An interesting question was brought to my mind by listening to Steven Porges, the developer of polyvagal theory: How do we deal with what we call anxiety in an era in which the world is unsafe? We have been living now for over 2 years with the threat of COVID – a pandemic which changed all our concepts of safety and created a situation in which we shun contact. Social contact is something our nervous system needs in order to regulate and become open to new experiences. Yet this is exactly what we are told by authorities, health care practitioners and scientists will harm us. Will expose us to the threat of contracting covid, getting sick, and even dying. We are exposed daily on the news to statistics of the number of people who died in the last 24 hours, the number of hospitalized patients. We are urged to be vaccinated, 3, 4 and even 5 times in order to beat the odds of contracting the new covid variant, or at least if we get it, to experience a milder case of the disease.
But what about the need for social contact? We are all human beings and we need to connect. The need for connection is especially important for someone who’s been impacted by trauma. We are fortunate to have the possibility of using the internet to connect with the world. Even though it is not as effective a connection as the face to face one, we can still feel less isolated. For those of us who do not have the pressure of spouse, and children packed 24 hours a day in a small space it can be an opportunity for exploring and learning on the web. My curiosity and need to remain current in the developments of my profession led to exploring more and more courses, books and free webinars. I spent a lot of time focusing on taking in information. One of the benefits of all the knowledge I gained was the realization that learning about ourselves, exploring our own traumas and understanding how they impact us, is vital.
I agree with Dr. Guy Macpherson wo says “It’s also vital for us to allow ourselves to be ourselves. It’s crucial that we trust ourselves and honour our uniqueness rather than try to hide it or cover it up. Once we can do this, we begin to exude genuineness and people connect with that.” As a therapist working with trauma, I realize that this is a crucial aspect of trauma healing because it directly involves and influences the therapeutic relationship. This ability to be present and vulnerable and able and willing to be genuine and “in the moment” necessitates inner work.
The way I interpret inner work is the work each one of us, and especially the therapist, has to engage in so that we can acknowledge and accept our individual idiosyncrasies and qualities with love. Another important aspect is the fact that we are each unique. Each of us has certain incredible qualities and little quirks that make us who we are, that make us beautiful.
I believe that if we are able to be genuine, and share aspects of ourselves and our stories with our clients, it enhances connection and contributes to healing of trauma. Professional ethics warns therapists about sharing their personal experiences, however there is a caveat. Appropriate sharing, when it serves to empower the client and promote self-compassion, can be a powerful experience and an important bonding moment. When you trust yourself, trust who you are, you find amazing healing powers inside. However, none of us, not even the most senior and experienced, has all the answers. Spontaneity, creativity, and trust are important elements in treating trauma. To get there requires us to explore ourselves. It demands that we look at the many facets of ourselves. Even those that we may not like to admit, or see, or remember are even part of us. None of us is perfect, none of us is untarnished, none of us has all the answers. We all have our little amazing and wonderful cracks here and there. And it is those “imperfections” and the act of sharing them that invites others to hear us, to see us, to get close to us. This is the healing process.
There is a famous Japanese process in pottery called Kintsugi. It is the art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold, built on the idea that by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. In my pottery work I have for years used bits and pieces of clay slabs to create useable objects – vessels with cracks on the outside, which actually make them more interesting and stronger.
Overlapping and showing the folds, the faults, creates more beautiful insides. Even without the gold I am able to emphasize the value of the seeming imperfection and draw the eye to it. The gold the Japanese add only shows how valuable a crack can become. I have been exploring my cracks through creating vessels. My pottery reflects my being – seemingly unable to stand, as if falling over, but in reality, stable enough to stand. Vulnerable, yet strong, funky yet functional.
This is my own way to express my self-exploration. It is not a one-time process. This is an ongoing, lifelong process – recognizing the cracks and using them to heal myself and the people I come in contact with.
Kintsugi is not only a way to repair oneself, I believe it is a good way to repair the world.
There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). When the recently-deceased Israeli author A.B Yehoshua was asked about the advice he would give to the next generation he answered:
“Today we Jews speak a lot about tikkun olam, repairing the world. I would like Jews to speak more about tikkun atzmam, repairing ourselves. This was the foundation of Zionism: Not changing the world, but changing the Jew. The basis for knowing how to change, what to change, what to keep—of identity and tradition—and what to repair, this starts with “know yourself.” The most important sentence that has ever been said in history is the Greek advice: “Know yourself.” This ancient wisdom was engraved on the Temple of Delphi in Greece 500 years before Jesus. Know yourself is important for everyone, on the personal level and also on the collective level. For Jews, it is even more important because our history is full of disasters. There is the Holocaust, and still today the question of the survival of Israel in the face of threats of total destruction. Apart from blaming others and trying to find evil in the world, we have to understand more profoundly this dangerous interaction between us and the world. Understanding yourself and trying to change yourself according to what you discover, this is for me—as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a world citizen—one of the most important things that I would like to pass on to the coming generation.”
This is a valuable message not just to future generations of Jews but to the entire world. If we all engage in understanding ourselves, accepting our cracks and accepting that we are part of the world community; if each of us engages in self-exploration, in accepting our flaws and thus the flaws in others, in healing our collective traumas, then we are indeed repairing the world. By repairing ourselves collectively we are placing gold into the cracks to strengthen our bonds.