"I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom." -Bob Dylan
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way."
I've been reading a lot about trauma recently, partly out of professional necessity, but mostly out of curiosity. While the majority us will (fortunately) never experience extreme versions of trauma such as war, famine, assault, or rape, trauma is much more common than you may imagine. One in five US women have reported being victims of rape (attempted or completed) according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and the unreported cases are likely much higher for not just women, but for men as well.
If we expand our definition of trauma to include death in the family, disease/injury, divorce, parental abuse/neglect, and any form of discrimination, then pretty much everyone alive on the planet has experienced some form of trauma. Also, trauma is always relative to the person experiencing it. For a toddler, getting a splinter might be as traumatic as an adult getting shot by a gun. When you combine the ubiquitousness of trauma with its relative qualities, one question emerges: how can we better process our own trauma?
In answering this, I am reminded of a saying that I picked up from sources unknown--"Everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Be kind. Always." The first step, then, is to have compassion for yourself and others. We are all here trying to do our best given the level of our knowledge and experience. The next step, is to use our narrative gifts as humans to frame ourselves as heroes rather than victims. While doing so, it is important, again, to remember step one, and not become vengeful and vindictive towards others (or ourselves).
Scientists have looked at the brains of people in MRIs while they were reliving traumatic past experiences and found two distinct patterns. The brains of one group of people reacted as if they were experiencing the trauma all over again. The portions of their brain responsible for creating a stress response lit up and the regions responsible for rational, time-conscious thought shut down. The second group completely blanked out when re-experiencing trauma and all of their brain regions became less active. They effectively froze, very much like they froze during the original trauma. In both cases there was a loss of time and a loss of self-awareness.
So, in order to regain a sense of control over our trauma, we must regain a sense of self and time. Meditation and other self-reflective activities would seem to be key in rebuilding a sense of efficacy, but I don't think that introspection is the whole picture. Introspection must be balanced with 'extrospection,' a word meaning observation of the external world. Living in the moment. Doing things that you enjoy doing. Going out in the world with purpose. Making use of your gifts. Enriching the lives of others. All of the things that a hero would do. Basically, we have a choice to make each and every day--whether we will live informed by our past, or controlled by it. The choice is simple, but not easy. Be brave. Be kind. Help others. Let them help you.