The Cheat Code to Trauma Cycles
On the deep psychological power of the “Golden Rule”
The line between spirituality and psychology is thin and hazy, perhaps even less-defined than the line between spirituality and religion. Since at least as far back as the time of the Buddha (directly, and indirectly far longer), spiritual wisdom traditions have sought to address psychological problems. Still today, many of our best practices for psychological healing come directly from wisdom traditions that have been practiced for thousands of years.
In the times of Siddhartha Gautama or Yeshua of Nazareth, most people weren’t regularly talking about trauma the way we are today. The Buddha referred to karma, to cravings and anguish, to cycles of thirsting and suffering. The Bible refers to wounding, suffering and a crushing of spirit.
Much of the confusion around the psychological application of spiritual lessons comes from losses in translation. Western psychology, a field which has only been around for some 150 years, has a very particular vocabulary for describing phenomena in the human psyche. Though the words may be different and the meanings subtly distinct, many psychological terms have obvious parallels in spiritual traditions.
The word “trauma” was originally used in medicine, with origins in the Greek word for “wound,” but was later adapted to describe a psychological experience of deep emotional impact and enduring response following a terrifying or life-threatening experience. While trauma was only considered primarily as an individual phenomenon, the psychology field is beginning to open up to a broader understanding of collective and intergenerational trauma, trauma that expands across time and space, impacting more than just a single physical body.
One of the hallmarks of trauma is its cyclical relationship with time. A traumatized individual is stuck repeatedly reacting to the past as though it were happening in the present. When we talk about trauma cycles today, we’re referring to patterns of behavior that repeat following a traumatic event. These behaviors might be harmful coping mechanisms, emotional reactions that blur the present and the past, or repeated encounters of situations that keep leaving similar wounds.