Last week, it was the week of the Collective Trauma Summit again, an online conference with a huge number of lectures that you can listen to without cost if you keep up with the daily uploads. After two days, they disappear behind a paywall. With a relatively very cheap upgrade you get access to all the lectures, to transcripts, videos and other contributions in the field of trauma healing, but also mindfulness, relaxation, integration, music, and poetry. What a treasure trove of information this conference is each year – impressive.
The host of the event is Thomas Hübl and this year he also had a little thread of his own, called ‘Daily Insights’, each day of the conference a short reflection of about ten minutes in which he discussed a specific theme around trauma. I took an endless amount of notes, so that I can both read and enjoy his wisdom again myself and hand down his valuable insights during upcoming trainings organised by ACE Aware NL.
In a few of the lectures, Thomas brought up an interesting issue. We often say: ‘Ah, well, that’s just how life is’, when we notice certain processes. Thomas pointed out that we do not say that when we see something beautiful, like a mother cherishing her baby or a loving interaction between two people. We say it when we see things that we dislike, that we do not want to be a part of. In speaking about things we dislike with such wordings, however, we implicitly and often unconsciously show an acceptance of pain and suffering. By downplaying them as if they were something normal that is inevitably part of life, we distance ourselves from them. In a certain way, we break the connection between ourselves and the suffering of the other. We no longer see ourselves as part of it, although we all live in that same world where pain is ubiquitous. Thomas regularly emphasised the connection between the individual, the ancestral and the collective in relation to trauma. By becoming aware of the links between these layers, we can look for ways to change sociocultural processes, because the individual is an expression of the whole and of the history of the collective.
What we need for the connection and the change, is an awareness of the impact of human physiology, said Stephen Porges in his fascinating conversation with Thomas. We can look at an event, a stimulus, as the driver for a response, but that is a very behaviouristic approach. The point is, according to Stephen, that in between the stimulus or trigger on the one hand and the response or reaction on the other, there is our body with its physiology. That physiology has a history, like families (ancestral) and communities (collective) do. If that history carries trauma, the response to a trigger can be that someone either shuts down or becomes overstimulated. It is, therefore, not simply about behaviour resulting from an event; it is about the experiences (whether safe or unsafe) a person has gained with similar events. Their imprint on the body has built a certain kind of physiological response. That response influences what the subsequent reaction or behaviour will look like. Thus, not the event is the determining factor for what follows, but the physiology in between.
Together, they brought up crucially important topics and although not all was new to me, it was brought in such a beautiful way that it did bring a lot of new insights. The wisdom deserves to be shared here with a couple of quotes.
“Our nervous system does not care whether there is a physical or a psychological threat.”
Regarding illness: “The body screams at us, but western society says: ‘Don’t listen; keep moving, keep working’, but there is a great price to be paid for this in the form of illness.”
“Trauma should be seen as physical injury: the nervous system was impacted by a threat to life.”
“Polyvagal theory is the science of safety, understanding the innate need and quest to feel safe.”
“Education should focus on a basis of sociality, coregulation, friendship and trust, not primarily on cognition.”
“Everything that enables us to function as thriving humans, requires our bodies to not be in a state of threat.”
The basic tenet in the whole conversation was that evolution prepared us for sociality and coregulation, of a life setting in which we take care of one another. Our big brains need a lot of oxygen, so we have to remain coregulated and support one another in bringing our stress down. If not, the oxygenation of our brain is in trouble and this seriously impairs our functioning. We all know this: in fear, we have a truly hard time thinking straight and taking important decisions about the future. We are then in the here and now, merely trying to survive. The human blueprint, the model for coregulation, is the mother-baby-relationship, said Stephen Porges. If they are closely attached, they look into each other’s eyes and develop a deep familiarity, which, in the brain and nervous system, is translated as safety – crucially important for problem-solving creativity.
Well, the conference was riddled with much more of this kind of beautiful knowledge, although the conversation between Thomas Hübl and Stephen Porges was truly an exceptional one. If you want to have another go at it… an encore of a few days was announced this weekend. Find more information, also about registration and upgrades here: https://collectivetraumasummit.com/ You have a couple of precious hours left to register and watch.
And if you happen to be too late for this year’s edition… keep an eye out for next year!