The predominant culture in the U.S. doesn’t know what to do with trauma. Generally, it doesn’t know what it is, how to handle it, or how to heal through and from it. Trauma is defined as any time a person’s nervous system is overwhelmed and it impacts the person’s ability to cope on a physical as well as emotional and spiritual level. That could be from war, a car accident, abuse (sexual, physical, verbal, financial, or emotional), a sudden death or experiencing a near-death of your own or someone important to you, miscarriage, repeated childhood neglect, poverty and class differences, racism, etc. Trauma can be a one-time incident or it can be multiple incidents over some time. Also, what one person may experience as traumatic, another may not, for a variety of biopsychosocial reasons.
When the incident itself has passed, we as a society have an expectation the person (or people) will be able to, or should, “get over it” quickly. There’s this idea that you’ll release the trauma and then you’ll be “back to normal.” That somehow the huge, overwhelming event will be processed in a brief time. Notice after the Uvalde school shooting, people are saying, “Give yourself a break for a couple of days,” not “This was traumatic. Take all the time you need.”
Not only are friends, family, and media delivering these messages, but the idea that trauma can be processed quickly affects public policies. For instance, in California, employers grant three days of bereavement leave for the death of an immediate family member. Three days! I am open to the possibility some folx will find that time to be sufficient to process the death, but in my professional practice, I have yet to witness that.
Instead of rushing to heal, we humans would do well to take our cues from nature. In nature, there’s no hurry to resume “business as usual.” A professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, and molecular genetics at Michigan State University, Beronda Montgomery, said she notices this with trees. When a tree is wounded by an insect, a disease, or a storm, it doesn’t speed through the healing process because doing so could result in long-term poor health and even death. Trees have two phases when it comes to healing: a rapid chemical phase followed by a slower, long-term physical adaptation. Montgomery writes:
“During the healing process, oxygen availability to an open tree wound facilitates the recovery process. Premature closure of the wound can be catastrophic. Rather, it is best to let trees follow their naturally evolved process of sealing off wounds to compartmentalise damage. This tree wound response of seeking cleansing and healthy closure after trauma – by keeping the wound free of infection and promoting oxygenation, followed by covering over the wound with long-term protective scar tissue – offers a powerful lesson from plants. Covering a wound prematurely simply to keep the damage out of sight, without attention to openly dealing with it through cleansing and therapeutic care, can lead to a festering of issues rather than a healthy progression towards healing, reformulation, growth, and thriving.”
It's the same for humans. After a traumatic event, some folx cope by bingeing on TV, food, alcohol or other drugs, or sex. They may also use sex as a way to dissociate. The dissociation could extend to self-care activities like eating regular meals and bathing. If there’s a rush to heal, true healing may not occur.
As a trauma-informed psychologist and yoga therapist, I emphasize to my patients the importance of slowing down. Trauma can take a person out of their body, so doing activities that ground them somatically is essential and why activities like yoga, unstructured body movement, breathwork, and specific forms of restorative yoga such as yoga nidra are so effective. I also encourage my patients to be in nature, however that’s possible. We are not separate from nature; we are a part of it and can see ourselves mirrored in the vast dimensions of the natural world in which we live. Taking lessons from nature, like how trees heal from trauma or the power of the spiral, deepens your connection with the Earth and yourself. It’s a branch (ha!) of psychology called ecopsychology and one of my offerings.
Nature is healing because not only does it slow us down and ground us, but it also offers perspective and lessons if we’re willing to notice. During times of intensity, I encourage you to contemplate a tree. How a tree suffers from pestilence, drought, flooding, heat, cold, and more and yet adapts to the environment. A tree doesn’t pretend it’s without scars; instead, it lets the scars heal in a timeframe that promotes true recovery. Let us all be a little more like trees.
Dr. Denise Renye is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified sexologist, and psychedelic integrationist. She has specialized training and expertise in the areas of sexuality, relationships, states of consciousness, psychedelic integration, and intimacy. Learn more at www.wholepersonintegration.com.
Montgomery, Beronda. “Trees don’t rush to heal from trauma and neither should we.” Psyche. February 1, 2022. https://psyche.co/ideas/trees-...