January 9, 2024

Post-Traumatic Learning and Sensitivity: A Q&A Episode

Thomas answers questions submitted by Point of Relation listeners. He explores how post-traumatic learning and growth can occur both individually and collectively. Collective healing is a powerful force that can help our societies evolve by surfacing past wounds that need to be addressed, giving us the opportunity to restore our social ethics, and helping to prevent similar traumatic events from occurring in the future.

He also discusses what causes a person to be “highly sensitive,” and how approaches to nervous system regulation and emotional grounding should be tailored to fit the needs of people with this type of refined perception.

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“The integration of our trauma creates a learning process, which means we actually turn our suffering into a remedy.”

- Thomas Hübl

Guest Information

Thomas Hübl

Thomas Hübl is a renowned teacher, author, and international facilitator whose work integrates the core insights of the great wisdom traditions and mysticism with the discoveries of science. Since the early 2000s, he has been facilitating large-scale events and courses that focus on meditation and mindfulness-based awareness practices, as well as the healing and integration of trauma.

His non-profit organization, The Pocket Project, works to support the healing of collective trauma throughout the world. He is the author of the book Healing Collective Trauma: A Process for Integrating Our Intergenerational and Cultural Wounds.

His new book Attuned: Practicing Interdependence to Heal Our Trauma—and Our World is available now wherever books are sold. Visit attunedbook.com for links to order it online.

For more information, visit thomashuebl.com

Notes & Resources

Here are the listener questions that Thomas addresses in this episode:

  • If we realize individual trauma as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to growth, can collective trauma be realized as an opportunity for collective attunement and awakening?” – Chris
  • Dear Thomas, could you elaborate on the connection between high sensitivity and trauma? Do you see high sensitivity as a consequence of traumatic experiences in the past, perhaps even in the ancestors? Or do you see it as a standalone phenomenon that is most promoted by trauma? In which case is trauma work sufficient to really turn down a steady allure of the nervous system?” – Kaja

Episode Transcript

Michelle Stransky: Welcome to Point of Relation. I’m Michelle, producer of the podcast. This is part two of a Q&A series with Thomas. Last month, we asked you, our listeners, to submit your questions for Thomas to answer on the podcast.

While Thomas won’t be able to answer each of the very meaningful questions that you submitted, we want to let you know that they do inform the content that we’ll be continuing to curate for the podcast. We thank you for your engagement and listening and submitting your questions.

We’ll go ahead today and begin with a question from Chris: “If we realize individual trauma as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to growth, can collective trauma be realized as an opportunity for collective attunement and awakening?”

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, I think for me that there are two very important aspects. One is, and I’m sure many of our listeners here are aware of the Collective Trauma Summit. During the summit, I interviewed many speakers. And somehow, often when I ask, okay, tell us a little bit about your personal story and how you came to what you do today in the world? We often see that the arc is that many of the speakers started off also dealing with their own trauma story or history and then through transforming, integrating their own trauma – their gift, that became their purpose or path that unleashed and opened.

So this already answers the question, of course, our trauma integration process. And when we talk about trauma integration, we talk about post-traumatic learning so that the integration of our trauma creates a learning process, which means we actually turn our suffering into a remedy.

A remedy because of our nervous system, our bodies, biology, our well-being. Once we integrate part of our trauma, we begin to radiate the integration – which is amazing. Which means we become psychoactive. Not because we’re trying hard literally, that’s a side effect of going through something difficult, integrating it. We’re becoming a walking example that it’s possible. That’s amazing.

And it can inspire others to really feel the urge to just talk about it, that person really went through it and opened up parts of their lives into a joyful way of expressing, more present, more related life, and so many other things. And that’s deeply inspiring for people who feel affected by a similar traumatic experience. And I think that’s really important that the trauma became wisdom. We are not going back to a place before the trauma happened – we’re actually going to a place where we don’t know that the integration of trauma makes us grow. Grow beyond the starting place before we were traumatized. I think that’s very motivating. It’s very encouraging and it’s very powerful.

That’s what I have heard from many of the Summit speakers, a little bit of an archetypal story of healing, and I think many people who work in the healing or therapeutic profession can describe this in their own experience, but a similar principle that even if we heal a part of ourselves, then we begin to work with people who are clients of patients. And then many of the topics or certain aspects of the topic that our clients bring to us help us to heal even more.

The archetypal path of a healer is by healing our own wounds, we actually develop and deepen our healing arts, healing skills, capacities. And so in all of this archetypal understanding, we see how deeply meaningful our healing process is for our purpose development, and the healing process in a way is not what we need to wait for until our original purpose because the healing process itself is really part of our purpose.

