openly about history, then they become part of the ongoing problem.

The Attraction of Negative Circumstances and Escaping Their Pull

ML: You touched on taking responsibility even if you’re not at fault. In your podcast Episode 139: "Signs Your Mental Health is Struggling 2," the first sign you mentioned is having the same negative situations in many areas of our lives, and everyone around us seems programmed to push our buttons. We might be the common denominator. How do we take responsibility without blaming and shaming ourselves?

EH: One thing to recognize is this is biology and science. If you look at research, a lot of our behaviors and decisions are explained. Attraction, comfort, and familiarity and things like that. We often find ourselves in similar situations repeatedly because there is a level of attraction. There is something familiar even if it’s uncomfortable. That’s science. We tend to attract situations that we’re used to being in, whether it’s calm or stressful. If we’re used to being in a heightened state, we can feel uncomfortable in calm situations so we wind up seeking out heightened situations. If we grew up in a chaotic household, chaos tends to feel more familiar than calmer spaces. Once you start to recognize that, then it’s up to you to say, “If I want something different, then I need to work on shifting my response and work on accepting calmer spaces. This is an attraction that I have, but I don’t want to find myself in this situation again. Let me see what happens if I start to challenge that.” We can shift from a belief, “If you loved me, you would change,” to “If I loved myself, I wouldn’t put myself in this situation.” It isn’t about whether we’ve done anything wrong. We know what happens down the road to kids who go through trauma or have their feelings invalidated. It’s a predictable progression. You don’t have to beat yourself up so much or hurt yourself. We really need time to grow and heal.

EB: Our brain seeks out patterns and loves the familiar.3 Attracted doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you want; it’s like a magnet. You’re drawn to patterns in situations. Depersonalize the behavior as to why you might be repeating the pattern. We also need compassion for ourselves. You know what? This is hard. Research shows that having compassion for ourselves motivates us better.4 When we’re in shame, we want to hide. JayZ said you can’t heal what you can’t reveal. We have to see it for what it is. The mindset has to shift from blaming ourselves to owning it, so we can choose differently. Seeing your role in a situation isn’t for blame; it’s for seeing where you can make different decisions. We can gain skills to tolerate stress. It’s the most empowering thing we can do for ourselves.

ML: The universe isn’t singling anyone out to be a victim. If I’m the common denominator, then I’m the common solution.

EB: Yes.

EH: Yes. I may have learned a negative behavior in childhood as a means of survival. I’m not to blame for childhood behavior. Compassion is where we need to go instead of forgiveness. The behavior worked for a very long time, but maybe now it’s not working as well. That’s when we learn some new skill.

ML: As an unconscious fight-or-flight response, we can make it more conscious and choose differently if a similar situation happens again. It’s all about choice. We touched on intergenerational trauma. How can it be treated?

Treating Intergenerational Trauma with Somatic Healing

EB: My preferred way of addressing trauma is through somatic healing. Trauma gets trapped in our bodies, and people fear that addressing trauma is going to force them to relive it. With somatic healing, that’s not necessarily true. We focus on what’s being felt in the body. That work helps people get through the discomfort when they’re triggered and reprograms the brain. Yoga can sometimes get people crying out of nowhere. The different poses allow for a certain release in the body. We heal it by getting educated on the impacts trauma has. Some people think trauma is just a bad memory, but trauma altered the nervous system and neurology. We have to understand the depths of the impact, and then do the work with a skilled professional.

ML: How do you know if the trauma is being released? How do you completely let it go?

EB: Depending on the complexity of the trauma, it’s a slow process. A person at the end of a somatic session will shift or shiver. They might say they feel like they need to move physically. I’ll ask what they’re feeling in their body and often they feel lighter. The tension eases up. That’s indicative of trauma release.

ML: Where can readers find out more about what you’re doing and connect with you?

EH: melaninandmentalhealth.com.

EB: And Eboni created a resource list with our recommendations for all things mental health. Books, podcasts, products, accounts to follow. She worked hard on that.

EH: @melaninhealth on Twitter.

ML: Thank you both for your dedicated work and for your time today.

References

Wikipedia, Three-fifths Compromise

Melanin and Mental Health Podcast Episode 139: Signs Your Mental Health is Struggling

Medical News Today, Repetition Compulsion

Pace, Karen, Michigan State University Extension

Research Shows That Practicing Self-Compassion Increases Motivation

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