Ok, that play on words was pretty cringe worthy. But the lame humor doesn’t make it any less true. The use of symbols and symbolic interpretation has been part and parcel with healing since man has started striving towards emotional understanding and wellness. Both ancient and modern tribal societies recognize the value in the use of symbols to strengthen perceptions and give guidance in the area of our psyche. Shamans are adept at symbolic acts as a source of healing. The works of Freud and Jung are benchmarked by the inclusion of symbols and symbolic interpretation and, therefor, a necessity of psychoanalysis.
The treatment of emotional trauma has never been so prolific and promising as it is today. Medications, DBT, brain entrainment and neuro-linguistic programming, the trauma narrative… I’m sure you’ve got the picture. But what about the use of symbolism in the practice of healing trauma? In my humble opinion, it belongs right there with the rest.
Trauma might be defined as “present maladaptive perceptions and responses based on a past event.” Simply put, you are fearful today because of what happened “ago”. And despite the term “traumatic event”, there is no such thing. Events are neutral. It is our perceptions and reactions to them that assign a value (good or bad). Much of the emotional pain that comes from trauma is in the form of flashbacks. These are more than memories. Instead, it is the feeling that the past event is going to occur or is occurring at this very moment…even when it isn’t. A woman is attacked in a parking garage on March 12th in Scranton. She enters a parking garage six months later in Orlando and finds herself experiencing the same terror, helplessness and shame as she did on that day in March. Why? No one is hurting her…she is safe. This is because the event in March was extreme enough and her psychological resiliency compromised enough that she developed a trauma response. Her mind is telling her that for her to stay “safe”, she much view all parking garages as an immediate threat. And all men. She is superimposing the emotions and the memory of her physiological responses during the actual event onto the present. She does this out of self-protection so that she will be able to prevent this from ever happening again. And she is doing this on an unconscious level. The parking garage-and men-have become symbolic of pain, fear, and danger.
This brief explanation of the role symbolism has in the development of the trauma response now leads to examining the use and value of symbolism and symbolic acts in the treatment and healing of those souls dealing with trauma.
“Symbolism…It’s Not Just for the Jung anymore!” Part 2-Coming soon.