The Most Important Knowledge

A long time ago, I wrote a blog article called “Low Self Esteem Is the Root of All Problems.”
Re-reading it a decade+ later, I am impressed by what I had figured out on my own through personal experience and thinking. But while low self esteem is the root of all problems, I wasn’t as clear then on what caused low self esteem: trauma.
We are all driven and controlled by our trauma. The only true way to resolve and be free, is to feel it.
This is perhaps the most important life lesson I learned. And it’s been the central theme of my life ever since I learned it.

Basics of Trauma

Trauma isn’t reserved for dramatic, tragic events like loss of a family member, major illnesses or abuse. Trauma is the result any time you encounter emotions too big and strong to process. By “process” what I mean is to feel those emotions, to fully experience them. Some life events or prolonged state can generate emotions that are too uncomfortable to feel. In such situations, our defense mechanism tucks that emotion away. Away in our subconscious, and in our physical body. There the emotions wait for the day when we revisit and fully feel them.
The problem with trauma is that it never goes away on their own. The only way to move past it, is to feel the feelings. Imagine trauma is like a big baggage. And the way to scoop out the content is to experience the emotions. The more you scoop, the baggage gets smaller, until one day it is empty.
Let’s say you observe a little child throw a tantrum. If you are able to let them have at it without judging, eventually they will finish and move on as if nothing happened. Their outburst is the way to experience the feelings. And by being allowed to continue without judgment, they are able to go on until the baggage is empty.
But adult intervention isn’t the only thing preventing a child from fully experiencing their feelings. Some life events generate feelings that are too immense to process in one sitting. Our psychic defense system allows us to spread it out and experience it over time.
The problem is, often we tuck our trauma away and avoid revisiting at all costs.

My Journey Through Trauma

I first learned this concept from my coach Tom Volkar in mid 2010s. Then it was reinforced by the book “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown. Ever since then, I’ve been on a quest to uncover every trauma and revisit them.
It’s been amazing, and amazingly uncomfortable, to discover layers upon layers of trauma sitting in my system. So many limiting beliefs. So many triggers. Trauma-informed worldviews that greatly compromised my self worth. Stressers, anxieties, frustrations.
But if the experience was hard, the difference it makes has not been subtle, either. The result of trauma work is stronger security. Your self worth grows stronger and your sense of contentment becomes less disturb-able.
For example, I used to struggle with pain in my elbow from playing the guitar. I believe there were two causes to my cubital tunnel syndrome. First is the lack of strength to do what I wanted to do as a guitar player. But second and more importantly, I used to believe that I was not allowed to do what I enjoy. There was fair amount of traditional Asian values present in my upbringing. Virtue was hard work, dedication, sacrifice for grater good. Pleasure or personal passion was to come only after I honored all my responsibilities. This was drummed into me through judgment and disciplining.
I had a handful of “episodes” of this syndrome (which is really an injury). In the last episode, it finally occurred to me to tune in to the physical sensation to see what kind of feeling it contained. I sensed it was an angry warning. It was trying to protect me by preventing me from playing the guitar and getting “busted” for having fun. So I thanked it for trying to protect me. Then I spent some time tuning into the feeling of getting busted, which contained feelings of guilt, shame, grief and anger. Tears came and I wept for a while (tears are a sign that you are processing your baggage). I slept that night and the next morning my elbow felt better. I haven’t had a serious problem since then, except for very occasional feeling of fatigue and burning sensation. (which is a sign for me to stop and take it easy)
I know that sounds dramatic and unreal and “woo woo.” I wish my story didn’t sound so dramatic and magic-like. But that is what happened.

Traditional Wisdom Chains Us to Life of Trauma

Traditionally, we thought it was brave and strong of a person to hold back the tears and not cry. And most of us try to avoid uncomfortable feelings. We often numb and distract ourselves. I still do plenty of it.
But if I only get to say one thing to the world, I want to say this: don’t run away from the pain.
It is our fear of darkness that keeps us in the dark.
To get to the light, the way leads us through darkest paths.
It is our numbing and distracting and denial that prolongs the life of carrying the pain. By facing and feeling the pain you can become free of it.
Stop trying not to cry. Instead, learn to cry as often as you can. Not in pubic, but find a private time and space to let tears flow.
The last few years I spent many hours crying and being depressed. I spent many multi-week vacations simply laying around. There were times when I wondered if there was an end to this. Or was I kidding myself and the life of lethargy and hopelessness was all there was to it. But I kept on because I did feel the nature of my feelings change. I’d turn a corner with a particular theme or issue, then I’d start feeling the next layer, a deeper issue under that.

Crying Our Way to Freedom

I am not trauma free yet. But I seem to have processed enough of them, that I now live much more comfortably. I get triggered less often and even when I do, the degree of emotion coming up is less threatening.
The part that excites me the most now I can really work on rewriting my limiting beliefs. Working through trauma by itself doesn’t change how you feel about yourself or the world. But the beliefs are more malleable if the trauma holding them together goes away. My self worth has improved. I feel more comfortable putting up boundaries or pushing back. I am excited about where I can steer my life now.
And most importantly, I get to spend the rest of my life sharing this knowledge, and let it inform my life and art. This knowledge changed my life. I hope to do what I can to spread it, and be a living example.