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Part 5 in Body Series

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

Trauma, False Refuge and Electronics

The Buddha spoke of two kinds of refuge: true refuge and false refuge. The difference being that true refuge brings safety and relief from suffering and distress, while false refuge does not.

From a Dharma perspective, we seek refuge from suffering associated with craving. Fueled by ignorance, we crave sense pleasures as a way to find relief from the difficulties of life. Ultimately, craving does not work, as it leads to more suffering. We then try to find relief from that, and the cycle of suffering continues and deepens.

Often, from an emotional and psychological perspective, the suffering that we seek refuge from is associated with childhood trauma. These childhood traumas span a huge spectrum. Simply not being picked up and soothed as an infant when in distress and crying gives the message that something is terribly wrong. Not just terribly wrong, but, over time, the feeling gets internalized as "there’s something terribly wrong with me." The spectrum includes more intense traumas associated with ongoing emotional misattunement, as well as neglect, drug and alcohol abuse or violence in the home, and physical and sexual abuse. All of these stem from the unprocessed and unhealed childhood trauma of the adult caregivers.

The effects of these, and many other examples of childhood trauma, can leave the child feeling "less than," unlovable and unwanted. These feelings are intolerable to young children who have no way to understand what is happening to them or what they are feeling. The only thing the small being knows is to try and get relief from those painful feelings.

Sometimes, in an attempt to find relief, the psyche simply splits off the intolerable feelings. This does sequester them temporarily and offers relief from the acute emotional pain. Yet, in doing so, whole parts of the child are split off as well, leaving their mental and emotional capacities greatly impaired. In other cases, as the child grows older, they turn to substances to quell the feelings of being unlovable, not accepted, or simply that something is terribly wrong with them. These substances include alcohol, drugs, sexual addiction and pornography, gambling, food, overworking, harmful relationships and others.

Contemporary psychology is understanding more and more about trauma, including the fact that most adults have endured some form of childhood trauma. This means that most adults carry some form of messaging, called core beliefs, that something is wrong with them. Including that their self worth is less than others. Looking for a way to find relief from these painful feelings, people turn to various substances. Besides the ones mentioned earlier, I want to include all forms of entertainment, including computers and especially smartphones.

Phones are particularly problematic as most of us have them on our persons or nearby 24/7. This, and the fact that these devices are designed to be addictive, offers the perfect tool for finding unskillful, temporary relief from distressing inner feelings--that is, simply to remain distracted. Of course, this and all other addictions are not a conscious choice. It’s a natural response of the system trying to soothe itself. Probably noone buys a phone with the conscious intention to become addicted to it.

It’s important to understand the relationship to our phones as an addiction (if indeed that is the case). Understanding that all addictions are an attempt to avoid difficult emotions, we can shift the focus to exploring the difficult feelings we are trying to avoid. Supported by the inner resources that are cultivated through Dharma practice, such as mindfulness, body awareness and self compassion, we can begin this exploration, which can be further supported by the outer resources of Sangha and trauma-informed psychotherapy.

This healing journey, which we are all on in one from or another, is a journey to wholeness. We seek to reclaim the parts of ourselves that had to be split off and sacrificed to maintain our sanity when we were very young, while also reclaiming the parts that have been numbed through the process of addiction. Through this journey we reclaim a sense of lovability and the ability to love. This journey, facilitated by Dharma practice and trauma-informed psychotherapy, can be aided by pharmaceutical and plant based medicines when necessary and appropriate to the person and situation.

It is a worthy journey, not something to be ashamed of, but something to be celebrated, both individually and collectively. May your journey help lead you to your happiness and freedom, and to the happiness and freedom for all beings.

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