“He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if thou gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into thee” Friedrich Nietzsche
The areas that do not rely on rigid definitions like in physics, enjoy the richness and the difficulty of the ambivalence of words. There are few words that share so much this condition as the ego.
In the common use, this word is identified with the image a person has of himself, specially his own level of trust and self-love, which is related with obstinacy and vanity. For this, the ego is talked as something that can be measured, which can be big or small. On the other hand, it is said that the ego is the accumulation of expectations that we have of ourselves, that probably come from others.
Due to this ambiguity, we are going to part from the definition Jiddu Krishnamurti gives. To him, ego is the movement of the past. If one accepts that the whole Universe moves, the ego is that part of ourselves that fearfully attached to something and, by doing so, it separated from everything. It is, for this, that part of ourselves that stayed in a past event, that hankers a state of affairs so it creates an ideal that collides with actuality, that impides accepting oneself as one is. For this, ego is the conjunction of demands of the past that sum over the present, and that come from other people or from a past me, that would came to be the same.
Seen like that, ego, and therefore separation, are pure trauma. In psychology, trauma appears when we don’t have the capacity to respond to a danger. Living is a constant dance between a challenge, that is always new, and a response, that can be new or old. Nevertheless, there are challenges so big that can threaten our very existence, whether it is psychical or physical, and the prevent us from giving an adequate response to them.
As Stephen Porges explains, when facing a danger every animal has three options of response, that do not exclude each other. Firstly, it can reach to the social engagement system. With this, we look for the help of those who surround us. This answer is mediated by the vagus nerve and from parts of the brain in charge of speech and language, sometimes called Neocortex. If this strategy doesn’t works, the autonomic nervous system trigger the fight or flight response, controlled by the limbic or mammal system. Finally, the brainstem and cerebellum, also known as the reptilian brain, creates the collapse or freezing collapse, trying to preserve the organism by shutting it down and saving the most amount of energy.
Also, many loose their sense of proportionality in front of dangers, which is why they might react in a disproportionated manner to relatively safe situations, which creates a permanent energetic wear. Facing this situation, many people unconsciously desensitize themselves to the signals that their body sends, which is why they might loose appetite, empathy, become apathetic or simply feel a constant physical pain without any apparent connection to a psychological event.
Moreover, a trauma can be so strong that it affects the identity of the person, which is why some people that have suffered severe traumas cannot even recognize themselves in the mirror. As the self has being trapped in the past, it paradoxically recurs to trauma to feel alive again, by looking for extreme emotions in sports, sex or addictions that bring him back again to the present. Being the only thing they feel real, many victims end up constantly visiting trauma as a refuge that hurts them but, at the same time, comforts them.
Let’s see an example of a traumatic situation. A couple is discussing heavily in front of their child, and the father starts to hit the mother. The mother has a strong bond with the child, so a attack to her is an attack to himself. If he doesn’t have anybody to attend for help, he cannot fight his dad as he also loves him, and cannot run away nor freeze because they are beating his mother, there is a perfect situation for trauma.
What characterizes trauma patients is that they live in the paradox of trauma being profoundly graven in them, but in a fragmented manner. For this, when remembering traumatic events they cannot recount it as a story with a start, a climax and an end, but they associate smells, colors or sounds with the situation and they literally relive it in the present.
Hence, there is a daily memory that is the recording in the brain of the lived, which is accessible if one decides to remember some moment. In this type of memory to remember is to forget, as it is a fragile memory that has the purpose of giving us a sense of continuity and identity, not being an exact representation of the past.
In contrast, traumatic memory is held outside of time and keeps being immutable to the passing of years, constantly being relived without control by the person. In reality, most people do not remember the traumatic event but they associate experiences to very strong feelings that seem to not have a specific origin. For this, trauma could be defined as the involuntary movement of the past, something that shares all characteristics with the ego.
Neuroscience offers light about the treatment of trauma and, by analogy, the ego. Traditionally, it was thought that if something that existed in the unconscious could be brought to the conscious through the word, the person would overcome the trauma. Nevertheless, we have to understand that trauma or the ego cannot “got over”, as they are not something that habits inside a person, but rather processes that are created from moment to moment.
Hence, the road is not fighting trauma nor its extensive analysis, but to be conscious from moment to moment the reasons why it is reborn, to understand how does trauma incorporates in all of the phenomenon of living. At the same time, we have to eliminate the barriers the impede direct contact so we can face it. For this, we have to follow the way through which the trauma was created.
Initially, words can only resolve the most superficial trauma, which is the one that came to be on a verbal level, but for the reactions of fight or flight or freezing, the treatment must be primarily corporal, as they are pre-verbal traumas. Trauma survives in the nervous system, in the endocrine system and the muscles and, from there, it projects itself to the mind. Thus, it is not that someone doesn’t have the courage to let the past go or that it is attached to it by mere desire. In reality, there is a chemical incapacity to overcome the past, an understanding that should intermediately wake compassion for those victims that, on many occasions, become the offenders.
