The first noble truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering. Many of us strive to be well, perfect, or successful, but few voices in our culture teach us what it’s like to be sick, or how to cope with a loss, or how to navigate chaos, or how to die.
Anguish can be deeply isolating. But it is a given of our human inheritance.
Here are some important ideas to remember:
Trauma is unavoidable. Trauma and hard times are part of being human. Those who have not experienced big traumas are lucky—but also less wise and often less understanding towards those who have.
Every childhood involves some trauma. Those who can’t neutrally explain what happened to them in childhood spend significant ongoing energy defending themselves against old hurts and old fears. (Meanwhile, these old hurts and fears are unconsciously determining their everyday behavior.)
Traumas shut down ways of being. It’s important to heal from traumas. Create space to heal from losses, big and small. Grief works—it is our natural way of healing. Embrace the process of grieving.
Every trauma is different. Acute vs. chronic, physical vs. emotional, recent vs. long ago. The trauma of growing up in a disadvantaged community is different than physical violence, which is different than public shaming, or a childhood spent with emotionally unavailable caregivers. Everyone’s story is different.
You are not broken, deprived, or less-than for having experienced trauma. You are right where you need to be. Miraculous resolution of your circumstances, or at least transformation of your mindset, may be a real possibility. But you have to stay for the miracle.
There is no such thing as normal or perfect health. Human bodies are dynamic systems, always breaking down, wearing down, getting sick. Likewise, there is no ideal mindset or set of mental skills that is optimal for all circumstances.
Emotions can’t kill you. All your thoughts and emotions are valid, but that doesn’t mean they are “you.” Giving into despair and shame is often a choice to side with those who hurt you. Side with yourself first. Despairing thoughts are like a TV show that you perhaps can’t tune out right now, but you also don’t have to watch. There is always a part of you that can observe your suffering—that “observer” is not suffering.
Get help. Also: stay away from people, things, and patterns that don’t seem to help.
You are not alone. You are normal. You are loving. You are loved.
Recovering from traumas is a lifelong process for everyone. Here are some resources that can help: