Oxytocin, Belonging and Empathy – June 2014
One month ago today I was at the International Systemic Constellations* week-long intensive in Southern Germany. I had attended as both a guest lecturer on the interpersonal neurobiology of working with trauma, and as a participant, receiving support around my own trauma, the death of my son.
I notice as I write these words, “my own trauma,” a cascade of effects follows. It is like the flow of my intention hits hard ground, and scatters in small beads in many directions. I track one of the directions, an almost-cruel self-dismissal: “It’s not your trauma, you didn’t die.” The bones of my skull feel tight, and I’ve almost stopped breathing. Maybe some empathy for myself would help.
Ah, voice of self-dismissal, are you tired of grief? Would you like the wear and tear of mourning to be over? And do you find refuge in an inhuman love of precision? Do you want to protect me from my pain by parsing ownership rights to loss? Is the strange intimacy of death, since it is not something you can hide, almost unbearable? Do you just want to shut the door to connection, for privacy? Does it feel strange to be having an experience that is different from the everyday flow of life around you, and does it land in your body like shame, even though there isn’t anything to be ashamed of? And is that confusing? Do you ache for simplicity and clarity?
My body tension eases. In my conversation with myself, I can see and feel the ebb and flow of warmth as I shift between the cold voice of my dismissal and the response of my resonating self-witness.
This last month has been an extended exploration of the importance of accepting the different voices within us with respect and grace. Each stopping place on this journey has reinforced how essential it is to embrace and hold the complexity of the human experience with clarity and resonance in order to heal.
We start with whatever we can catch about what’s happening now. And if we follow our bodies, and are supported by an understanding of the healing power of resonance, we can’t help but move toward healing. In Germany, I set up a constellation where the self that is contemptuous of my post-50 body was represented. As I watched this interaction, I realized that there was a younger, thinner part of me that had frozen in time when the cycle of trauma with my son began eight years ago, and that she was still 43 and couldn’t comprehend who this 51 year old was. Now there’s less contempt, and she’s starting to catch up with what has happened. In Canada last week, the members of another group represented each of the different emotions I could name about my son’s passing, and when I finally asked grief to come in, the representative had a hard time finding a place to stand, and then settled over everything. This named beautifully the struggle I had been having to find a good place for my grief.
Whether we are doing depth empathy or constellations, or learning Interpersonal Neurobiology, the intention is to make these bodies and brains we live with easier places to inhabit.