June 13, 2016

Two of the Most Powerful Things we can do to Process Trauma & Tragedy.

Brothers, Tareck Raffoul, with permission via Facebook page

I’m a writer, but each time a new story of violence takes over my media stream, I instinctively react, not with words—but with silence.

I get a bit quieter and send out love for the victims and healing for everyone and for the world.

I believe that much of the violence in our world comes from people who don’t have the tools to sit still, to quiet the pain and the confusion of their bodies and minds and to unlearn the violence they have been taught.

If we could all stop, get quiet and tune into our deepest self, I believe that our world would become more peaceful, more compassionate, more appreciative of difference and of the miracle of life.

Silence can be our friend and teacher.

But if we silence ourselves completely, we can feel like a levee about to break. As important as silence is for a more peaceful world, expression is just as vital.

It is only when we express our whole selves, when we recognize our whole humanity, that we can really heal and become fully human. And it is only when we recognize our whole selves that we can fully recognize and cherish others.

Those who feel silenced live with great pain. Maya Angelou famously said,

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story.”

Speaking out, voicing our stories, is necessary for healing.

Similarly, those who react to the world with violence are often those who have silenced parts of themselves—we need to have silenced part of our humanity not to recognize the humanity of a person we are harming. This silencing takes place in the most economically privileged and in the least, and among people of every faith tradition and race. After all, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” 

So to sit with silence and to quiet our thoughts, and then to express whichever parts of ourselves we have not been able to express can be two of the most powerful and healing things we can do—on an individual level and on a social level.

There are between 200,000 to 300,000 hate crimes in the US per year. In the US, every nine seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten. Every year, roughly 13000 Americans, more than one per hour, die of gun violence. This is not to mention all the violence taking place all across the globe.

So how do we address it?

In writing about these traumatic experiences, we heal ourselves, educate the world, and make others who have similar experiences feel less alone.

I run writing workshops for trauma survivors and want to offer some guidelines now for anyone who might be suffering.

I offer these five steps to writing your way through trauma:

1) Sit in silence before you write. Ground yourself. Make sure you are safe in the moment. Surround yourself with some things that are pleasing to your senses—something that smells good can be especially effective. Nice music and beautiful pictures can also be effective. Feel your body. Feel your breath come in and out of your nostrils.

2) Write from your pain and anger. Don’t censor yourself. On the page at least you can put your full range of emotion down. Writing something in private on a piece of paper that you won’t share with anyone does not have the power to hurt another person. You can destroy the paper when you are done. But get the thoughts out of your head and put them on the paper instead. Writing in public can rarely have the same cathartic effect as writing in private, when you don’t need to worry about the impact of your words. Write just to clear your mind.

3) Take frequent breaks as you write and come back to your center, to your body, to your breath, and to the pleasant things that you have put around you so that you don’t get lost in the negative feelings.

4) End your writing session by writing about at least one thing that is positive. I always remind my students—and myself—that we feel pain only because we are capable of feeling pleasure and love. If we didn’t value our lives and our dignity, for example, we would not mind so much being harmed. If we didn’t love our friend, we would not care if he were hurt. So remind yourself of the positives and the miracle of those positives.

5) When you are ready—and only if and when you are ready—go back to your work and decide if you want to share it with others. If you do, you will probably want to edit it first so that it is ready to be shared. In that editing process you can farther rework and refine and your own emotional responses to the trauma and deepen your healing.


Author: Nadia Colburn

Image: Tareck Raffoul 

Editors: Khara-Jade Warren; Emily Bartran


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