Recently myself and three colleagues at The Natural Practice[i] recorded a podcast about working with people who have experienced trauma. Trauma can express itself in all or some of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual realms. It can be triggered by one-off traumatic events or cumulative experiences built up over time.
In this blog I’m building on a theme I introduced in the podcast, the metaphor of the Japanese practice of Kintsugi that has much to offer about understanding the healing process of trauma.
Kintsugi as a metaphor
Kintsugi is a centuries old Japanese craft of mending broken ceramics. The word itself means “joining with gold” and is connected to a philosophy of embracing the beauty of our human flaws. The process of repair in Kintsugi uses a lacquer infused with gold to glue back the broken ceramic parts; the result is a refashioned ceramic with a beautiful fine gold seam within the cracks. The results are exquisite - many would say creating something even more beautiful than the original.
Fragmentation of parts through trauma
When I work with clients who have experienced trauma, we’ll often explore its root causes, experiences and events. To continue with the Kintsugi metaphor, it’s the phase of exploring how and why the ceramic (fragments of self) shattered. In some cases, the trauma is clearly evident, for example from experiences in earlier Iife. However, trauma can also pre-date my client’s lifetime with its roots in their family of origin ancestry[ii] . We therefore explore family patterns or significant collective traumas (for example wars, genocide, famine, premature deaths), seeking with an attitude of compassion to understand repeated patterns or ways of relating in my client’s wider family system[iii].
The impacts of trauma are often profoundly impactful, shattering our sense of wholeness. It’s not uncommon for people who have experienced abuse for example, to live with a sense of feeling inadequate, unworthy, stupid, unlovable, incapable, shameful. Yet I have on many occasions been truly humbled to witness how people find an incredible capacity for survival, managing life as best they can, even with a sense of brokenness. A cracked bowl, even with chipped edges still functions. Our intention in the counselling work is to move through that survival process and gradually evolve a new language and sense of self. It’s gentle and steady work.
Re-integration into new possibilities
Understanding where, why and how the separate pieces of life became fragmented brings a different potential for understanding who we are which enables us to experiment with a broader bandwidth of life choices. The discovery of broken pieces of our self-concept is an allowing process rather than a forced one, it’s more cyclical than it is linear. As my clients and I dialogue, we discover or re-discover parts of the self that became lost or broken through trauma.
We tentatively explore sometimes painful events: experiences wept over or raged over, pain and loss attended to and grieved for. The process of being traumatized can ‘freeze’ parts of our self in a kind of permafrost. It’s a much-needed survival instinct and one I respect deeply. The counselling process is about creating the safety and conditions to discover and gently thaw out those pieces. Like in Kintsugi where the pieces are glued with the gold-infused lacquer, it takes patience to hold the ‘space of possibility’ until the lacquer hardens.
The Gold in the cracks
I am continually touched and privileged to work with people in my counselling practice who have lived with trauma and found their unique ways to paint in their own Gold into life’s cracks. In that process I have witnessed them find compassion, tolerance, greater vitality, forgiveness, humour, understanding, energy and so much more.
I offer prospective clients a 20-minute free consultation to explore life’s circumstances. Perhaps you've lived with trauma and feel ready to explore what’s possible through holistic counselling? I look forward to speaking to you.
[i] Dr Ruth Dyson, Physician, Lifestyle Medicine, Hypnotherapy: Dr Gabriella Day, Physician (Integrated Medicine), Dr Christina Edwards, Chiropractor.
[ii] At intake sessions I ask my clients about their grandparents and great grandparents.
[iii] Dr Ruth Dyson mentioned in the Podcast epigenetics research on traumatic events, like the experience of famine, can actually alter the DNA that gets handed down through the subsequent generations (studies on DNA impacts of those conceived during The Hunger Winter in Holland, 1944 and the Great Chinese famine https://www.nature.com/articles/468S20a.