“The cultural pressure to meditate is very high right now, but not every meditative experience is a positive one.” Anna Kress
Meditation is often talked about as the cure-all for emotional suffering. However, this not always true for those with trauma. For people who have unresolved traumas that are frozen neurobiologically, especially developmental and childhood traumas, as well as any shock trauma, quieting down can trigger partial and/or full flashbacks, and/or anxiety, that the person is unable to cope with and tolerate. This can actually be retraumatizing when the person does not know how to cope with it.
What are Flashbacks?
Most of us understand flashbacks as being a memory w/ images & picture. It is important to understand that flashbacks are any one, or up to all, of the following emotional content coming up in a distressing way.
Body memories (body sensations)
Sudden emotions and feelings
Racing, paranoid, or obsessive thinking
Images, pictures, or symbols
Nightmares or dream like states
Sudden somatic experiences: pain, panic attacks, nausea, vomiting, loss of sight, paralysis, fainting, seizures, etc.
I do not deny that meditation is a wonderful healing system. With for those with unresolved trauma, it needs to be trauma-informed practices that lead up to meditation when the person can tolerate.
Mindfulness skills, such as found in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) can be very beneficial, albeit also with caution, with unresolved trauma. Mantra, chanting, and prayer tend to be safer ways to start working the energetic body and helps to distract the mind from bringing flashback material into consciousness unexpectedly. Also, trauma-informed yoga with a qualified instructor, that is also appropriate for the individual, can help build mindfulness practices for trauma, as the movement helps to release the trauma slowly from the body. Progressive relaxation techniques may be good practices for many people with trauma.
Loving Kindness Mantra for Trauma
May I find ease…May I be well…
May I be healthy… May I be happy…
May I live in Loving Kindness.
Cautious is Better
It is not to say you cannot try meditation, and it surely has proven benefits. If you have, or think you may have, unresolved trauma, please be cautious, start slow, and work with a trained trauma-informed psychotherapist or instructor.