Buddhism and Healing Trauma


As a Buddhist and someone who has experienced complex trauma, I have been contemplating how I can bring the Dharma (Buddhas teachings) into my experience of healing trauma. As trauma work is largely related to reliving the feeling tones that arose and couldn’t not be expressed at the time and also ‘why did it happen’ I wanted to unpack it with a Buddhist flavour. Firstly, one of the tenets of Buddhism is karma. Karma translates to action. Unfortunately, it has been bandied about to the point that most folk see it as a punishment instead of what it really is, cause and effect. Now, when relating to trauma and seeing karma as a punishment it would be easy to see how even considering the traumatic event as ones own fault for past bad actions would be horrible. And to offer this view to a traumatised person would be incredibly unkind. From a Buddhist point of view, yes, EVERYTHING is karma, all the ‘bad’ stuff and all the ‘good’ stuff too. But we can’t stop there. We must hold the other tenet of Buddhism equally close and explore it alongside, and that’s compassion. If we take on karma as our hypothesis without compassion it is too easy to say, ‘well this happened because I did it in a past life so I just get need to get on with it’,  THIS WILL NEVER EVER WORK. We must remember the conventional reality of what happened and how it affected our physiological system. And certainly lets not get too ‘ultimate reality’ about it, the last thing someone needs when they are feeling the wounded child/teenager/adult is to say to themselves or have someone say to them ‘the ultimate mind or soul (or whatever word one uses) cannot be harmed. This is true ultimately, but we have bodies and brains and systems that can be hurt. But thankfully that can also heal. We must bring a compassionate attitude to the us who experienced the trauma and the us now that is unpacking it. In my early experience of Buddhism having had very traditional teachings and the heavy emphasis on compassion for others coupled with my ignorance in that traditional delivery, I would try to be compassionate to everyone and I really didn’t see myself in the compassion pot. I even went so far as to think to put myself in the compassion mix and god forbid at the top of the list would be selfish or to use Buddhist terminology self-cherishing. I was dead wrong about that! There is no way we can heal trauma without compassion for ourselves. When we bring a compassionate flavour to ourselves it will still most definitely be painful, but it is an alive process whereas without compassion we get into a pain loop with no way out. To use myself as an example when I am hijacked by feelings related to old trauma and can sit with a compassionate heart towards myself, I will of course cry, feel rage, shame, deep pain but the difference is I will feel all these whilst offering myself the kindness of ‘I love you’, ‘I’m so sorry that happened’, ‘you’re ok now’,  ‘you’re safe now’. Compassion is the key that unlocks the door into a new reality. The emotions that are strongly associated with trauma (fear, rage, etc) were appropriate responses to the event and as they couldn’t be expressed then they must be expressed now. It is HOW we express these that is key. Don’t be afraid that feeling your feelings will create more dense karma it won’t. It’s the NOT feeling your feelings and then the unconscious outward expression that happens due to previous suppression that will do that. When it comes to karma it’s important to remember that motivation is very important, so one can feel these heavier feeling tones with the intention of softening the system so ones innate compassionate self can take up more space. Also remembering that for full karmic ripening one needs motivation, engaging in the act and completion of the act. If you need to rage at someone mentally who perpetrated violence towards you I think one can still do that but it might be useful for you to say beforehand ‘I do this so that my system can soften and ultimately let go of this rage so I may be free and this person may be free too’. I personally feel that’s cool but I’m sure some may disagree! I really want to make the point about the importance of honouring ones anger or rage because often the mere mention of them is met with ‘that’s not very Buddhist, spiritual etc’! These feelings are alive energy fields within us and everything needs and has to have an expression whether we like it or not, so I would rather the process be conscious. If I were to just feel rage and cry without conscious compassion you better believe I’ll get caught in the loop, which will feed my thoughts and actions therefore creating more karma for myself to deal with down the line. I don’t think Buddha taught that anger is bad and advised to just not feel it. I think he probably suggested to feel it and express it in a healthy way so you don’t start flinging your anger at yourself and others! I would also say that we can’t navigate the healing of trauma alone so make sure you have support, ideally professionally or a support network of some description. When I go into my own process I don’t stay in that space indefinitely or at least I have the strong intention not to. It doesn’t make anyone more holy to drown in their feelings! For me, I will feel the feelings by consciously sitting and often set an alarm so when the alarm sounds I come back to Jules the adult again. Because really when we process the trauma, we are reliving it so its vital to have strategies that help us move in and out of the denser internal spaces. That to me is wisdom. Of course sometimes I have a few days of being engulfed and I can’t get out and that’s when my friends come pull me out with their love! And sometimes the best medicine is (and one I reckon Buddha would agree with) is a Netflix binge and loads of crisps to let your system settle! Please remember that it is too your karma to be resilient enough to work with the pain, courageous enough to feel it, resourced enough to navigate it, so you’ve done some virtuous stuff to achieve those mental qualities! Let all the ways you navigate your healing be imbued with compassion and that compassion muscle will get strong! For those of you navigating anything from choppy waters to full on storms I wish you every blessing of love. I see your strength, your courage and ultimately your indestructible nature. Love you all xx