Why I am saying all of that is because there is only one important distinction to be made when we see our trauma as a chance for learning. Of course, that’s true. But that’s not the reason why we get traumatized. So people don’t get their trauma and that gives them a chance to get where they are. No, a lot of trauma is being inflicted through inappropriate relations, the abuse of human rights, and all kinds of situations, and that cannot be justified.

I think if you use spiritual principles to justify pain or trauma, that’s very strange territory to operate. I think that’s very important because they do that often or at least sometimes happens, we hear that, oh, you need to go through this trauma. The child needs to go through this abuse… I think that’s very difficult to say and a very disrelated version of the other part. And of course, once the trauma is in our lives, we will experience the healing process as an unleashing of wisdom, skills, growth, and learning. At the same time, we will do our best to prevent as much trauma in the world as we can. I think these two are very important together. And if we respect these two parts, then we can also say, of course, since we have already a lot of collective trauma in the world, the healing process of collectives, nations, the communities where trauma happened between groups or parts of the populations, of faith communities – the integration of trauma, not only does it release, melt or soften the permafrost in our social fabrics. Not only does it open up the repetition compulsion of circular events that are happening again and again and again because we are not really dealing with the root of the pain or the trauma – but it keeps surfacing again and again. Similar fragmentations, similar otherings, similar conflicts, similar social issues.

Not only does it melt that but it gives us access to restore the transgression. To gain the ethical update that we need to get in restoring the trauma is the key for the growth of humanity’s ethical growth. It helps us. We need ethical learning to deal with science, AI, weapons that we are able to produce, and climate change. Many, many things need that ethical understanding or development. And some of that is frozen all around the world in the permafrost of our collective trauma architecture that we cannot harvest what we have to learn.

Our deepest humanity, we have to learn something from the Holocaust, for example, 400 years of racism that is still going on or a massive amount of antisemitism. This just shows that we didn’t get the ethical learning that we have to get even if some of these events happened a long time ago. And that has serious implications not only on the level of the recreation of similar conflicts or similar issues but also in the way we’re going to develop and in the way we’re going to use or abuse new groundbreaking technologies that can lift the repetition compulsion of trauma to an entirely new level of traumatization.

So the missing deep learning effect is stuck in the collective trauma field, in the permafrost underneath our societies. I call this the ‘dark lake’ underneath our cities. That frozen learning is very much needed if we want to address the current level of consciousness wants to meet technology – we need that.

That’s why sometimes it looks like our human ethical level consciousness is kind of lagging behind the very fast development that technology is showing us at the moment. And so I think the collective trauma integration process plus the learning and the remedy that we will become as humans – there’s not just a remedy outside. We are becoming a remedy for each other by treating each other differently, by creating different fabrics, by creating new structures in society to fit this moment in evolution, or by being able to globally collaborate, by being able to solve some of the issues that we see in our crisis at the moment in the world.

All of that is deeply, deeply dependent on how much we melt and release. So all of that is deeply dependent on how much we melt and release the frozen information in the collective trauma field and how we become a collective remedy for each other.

The question I think is deeply, deeply relevant. At the same time also say that we are committed to doing everything possible to prevent new collective trauma from happening. Because that’s equal to the personal experience that we don’t just lean back and say everybody who goes through a collective trauma is supposed to learn something from it. That’s what we’re saying here. So we will do everything to prevent it. And we will learn through post-traumatic integration and post-traumatic learning. We get all this information back as released aliveness, creativity, insight, understanding, extension of perspective, relationality, collaboration, and spiritual opening for us to be able to realize that actually, as humanity, we are one supercomputer.

We are not separate laptops, as individuals sometimes we experience ourselves as separate entities or separate laptops but actually the collective intelligence of life, intellectual stability or so the nature of the biosphere – the whole thing is an amazing bio-computer, that amazing supercomputer.

The collective learning helps us to dispel the myth and the experience of separation and allows those not only to intellectually think, Oh yeah, we are unified but to give us a deeper sense of the free flow of data through us and how we are literally one living system at work, breathing, living, pulsing intelligence. And I think that’s really, really amazing because we benefit from collective healing.

Michelle: Yeah, that’s beautiful. Thank you, Thomas. I’m imagining that just as you shared with the individual process, going through that healing then allows somebody to step into their gifts, a similar potential with the collective and to be able to meet, like you’re saying, with the technology to be able to actually create and envision new possibilities that are supportive to humanity.

Thomas: Yes, that’s very true.

