The anatomy of inaction – what does climate change have to do with collective trauma?

By Jena Griffiths | November 13, 2021

What does climate change have to do with collective trauma and how each of us can contribute to healing the climate crisis by doing our own inner work – by becoming aware of frozen places within inhibiting our ability to respond?

Our willingness or ability to respond to the urgency of the crisis in which we find oursleves has been impaired by numbing and overwhelm, a shutting down of our nervous system, says Thomas Huebl.

A powerful exploration on the “anatomy of inaction” by Thomas Huebl in conversation with Kosha Joubert of the pocketproject.org

 

Introduction to this talk

Rough transcript of introduction to this discussion (first 28 minutes)

KJ: What is trauma and how does it co-create or shape our reality?

Thomas's answer

 

 

TH: “Trauma is what happens in us when we are going through a strongly overwhelming experience, or series of experiences. There is an intelligent response, that evolution developed, which means, if trauma is a moment when the “computer” get overloaded. There are two movements, One is extremely high stress, and the other is a shutting down or a numbing. So then we have two. The nature of trauma always creates two, and inbetween is a fragmentation. So I have very high intensity of stress because of the experience, and because it is so overwhelming, in a “part of the city” the light goes off. Imagine you have a city at night and you shut down a quarter of the city’s lights. (Similarly with trauma) one part of my nervous system goes dark.  Which means I pull out my sensitivity and shut my sensitivity down. And this is very important because once I understand that the trauma response in itself is very intelligent, it’s better than without it. An untaken care of trauma response, that hasn’t been restored or integrated, creates symptoms. Why? Because in follow up situations or situations  that just remind me of my overwhelm,  I become extremely reactive or I don’t feel anything. I’m indifferent, dissociated and numb.

“So I have these two forces in me, very reactive or very scared, fearful,  overreactive, or I’m numb, I’m indifferent, I’m distant, and a part of myself I cant feel any more. Perhaps I can feel a certain part of my body. I can feel a certain fragment of my emotional experience and I can feel you and a certain part of you, but because trauma hurts our relational capacity,  the relational movement, “I feel you feeling me”, has been reduced or fragmented and shut down. And one consequence is that subjectively, I feel more separate. I feel more alone. I feel more distant. Separation is a trauma phenomenon. But disembodiment is also. So when I ask you at the beginning to make a screenshot of your body, and when you drop deeper into your body, you can connect to your body where you feel yourself. You can also connect kind of to your body when you feel yourself just a little. But in certain areas of your body are where you are numb, you cannot connect to your body, and maybe you don’t even know that you can’t feel yourself. 

“The reason why we bring this into the climate conversation is because evolution and development are capacities of movement. Relating to each other are capacities of movement. When I feel you and I listen to you I create more synchronisation so that  my nervous system and yours together create a more coherant relational space. These are capacities of movement. But trauma is a reduced movement. Trauma is reducing the movement of life, because it’s a freezing. And we all know this wen we say, “part of my life is more difficult.” Or “I had a difficult situation.” Or “I had a difficult interaction with somebody.” That’s where we feel the reduced movement. And that’s why, even if we are very intelligent, we cannot solve certain situations or parts of our life, not because we cannot but because of the triggers that come up. And the other point is, trauma didn’t start with us. And that’s where collective trauma comes into being. Trauma was here thousands and thousands of years. All of us have been born into a pre-traumatized world… and so detaching trauma from a merely personal experience, trauma is what happened to me when I was 3 or 7 or I had a car accident, then something happened and I can connect by biography to the trauma, so a lot of the trauma work we see is centred around that, but what I have seen these last 20 years in all those bigger facilitation processes that we did around large scale wounds, is we can attach trauma to a bigger around large scale wounds.

“I grew up as a boy in post war Vienna and no-one told me that the atmosphere I felt, certain kinds of interactions between people, how people behaved, certain thinking, that all of that is due to frozen aspects of life. So I grew up thinking this is how life is, until I learned, no Thomas this is not how life is. There is one part, how life is, that’s true, but then there is another part, and that’s how life is when it’s hurt… If we normalise trauma we normalise repetitive processes that are actually living in the past. And the we complain about them because we say, say you see, this happens over and over again. … Trauma is bound to repeat itself because its partly runs … until we become aware of it.

TH: “…Trauma is a social issue that concerns all of us.
“We are living in a normalisation of systemic trauma factors that are partly running the show without us knowing. ..That why the responsiveness of society to an obvious threat needs to be seen also through the lens of collective trauma. Because Trauma doesn’t want to change. Its nature is to freeze so if there’s enormous change process coming towards us, in our fluid state… we have adaptability… in trauma we don’t have adaptability.  In trauma it scares me to change and if someone pushes me, like an activist, I push against it because it scares me even more.”  Thomas Huebl

The conversation about this follows on from about 28 minutes in.

Supportive tools

Below an excellent exercise with Jens Riese on exploring the limits of our own emotional capacity.

and another excellent attunment with Markus Hirzig – exploring our inner climate

“Do you have enough space and time? If not you might notice urgency, pressure… “

“Do you have space to invite the world into your house? 

Further exploration on this theme 

A new Sounds True podcast with Deb Dana, author of Anchored: How to Befriend Your Nervous System Using Polyvagal Theory.  Listen to this excellent beginners guide to polyvagal theory, Becoming an Active Operator of Your Nervous System so that we can come back into relationship and be with our current crisis in a different way.

“Yours responsibility is to learn to regulate your own nervous system so that you can be regulating for your friends. ” says Dana.

 

Also related to this – how knowing what your fingerprints say about your purpose helps to heal the fragile eco system that we are part of.

What’s your purpose from a larger perspective?

 

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