Krishnananda (Thomas Trobe, M.D.) and
Amana (Gitte Demant Trobe)
Our relating stories are perhaps the richest arena there is for teaching us about life and ourselves. Whatever unresolved issues we have lurking in our emotional closets will come to the surface – not just with a lover, also with friends and authority figures. In this area, existence gets our attention and holds it. It uses these situations to force us to face parts of ourselves which can be frightening and painful. Even if we have ideas about how our life and loves should go or about who we are and should be, often it does not go according to plan. But it is precisely in the difficulties that we can learn so much about ourselves.
Many of our conflicts, frustrations and difficulties in our relating stories come down to three basic emotional and spiritual issues. Each one has its origin in childhood trauma of one kind or another and the process of working through these traumas marks a major landmark in the journey of the soul. The first is shame. Shame is a deeply seated sense of deficiency that came from not being seen and supported to become who we are in our essence. The second is shock. Shock is fear which has become embedded in our nervous system because of the traumas we received. The third theme is abandonment and deprivation. Abandonment and deprivation is the experience of emotional isolation that resulted from feeling unseen and unfelt as a child.
Some of us may spend years of our lives running away from an underlying feeling of inadequacy, covering it up with all sorts of compensations and masks. But often when we have been running away from our shame, it hits us when we suffer a failure in work or we start questioning the meaning of our life. Others of us may never have been very good at covering up our insecurities and they have plagued us for as long as we can remember. Either way, mostly everyone feels a basic and fundamental feeling of “not enoughness”.
On the psychological level, shame arises from not being seen or valued for who we were from an early age and being forced to put on masks in order to get love, recognition and approval. We can heal this deep feeling of shame and deficiency by learning to feel and love the wounded part of us which carries these feelings and understanding how shame happened to us. Working with our shame also brings us a deep sense of compassion and sensitivity. It forces us to find our sense of self and our creativity not from pushing and pleasing others but from a discovery and appreciation for our essence.
Our journey through shame begins when we start to notice that we have it and that it has been there for a long time. We begin to become aware of how it feels and how it gets triggered in our life today – particularly in our relationships. We begin to notice how much we have tried to cover it up and how false it feels to run away from it. Then we can trace our shame back to its early life roots and develop some compassion for the little boy or girl who had no choice but to survive in world which was often unsupportive, stressful and perhaps even abusive. At a certain point in the journey, we gradually begin to see that shame is a product of the past, it can take us over but it is not who we are. With love and support from others and from ourselves, we begin to uncover the beauty and gifts that have always been there and notice that they surface naturally when there is no push, struggle, criticism or threat.
The second major soul issue underlying our relating struggles and our damaged sense of self is what we call, shock. Shock is a state of physical, verbal and emotional paralysis that arises from early life trauma. Often the events leading to shock are forgotten or deeply buried but its effects are strongly evident in our life today. It creates dysfunction – in sex, in creativity, in relating, in assertiveness and in any kind of performance.
Each of us has different shock symptoms. They can be phobias, panic attacks, asthma, rapid heart rate, unexplained pains in the body and skin diseases. Shock can show itself as stuttering, performance anxiety, fear of anger, fear of meeting people, sweating, confusion, difficulties learning or sexual difficulties And shock can easily be provoked whenever we feel or even anticipate any kind of pressure, threat, criticism, rejection or attack. In fact, we are so sensitive inside that often the most trivial events can trigger our shock and we find ourselves unable to function.
One of the worst aspects of shock is that it can be so subtle and so prevalent that we may not be aware of it when it comes. We simply find ourselves paralyzed and then we shame ourselves for it. This becomes a painful vicious cycle. Shock was the way that our nervous system responded to overwhelming panic and sense of threat. The body remembers and all it takes is a slight provokation and our nervous system is right back to the time of the original trauma. Consciously, we may be totally unaware what is going on.
This can be very troublesome in an intimate relationship because very few people have an understanding for shock. But when it arises in sex or in any other form of relating situtation, we are no longer able to be present. The fear has overwhelmed us. The other may not even know where we have gone and may become irritated or saddened because the connection has been broken. If we feel any pressure to relate and stay present once our shock has been provoked, it only gets worse.
It is difficult to imagine how deep our shock is. Both of us in our own work with ourselves have developed much understanding for how shock happened to us and how it affects our daily life. We have also learned to feel deep compassion for that part of us which was so traumatized and still carries that trauma. When we come to appreciate how deeply traumatized we have been and the effects it has in our life, we reach a much deeper sensitivity for the pain that all of us carry inside
The third major issue that relating brings up is the most profound of all. We may spend a lifetime running away from our fears of abandonment with all manner of distractions. But our efforts to run away from this pain is doomed to failure. Sooner or later, it catches up to us, for instance when someone rejects us, when we lose someone dear to us or even when someone we love is not the way we would like them to be. When this feeling of abandonment gets triggered, the fear and the panic can be so extreme that we feel we are going to die. What comes is a feeling of emptiness and panic that is so profound that it even does not seem to have a connection to the event which triggered it. This feeling of panic and pain is an echo of an early life experience of abandonment or betrayal which was so deeply frightening that we buried its memory.
Prior to facing this wound in all its intensity, our relationships are usually a way to avoid it. In our fantasies, we imagine that we will find someone who will take all possibility of loneliness and betrayal away forever. We may always be in pursuit of such a person and are repeatedly disappointed when a person falls short of our expectations. What we consider to be “love” is often little more than an effort to avoid loneliness. We are looking for someone to take away the inner feeling of emptiness that has always been there. But the salvation that we seek from another, we must find inside ourselves. That comes from going through the abandonment wound. When we start to face it with awareness, it allows us to stop projecting on another and to surrender to feeling and staying with this emptiness. Our own spiritual teacher has called facing our abandonment and our loneliness, the great moment of acceptance that paves the way for meditation. Relaxing into it brings a profound peacefulness. It also paves the way for deep love and imtimacy to come into our lives.
If we examine our relating stories today from the perspective of these three issues – shame, shock and abandonment, we can discover valuable lessons that we must learn for our own emotional and spiritual development. We actually don't have much choice in what life brings us. Things just happen. Energy moves us and we follow it. But understanding about these three aspects of the journey of the soul gives a framework and a meaning to our experience. Rather than blame, complain or feel sorry for ourselves we can enjoy the ride no matter what it is. Sometimes it is joyful, other times painful but it is seldom boring.
Back to Top