Michelle: Thank you. So moving on to the next question from Kaja: “Dear Thomas, could you elaborate on the connection between high sensitivity and trauma? Do you see high sensitivity as a consequence of traumatic experiences in the past, perhaps even in the ancestors? Or do you see it as a standalone phenomenon that is most promoted by trauma? In which case is trauma work sufficient to really turn down a steady allure of the nervous system?”

Thomas: Yes, I think we need to differentiate between a “steady alert of the nervous system” and “high sensitivity.”

High sensitivity means a nervous system that has refined perception. And that refined perception, wherever it comes from, means that not everybody has the same degree of sensitivity, and not everybody for their life purpose needs the same degree of sensitivity, same as not everybody has the same amount of analytical intelligence or social intelligence or any other kind of physical endurance. We come with a composition of intelligences that in a way, serve our purpose in this life. Some people are simply poor but have a very refined sensitivity. So that in itself is amazing.

When that high sensitivity can embody itself well, which means it can grow at every level of development throughout our childhood developmental years, and we can grow that intelligence, that we call high sensitivity. Then it’s regulated. It’s grounded. It doesn’t get overloaded all the time. It can regulate itself well in relationships. It’s presence behind it. And it’s actually an amazing blessing. It’s a gift.

Now, what often happens is that people who have high sensitivity also carry some childhood or ancestral trauma, which begins to mix the benefits of high sensitivity, plus some trauma symptoms that kind of get merged into a person’s experience. So one part of it is that I feel often overlooked. But why do I feel overwhelmed? Because my inner regulation system doesn’t fully work, nor does my relational regulation system fully work. So the symptom of it will be that people often need to go out to resource themselves instead of being able to stay in and regulate their relationships, which might include it as time for themselves. Which so, but not just because I think I get overloaded from the world, and that’s why I need to retreat from the world. When that happens, it means that it’s like the crown of the tree. There is the trunk and then the roots. If the grounding process is partly hurt, the electricity in the body discharges into the soil. And that means that a lot of electricity stays in the nervous system up here. It can’t fully exhale. So the nervous system is like a lightning rod. The energy needs to be able to flow into the ground. If the base or the ground is partly hurt or has early developmental trauma, then the inner experience circulates in the system and it creates a feeling of constant overload/suffering. And some people say that suffering is because of my high sensitivity and I would say no. That’s only partly true because, yes, there is the high sensitivity, but there is also the part that can’t regulate itself well, because it could hurt.

So when we take care of the trauma state and we ground it more and more so the overload of the high sensitivity, you will get less and less will ground itself and will become a much more regulated way of living that it’s also true and exposed to truth feeds that higher level of sensitivity. So maybe that person will take care of certain things in their life that match what they need, given that higher level of sensitivity. But it doesn’t mean that it’s a burden. It’s being perceived as a burden because it can flow through. Then it’s not a burden. It is just a higher degree of feeling in the world. Often people who carry that intelligence also need it for their purpose – and so it’s a blessing if a person like that works as a healer, for example, or a therapist. That intelligence helps us to feel our clients in a very refined way or whatever we do it has a refined quality to it, of course, the nervous system of an artist. The nervous system of the musician. So it will flow into my deep refined capability. Playing with visual art, music, or any other profession. But it’s in addition to my skill set, it’s the base of my skill set.

That’s a very good question because often it’s mixed and often I hear the people check their struggle onto that higher level of sensitivity and it might have been reinforced by in fact, often by parents that didn’t attune well to the sensitivity of the child. And so the child felt kind of the invasion or dissonance of that lower level of attunement that doesn’t fit the intelligence of the child. And that’s why early on, children started to protect themselves. And it’s true that this sensitivity needed a different approach, a different attunement, a different engagement, a different seeing, a different holding for the nervous system to exhale and to feel safe and grounded.

So it really needs to be taken seriously because some people brush it off as, oh, don’t be so sensitive and don’t take everything so seriously, or don’t, don’t, don’t. It’s a disrespectful way of listening to the real suffering of people who feel often overloaded and that needs to be taken seriously. And at the same time, not everything is just because of the high sensitivity, but also the after-effects of personal trauma or ancestral trauma.

Michelle: Thank you, Thomas. As a highly sensitive person myself, I really appreciate the question, the response and the framing of it as a gift and some ways to work with it in that way. So that was great.

Thank you again, everybody, for submitting their questions. We really appreciate you listening and engaging with us on the podcast. We really appreciate your ratings and reviews wherever you listen to the podcast. We’ll be back next week with another episode. So stay tuned and take good care.