Krista Tippett, in her latest episode of On Being, interviews Dr. Rachel Yehuda, a psychiatrist and researcher in the neuroscience of trauma and resilience. They discuss how a traumatic event can so change one’s DNA that it has lasting effects on future generations.
At first glance, this seems to be very bad news: bad things not only happen to us, but they will live on to become bad things for our children and our grandchildren.
The news is not just bad. Two things seem to make a huge difference not only for the person experiencing trauma but for what it did to their biological and genetic systems: naming the trauma, and when the memory of it returned, allowing themselves to feel it. Both of those acts had the effect of reducing the stress response and changing their body’s experience to a calm rather than a stress response.
Name it. Feel it.
This is not to pretend that trauma is a simple fix. Not in any way. It is to suggest that we can, with the help and support of others learn how to reach into ourselves to reform and reshape what trauma does to us.
As a young man I suffered with anxiety attacks and depression. I realize now, looking back, that one of the things that helped me through and beyond them came in being able to name the experience.
There’s a lot to unpack in this finding from science. I bring it to this, for now: working with out our own pain is an act of faith that can have powerful effect.
For me naming it out loud is important. In that moment, I am aware of it, and I can get other insight if needed or feel empowered that it is out of my head. Processing in my own head limits the understanding and magnifies the pain.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Bob. I have heard of this, but having a page to print out will help start a conversation between myself and supporters, as well as family at the center of the trauma in time.
It is also important to extend compassion to ourselves including self forgiveness if we blame ourselves.
Thank you for saying that, Daniel. In my own mind, this whole discussion of faith and it’s relational nature really has to include (start with!) how we relate to ourselves.