Trauma Sensitive Mindfulness

woman sitting on gray rock near body of water

Today is an important topic in helping to ensure that mindfulness and meditation is accessible, and beneficial, to everyone. I want to talk about a topic I’ve been noticing on social media referencing positive thinking vs. trauma-informed response and care.


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I think one of the reasons mindfulness and meditation gets a bad rap of being only for people who are disconnected, aloof, and privileged is that people assume it’s only about focusing on the positive and it’s for people who haven’t experienced life yet, or maybe they’re running away from their problems. To be honest, I totally get where those myths stem from because I used to think that too, before I fully understood the depth of it all.

Gratitude And Trauma

But I believe much of this thought process is based off the practice of gratitude. Gratitude meditation is one of the most practiced types of meditation, so we see it a lot. Often, what is said during that practice is “you are who you are today because of what has happened to you. be thankful for those experiences”. Yes. You are who you are today because of your experiences. But you know what? That is not something that everyone can be proud of.

So let’s pause, and break this phrase down and clear up how we should be rephrasing it instead. I’m currently participating in some trauma-informed care trainings, and according to the Trauma Informed Care Information Resource Center, trauma-informed care shifts the focus from “what’s wrong with you” to “what happened to you”. Because what happened to you does not define you. And I believe this reflects the purpose of mindfulness as well. Our aim in mindfulness is to shift from blame, pain, and judgment to accepting, reflecting, and growing. Mindfulness is accepting, reflecting, growing.

Trauma-informed care shifts the focus from “what’s wrong with you”, to “what happened to you”. What happened to you doesn’t define you. It’s a part of who you are, but it’s not who you are as a whole.

Here’s where this can be the grey area. I want you to remember that accepting something doesn’t mean that you’re complacent about it. Accepting something doesn’t mean you’re able to just let it go and move on. Accepting something doesn’t mean you’re giving up.

No. Accepting something means that you are willing to start PROCESSING and HEALING from what happened. It means you are able to start thinking about what happened in a different manner from how your brain and nervous system originally responded. That flight or fight first response can stick with us for a long time and can prevent us from processing what happened.

There are so many different paths to recovery. Some people might be able to say, yes, that happened to me and now I am stronger because of it. While others may say, yes, that happened to me, and I don’t like the person I’ve become because of it. Not everyone will look back on their experiences and be proud of where it has led them. Not everyone will be able to say I am grateful for my experiences and who I have become. Let’s face it, some situations just really, really suck. They’re awful. We cannot deny that. To tell someone to be thankful for that? That’s just recreating trauma all over again.

woman meditating in the sunshine

The thing we all do need to remember is that nothing is permanent. The trauma we’re experiencing could lessen tomorrow. The healing path we’re on could completely divert and crumble tomorrow. You never know what tomorrow will bring. And that’s why we have to practice mindfulness. That’s why we have to practice being present. Because we don’t know what the next moment, the next hour, or the next day will bring. So experience your life now. Be here. Now. This moment right now is the only thing we know for sure.

I think in practicing gratitude, we need to change the phrasing around being grateful for your experiences. Not everyone could, or should, be grateful for their experiences. Instead, we need to say, be thankful for your strength and determination DESPITE your experiences. Because you are here today. You’ve fought hard. You either got yourself out of whatever happened to you, or you are currently using everything you’ve got to push hard through what is happening to you.

You may not be happy yet. You may not be the person you want to be yet. The key word here is yet. We’e all a work in progress. You have not given up and that is what you should be thankful for. You don’t need to be thankful for your experiences. You need to be thankful for you and your strength.

What Trauma Means To You

I also want you to be open to how you, personally, define trauma. Of course we all consider trauma being connected to the absolute worst things a person can go through. There can also be trauma in small things. For my followers, you know that I talk all the time about how everyone responds and reacts differently to things. So what is no big deal to one person, could be totally traumatizing to someone else. Never judge yourself or others for feeling a certain way. This post isn’t meant just for people who have experienced life-altering trauma. This post is for everyone. We all have something that has changed us, big or small. We’ve all gone through some stuff in our lives.

So as someone who is learning trauma-informed care and implementing it into mindfulness so I can help more people heal, I promise I will never say again, be grateful for your experiences. Because that’s just so generic, and can be hurtful. Instead, I will ask what are you thankful for. I am going to allow you to keep it open to your own interpretation for whatever serves you best in this moment to help you heal and grow.

I do know, though, that there is always something you can be grateful for. There is always something. Perhaps that it is simply that you made it through another day, and that’s ok, because it is the very first step.

Now, I know this topic was kind of heavy, and I’m thankful for you for sticking through it with me. Funny story, actually, the initial direction of this was meant to be owning your own happiness. I don’t even really know how I got here, because I am always about the positive mindset and spreading joy. Maybe it’s because 6 planets are in retrograde!

I guess I really felt in my heart this week that this needed to be said, because as I dive deeper into my own practice, and as I become a more experienced mindfulness teacher, I want to stick to my core values in ensuring that mindfulness is inclusive for all people in all walks of life. It is not something simply to be practiced by people who have the means to “escape reality” for a few minutes a day to relax.

Honestly, I don’t really have a specific mindful action for you this week. It feels weird for me to say that. I love planning out the mindful action for each week. I think, in reflecting on this topic, I just want you to sit with it. I just want you to let this all sink in, and think about how when we try to force positivity on someone can sometimes do more harm than good. Maybe that can be our mindful action. Next time you see someone having a hard time, don’t try to convince them to think positively. Just sit with them and support them. OK? OK.

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Meditation For Letting Go Of Expectations

[Meditation Script]

Today the meditation is going to focus on letting go of the expectation that we should be feeling or acting a certain way to falsely please ourselves or others. We’re going to throw away the notion that we should handle situations a certain way, and instead, we are going to practice accepting whatever emotions come up. Whatever you feel is acceptable. Your feelings are valid, and your feelings can change over time. Each moment is different.

Go ahead and prepare for our meditation. Slow your body. Slow your mind. Slow your breath. And sit in peace.

Breathe In. Breathe Out.

Without judgement toward the things you notice, begin to observe external things in your surroundings. Tune in to the things that trigger your senses. Light, dark, sounds, smells, touch, and feel. Right here, right now, in this moment. What surrounds your body?

Focus back on your breath.

Now look internally. How do you feel inside right here, right now? Notice pain, stiffness, uncomfortableness, stress, sweat, calmness, or maybe nothing at all. How do you feel in your body?

Focus back on your breath.

Stop holding onto stress, feelings, and emotions attached to certain things in life. Let each moment be it’s own. Every moment has its own individual purpose. Carrying over feelings from the past causes you to bypass the raw emotions in the current moment right now. So next time you’re starting to feel let down, overwhelmed, or stressed, tune into this peaceful feeling right now. Separate yourself from the external factors that you cannot control. Focus on your breath, focus on your surroundings, and focus on how you feel.

About The Author

Beth Backes

Podcast host and certified meditation teacher. Creator of the Mindful Living Made Easy stress management strategy. Meditating, tea drinking, yogi, mom.

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