Can Childhood Trauma Fuel Enlightenment?

Pic: William H. Johnson. Smithsonian Institute (PD)

Pic: William H. Johnson. Smithsonian Institute (PD)

Will Meecham says yes.  Via Psych Central:

My younger years felt poisoned with dissatisfaction, rage, and confusion. Looking back, it’s clear I struggled with many of the difficulties known to stem from adverse home life. Here is my breakdown of the common problems, derived from multiple sources and framed by personal experience: poor self-concept, emotional reactivity, social unease, feelings of emptiness, problems with focus, and stress-induced bodily symptoms.During the years of my recovery, each of these qualities changed from feeling wholly negative to seeming at least partially positive. Taken together, in their new form they help me appreciate life’s majesty even in the face of pain, loss, and illness. To feel privileged to be alive regardless of circumstance is, I suspect, near to realization. There is room for much greater maturity, but most of the time I feel contented and unafraid. What more does a person require?

Here’s how each affliction can be retooled to favor spiritual growth:

Poor self-concept can transform into secure humility. Whereas the well-adjusted person feels solidly established as a personality, we who were mistreated when young grew up feeling fragmented and hollow. Thus, even after we gain confidence, we remember our vulnerability. All wisdom traditions place a premium on humility, and the wounded enjoy a head start.

Emotional reactivity, properly harnessed, fosters attunement to others. What I once saw as excessive sensitivity I now recognize as the foundation of empathy.

Social unease comes from fear of embarrassment and betrayal. Scratch its surface and you’ll find a demand for acceptance and trustworthiness. Interpersonal anxiety can be reconfigured into a barometer for authenticity.

Feelings of emptiness sound bad, but consider that “emptiness” is also a catchword in Eastern meditative traditions. The connotations are different, but related. The emptiness we feel when discouraged is tainted by meaninglessness. Life appears beset by hazard and doomed to death. But if we discover beauty in life’s uncertainty and transience, then that same emptiness feels, paradoxically, full. This deep concept, best approached through meditation, tells us emptiness is the flipside of plenitude. Post-traumatic despair might be closer to post-recovery bliss than we normally think.

Problems with focus are problems of dissociation. While suffering abuse as a child, I would escape to an alternate mental world that felt distant and safe. Detaching when stressed has caused problems in adulthood, but the ability to alter consciousness offers a surprising benefit: it facilitates entry into the heightened states valued by spiritual seekers. In the extreme, shifts of consciousness can impair reality testing, so they shouldn’t be pursued without responsible preparation and guidance. But while remaining mindful and grounded, I’ve been blessed to experience transcendent awareness with greater than average ease.

Finally, the somatic symptoms that follow stress and trauma can serve as guides to bodily state. Attending to them has helped me better inhabit my body. Embodiment, in turn, promotes mindfulness and relaxation.

Read more here.

9 Comments on "Can Childhood Trauma Fuel Enlightenment?"

  1. Liam_McGonagle | Jan 16, 2014 at 1:13 pm |

    Not reliably. These things can go either way.

  2. I can totally relate to this, thanks:)

  3. Jonas Planck | Jan 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm |

    Did I just read an argument in favor of abuse and cruelty that didn’t try to downplay the effects of such abuse? Usually such arguments are based on the assumption that victim DESERVES it, and the abuser is merely doing the work of the Lord (or the universe, or social darwinism, or what have you.)… Builds character, I guess. Then again, the inverse also appears to be true: Pampered, spoiled kids tend to stay stuck in a permanent state of materialistic selfishness and mental infantilism, which is something that tends to be ignored when feudalists argue that money defines human worth.

  4. Interesting, thanks for sharing.

  5. VaudeVillain | Jan 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm |

    Shit going wrong in my childhood made me stronger too.

    I’d rather be weak.

  6. American Cannibal | Jan 16, 2014 at 5:42 pm |

    You’ll quit expecting justice in the world when you grow up. So watch out for that.

  7. American Cannibal | Jan 16, 2014 at 5:47 pm |

    I’d bet every reader of Disinfo will relate to this.

  8. Keys for incarnating within the Western Mind: UNBEARABLE CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.

    Well, what doesn’t kill you blah blah blah

  9. Adamas Macalz | Jan 17, 2014 at 2:08 am |

    I can relate… I don’t think I would be where I am at now if it wasn’t for shitty life experiences

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