Main Pages

By Region




Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Trauma?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Trauma

Almost All Forces are Contrary to a Child’s Essence

One way to see this is to observe how resilient children are in their emotional health, their aliveness, their joy, and their passionate involvement in their activities. We see them bouncing back after many disappointments, many failures, and many discouragements. They bounce back to their aliveness and joy over and over for years before the aliveness and joy are slowly suppressed and lost. The fact is that it takes a hostile and contrary environment, continually and mercilessly rejecting, ignoring, and hurting the being of the child, for years on end, before it succumbs to suppression. The power, resilience, and strength of essence are enormous. It is the force of life itself, the mainspring of vitality and vigor. But in almost all human communities it is hopelessly outnumbered and outmaneuvered until it is overwhelmed. Almost all forces and influences in the environment are hostile to it, and if not hostile, they are at least not understanding. Almost all forces—social, educational, religious, and even parental—are contrary or even hostile to the child's essence, wittingly or unwittingly. The child's essence is always misunderstood, ignored, or rejected, and frequently insulted, trampled, and hurt. We are not referring to isolated traumatic experiences only. We mean almost all of the time, in all interactions with the environment and the people in it. This is because the environment is ruled by the personality, normal and pathological. All institutions of society, except for isolated instances, are formed, run, and populated by the personality, the usurper of the place of essence. And the personality by its very nature, by its existence, is contrary to the essence and lacks the understanding of its nature. Not only that, its very life is threatened by essence. For essence exposes its emptiness, bares its hurts, and makes transparent its falsehood.

Blocking Vulnerability Because of Trauma

So there is a place for trying to be present. But in time, the more you become present, you see that there is tension; there is a me trying to do something and there is the presence. You see that actually the presence doesn’t want anything, doesn’t try anything. You start wondering: What’s this? How can I try to be present? Who is trying to be present? And that’s when you allow yourself to be influenced and affected by presence. That’s when you learn to be vulnerable. Vulnerability has its own emotional issues. People block vulnerability because of various emotional traumas from childhood. Understanding these traumas will allow the possibility of vulnerability. This is one reason we work on emotional understanding. The more you understand your emotions and why you block them, the more you allow yourself to be vulnerable.

Difficulties and Traumas in Early Childhood

The final outcome of ego development is a unified self-image. This is experienced as a sense of self and a separate individuality; or one could say there is an individual with a sense of self. The Essential Self is replaced gradually by the ego sense of self, as the latter becomes increasingly established. By the time the ego development is capable of selective identification, the ego sense of self has become dominant. The process of loss of contact with the Essential Self is also exacerbated by the usual narcissistic difficulties and traumas in early childhood. The self is no longer an ontologic presence. One is now cut off from the true Self by identification with an image. One’s sense of self is now determined by a memory-image constructed from past object relations and structured by the development of internalized object relations, just as object relations theory contends. But as is clear according to our present analysis, that is not the whole story. The feeling of identity in the self-image is a vague memory of the true feeling of identity.

Dissociation From Traumatic Events

Because the soul is incapable of tolerating the direct impact of traumatic event or situation, the organism becomes overwhelmed and goes into emergency mode. A dimension of the organism becomes frozen emotionally and energetically, a frozenness that ends up being repressed or split off from consciousness. This then influences conscious experience in ways that might not be obvious to the individual, as has been identified as posttraumatic stress disorder. What is significant for our exploration here is that the soul cannot at the time tolerate the sensations, feelings, and visual images associated to the incident or situation. This intolerance makes the soul dissociate, a defense mechanism often seen in traumatized individuals. The soul deals with the intolerable situation by not experiencing it directly, either by totally blocking it out of consciousness or by retaining the memory while becoming numb to its emotional and feeling significance. But for the soul to do that she would need to limit and lower the intensity of her awareness. Since the essential presence is pure presence of awareness the dissociation will have to include dissociation from this inner ground of the soul for it to be effective. In other words, in order for the soul to dissociate from the traumatic event or situation it inadvertently dissociates from her essential presence. Something similar happens in the case of severe abuse of any kind. In fact, any intolerable experience generally leads to dissociation of one kind or another, all of which result in dissociation of the soul from her essential ground. This dissociation then becomes structured into the identity and character of the developing soul.

Frozenness in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

It is easy to observe this malleability of the soul. For example, a strong and repeated experience in childhood can render one so stuck with the forms of that time that even though one becomes an adult, one may continue to feel and behave according to these forms, as if one is still a child having these experiences. A more extreme example is the intensity and frozenness of feelings and memories in posttraumatic stress disorder, resulting for instance from war trauma. The soldier will continue to feel and behave in ways that are not appropriate, because his inner experience of himself and world is frozen into a fixed structure that can last a lifetime. The malleability of the soul allows her to be affected by her perception and inner experience, and this effect can be lasting. This phenomenon is everyone’s common experience; it is a normal part of being human, and more basically part of being alive.