Obviously, to cure a grave trauma there must be a process accompanied by a therapist. Nevertheless, to the extent that each one of us has lived and lives situations in which we feel overwhelmed by the circumstances and cannot understand how something negative could have happened, it is useful to know the principles of therapy.
All treatment of trauma should focus in solving the problems in the most primitive part of the brain, called the reptilian, to the most recent one, called the neocortex.
Also, in some people the search for security might mean taking a Krav Magá class that gives them the sensation of knowing how to defend themselves, do dynamic meditation so everything that is trapped can flower outside and, for others, practice yoga every morning to relax the muscles that stayed tense since the traumatic event. There are event specific exercises designed to face trauma as Bioenergetics or TRE, which is a system compiled by David Berceli that uses spontaneous tremors in the body to shake off trauma. Finally, the use of musical therapy with audios that look to induce a state of relaxation in the brain, like Lifeflow, can be beneficial.
In the mammalian brain, the most important thing is the sense of belonging. Social support is crucial here, as the management of emotions, intimacy and self-stem. The treatment of trauma or the ego is about making what’s still to move again. For this, singing or more so dancing, that mixes movement with rhythm, are very effective ways to learn how to let the past on its place, as to feel a synchrony that can only be felt when there is an expression of collective creativity, like the choirs or theater. In babies the sense of rhythm is learnt from crawling, which shows the relationship between movement and rhythm.
The person who has lived a trauma fears vulnerability, because feeling is a gate to suffering, but also pleasure. For this, any activity that creates a space that invites to the safe expression of emotions is welcomed. As Elliott Hulse says, the contrary of depression is expression, so any artistic, corporal and creative expression is greatly useful.
Finally, in the neocortex the most important thing is the word: understanding that what happened was a situation that was bigger than us and that it wasn’t our fault. Here, free association or the analysis of dreams can be of great help. Two therapies that can be investigated in that regard, apart from psychoanalysis, are the called PSBP psychomotor therapy, created by Albert Pesso, and Neurofeedback.
In the end, all treatment of trauma is about ending Separation. A first reason is that immutability is a concept related to Separation, as the only way in which something can be still in a world of constant movement is if its separated from it. Seeing this, to get traumatized is to get separated, and viceversa, as it means that when facing a difficult situation we responded with permanency in a world of impermanency. For this, the cure consist in literally integrate again the pieces of the self, of giving back the person a sense of integrity and sensitivity.
In many “personal growth” circles there is a lot of insistence in overcoming fear, almost to the point of completely eliminating the true quality of victims of many people. So much, than “New Age” thinking has said that the two forces in the Universe are love and fear, making then the ego, fear or attachment an enemy one has to defeat.
How hard can it be to understand that life does not ask anything, that there is nothing to do, learn or conquest? Fear accomplish his purpose of protecting us from danger. The key with people who have suffered any kind of trauma, which is probably all human beings, is not that they never feel fear again, meaning desensitizing, but rather give them back the criteria to decide when fear has sense and when it doesn’t.
For this, is the matter as simply as up to the “Age of Aquarium” or the “New Age” all human beings were cowards? This attitude is denominated by Charles Eisenstein as the ideology of war, and it’s the constant perception than life is about defeating an enemy or overcoming some evil, to conquest some goal as happiness or enlightment. This is the violent attitude of Hollywood movies that in the end is based on Separation, in the self who says “I am not the world, I am different from that which I fight”. This vision dominates a lot the treatment of trauma or the ego, and still perpetuates its causing phenomena, which is Separation.
Why would it be that when having contact with nature the mind, without any kind of coaction, enters a state of silence and attention? The separation from nature created the collective trauma of having being separated from our origin. The exile from our home caused very nostalgic minds that cannot but to remember a better past, that cannot enjoy the present. For this the movement of the past cannot be overcome, maybe, until we stop separating our feet from the earth with our shoes (calzado) or that we stop sitting in the thrones we call chairs to return, in a squat, to the level of nature.
Thus, Separation is trauma or ego that, as any problem, can be solved either by changing reality or by changing our idea about it. For this, the only way to transcend the ego is either to renounce to our pretensions from the past or to change our daily reality, so we stop missing another state of affairs. This is, if the ego came to be by the collective and individual trauma of Separation, the only way to overcome that nostalgia is to work on the political, personal and spiritual fields from Union, or to totally accept Separation. This is why meditation, understood as an instrument that has the effect of the ego or the part to understand that it is part of a whole, can only be action if it doesn’t want to become another instrument of the status quo.
In other words, the entity that looks to end up the ego, is the ego. If we want to prevent meditation from becoming another instrument more of Separation, we have to understand ego more as a protest for our ways of life than an enemy that must be crushed. Whether the meditative action can or cannot origin from the past, knowledge, memory, ideas and the known, is a totally different matter.
If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Bessel Van Der Kolk and Jiddu Krishnamurti
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