Holes Originate Partly as a Result of Traumatic Experiences

We walk around with lots of holes, but we usually aren’t aware of them. We’re usually aware of desires: “I want praise. I want to be successful. I want this person to love me. I want this or that experience.” The presence of desires and needs indicates the presence of holes. These holes originated during childhood, partly as a result of traumatic experiences or conflicts with the environment. Perhaps your parents did not value you. They didn’t treat you as if your wishes or presence were important, didn’t act in ways that let you know that you mattered. They ignored your essential value. Because your value was not seen or acknowledged (perhaps even attacked or discouraged), you got cut off from that part of you, and what was left was a hole, a deficiency. When you relate to someone in a deep way, you fill your holes with the other person. Some of your holes get filled with what you believe you’re getting from the other person. For example, you may feel valued because this person appreciates you. You don’t know consciously that you’re filling the hole with their appreciation. But when you are with that person, you feel valuable, and unconsciously you feel the other person is responsible for your value. Whatever this person is giving you feels like a part of you; it is part of the fullness that you experience. Your unconscious does not see that part of the person that makes you feel valuable as separate; you see it as part of you.

The Most Central Element in Our Suffering

We see here that from the perspective of the Diamond Guidance, the impulse to be kind to this person because her mother hurt her is only the beginning of true Compassion. The Compassion of our true nature responds from the knowledge that even though hurt, pain, abuse, and trauma happen in childhood, the most central element in our soul’s suffering is that those experiences disconnect us from true nature. If a guide does not have that perspective, then this person is not a true spiritual guide yet. Such a guide may help you deal with the pain and feel better about yourself. But a spiritual guide will start from this pain and disruption—because that is what feels true for you now—and from there take you on the journey to your true nature. This is a very delicate operation and requires the unlimited openness of Being. Attunement and compassion of this kind obviously requires a vision that reflects a deep understanding of true nature, of what a human being is, what the path consists of, and so on. But the capacity or element we are focusing on here is that of sensitive attunement. This is an expression of objective and essential compassion, the Green diamond of the Diamond Guidance, which has a warmth and an acceptance to it inseparable from the precision and sharpness. It is not a matter of seeing your situation and feeling, “This is terrible; I’m going to change it.” It is a matter of seeing your situation and accepting that this is where you are. You take the attitude, “I want to know exactly how it feels to be here.

Trauma Can Last a Lifetime

It is important to recognize how abuse imprints the soul, because many people tend to think that it is mostly a question of repression that needs to be undone and dealt with. This neglects the structuring effects of such powerful impressions, structuring that becomes part of the victim’s identity and character. This means that to learn to fully be free from such history one needs to work on the structures that have developed through this abusive history and learn to disidentify from them, or bring them to a degree of flexibility and openness. Traumatic events have similar effects, but are different in emotional content. Trauma is any experience that the soul is not able to tolerate with the resources available to her at the time of the event. A trauma can be physical, as in the case of physical accidents, bodily injuries, severe or chronically incapacitating sickness. It can also be emotional, related to the physical trauma, a response to a trauma in the immediate family, witnessing abuse or trauma happening to others, or being emotionally traumatized by other’s cruelty and mistreatment, by an important loss like a death in the immediate family, etc. Trauma has such a powerful impact on the soul that its influence can last a lifetime and affects our life and experience profoundly even when we have no recollection of the trauma.

Trauma Disconnects Us from Essence

Another example of how defensive structures can contribute to narcissism Is the person who was abused physically, sexually, or emotionally. He must develop measures to deal with his trauma, any of which will disconnect him from Essence. He cannot afford to stay in touch with his essential presence because this would put him deeply in touch with himself, confronting him with the full impact of the abuse. For example, he may develop structures such as obsessive thinking or defensive hostility to keep his experience shallow enough to deny his pain and helplessness. The interested reader can find detailed explorations of these general factors and their related manifestations of self in our previous publications, such as The Pearl Beyond Price (Almaas, 1988) and The Void (Almaas, 1986).

Trauma Lessens a Certain Quality of Essence

Everyone is born with Essence. Just as as your physical body follows a certain pattern of growth, so does your essence. The newborn baby is mainly in the state we call “the essence of the Essence,” a nondifferentiated state of unity. At about three months, the baby is in a “merged” state which is necessary for the development of the relationship with the mother. After the merged state, Strength develops, then Value, Joy, the Personal Essence, and so on. But because of interference from, and conflict with, the environment, this development is only partial. Every time there is pain or trauma, there is a lessening of a certain quality of Essence. Which quality is affected depends on the nature and the time of the trauma. Sometimes our strength, sometimes our love, sometimes our self-valuing, compassion, joy, or intuition is hurt and eventually blocked. When a quality of Essence is blocked from a person’s experience, what is left in place of that quality is a sense of emptiness, a deficiency, a hole, as we saw in our discussion of the Theory of Holes. You have seen in your work here how you actually experience that emptiness as a hole in your body where a quality of Essence is cut off. This creates the sense that something is lacking and, therefore, something is wrong. When we feel a deficiency, we try to fill the hole. Since Essence has been cut off in that place, we cannot fill the hole with Essence, so we try to fill it with similar, false qualities, or we try to fill it from the outside.

Work on Trauma is Necessary for Inner Transformation

This clearly demonstrates that work on trauma and abuse is necessary if the individual is serious about inner transformation. We have observed that some individuals do not become aware of their trauma or abuse history until they go deep in their inner journey. But we have also observed the limitations such history places on the individuals who do not deal with it effectively. Our recommendation is that individuals who know that they have such history try to confront it and deal with it therapeutically before fully engaging the inner journey. Otherwise, this unmetabolized history not only limits one’s capacity to traverse the path, but also distorts it and its experiences.

Subscribe to the Diamond Approach

See past editions of the Diamond Approach newsletter