Thriving in the face of trauma

Thriving in the face of trauma

It took a while before I could publish a new article. I think this time has been hard for many of us and in some ways for me as well. I have spent the last few months reading books, working, and taking the time to reflect. This article is about the latter, that reflection, about my journey, a bit of a deepening in my behavior and coping. If you want to break through certain behavior yourself, this article may provide inspiration.

It was mid 2019 and I was sitting in a coffee store reading ‘I am dynamite’ a biography of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The book is well written and gives a great insight of how the life of Nietzsche would have been in those times. I was far into the book, making it a habit to get up early, find a quiet place to read and read for an hour or two before other things would take my attention. 

This morning, going through the life story and ideas of Nietzsche, something I read took great impact on me. 

I remember it still vividly because I never in my life had felt something so clearly. It felt like I was trying to live life so hard but wasn’t really conscious on how I did it. Now some important insight had come to me in relation to that. I didn’t really know what it was or how I could develop what was in words in front of me. All I knew was that I felt a certain relief that might be related to a lot of struggles and resistance that I carried long inside of me. 

Before that moment, it might have been a year or so earlier, I started journaling. I felt inspired after reading the Bolivian journal of Che Guevara to keep a journal myself. A place to observe and write about my own behavior to be able to hold myself accountable and make myself a better human being. A place for my thoughts, insights in how to live and how to develop my own virtues instead of just mindless copying anything that goes. Virtues that I could develop only when I could get more insight into my worries, occupations and understandings in connection to my own character and the world. 

This feeling of relief might have been the first time in my life in which I sincerely found stillness within myself. It felt like all my past worries did have meaning and therefor negative emotions I resisted for so long happened to be an important part of me. 

That moment of sudden relief probably was the first time I was surrendering to my own complicated and often negative feelings. I needed to stop resisting those feelings in order to break through and stop the endless cycle of feeling bad and then bad about my feelings and identify myself with all this negativity. I was sensitive on the things I felt, I just wanted the feelings to go away because they were painful. But it just doesn’t work like this, these emotions were very important feedback and I needed to learn on what they meant and how I could listen to them and act on them instead of looking for a way to avoid them. 

That moment late 2019, brought a shift as I look back now. I’ve been starting to see this moment as a milestone in my journey to further connect with myself.

When I was invited – some time later- to do a Pecha Kucha about my bicycle journey I decided to tell another story then the one about beautiful mountains and meeting lovable people. I decided to tell the story of what motivated me to do a long bicycle journey on a deeper level. And that story wasn’t all sunshine and flowers. It was the story of an escape that was part of a reaction to a lot of abnormal and painful situations in the first 20 years of my life.

It was the story that didn’t made me a hero but a person that had to overcome dysfunctional reactions and behavior as a survival mechanism from traumatic experiences from my childhood. I decided that telling this story was far more important but it was also more difficult and more challenging to tell. But it felt necessary to overcome, for the sake of improving my life. 

That Pecha Kucha was very exciting and to this day I don’t know if my story landed well with the audience. Fortunately, months later, I got a second chance in my home town Rotterdam, where I was able to share my story in a calmer and more relaxed way.

Now, a few years later and a few books and chapters of life experiences further it all start to make more sense to me. And, I’m getting more confident to talk about it which helps a lot in the process. 

I got to understand more and more the events that had lead to behavior patterns in which I lived and reacted to the world around me. My coping mechanisms, ways to survive, patterns and behavior that were automations and created earlier in my life. To name a few: 

  • Not being able to express emotions and bottling them up until a period comes in which I felt drained;
  • Not being able to keep up my personal boundaries by knowing my values and stand for them;
  • Emotional dependency on escapism, the need for a shift of attention from my own feelings;
  • Not being able to communicate in a healthy way, in a heated conflict often experiencing an emotional blockade of helplessness;
  • Not being able to take long time responsibility if it involved others, having no healthy balance of giving and taking, just giving until I needed to run away.

There are many reasons for this and it is a complicated matter to explain what happened and how did it effect me as a child. I don’t think it is necessary to expose it all or to relive that painful moments. What is necessary is to understand what behavior and patterns are in need for change because they stop me in realizing my full potential. And it would be a wonderful thing to develop a healthy compass that leads to a lovable connection with myself and therefor with others. A call for stability, predictability and goodwill. A safe environment with healthy values and boundaries.

There is a saying that goes, how you treat others is how you treat yourself. If you cannot love yourself you cannot love others. If trauma has made wounds inside of you that are covered up. If there is no healthy knowledge of what happened to you and what feelings are inside you still to this day, hour and minute, then it may make you vulnerable to a lot of stress. You collect bagage which adds to what I learned to refer as the pain body which we carry along inside of us consciously or unconsciously. 

In the wider spectrum we can find so much knowledge in this. Our mental wellbeing is connected to our behavior patterns and thus physical wellbeing. Stress is the main reason for our immune system to dysfunction. We can find such strong patterns that in future moments in our life will have affect on our bodies and immune system. We have to avoid  becoming passive and complacent on this, because then we stagnate our development.  

During the pandemic I was able to read more books than ever and also to reflect well. This has helped me immensely to develop a moral compass for myself so that I don’t keep stumbling into the inevitable trap of the duality of my emotions. Some important lessons and values ​​that I have become aware of:

  • A life without people and relationships focused solely on accomplishment will be empty and meaningless;
  • Coming to terms with the painful wounds of my childhood is necessary to withhold the dangerous business of creating a monster to protect my wounded inner child;
  • On escapism, that the only thing I can’t escape from is myself, so better build a life I don’t need to escape from;
  • Complete freedom is a nightmare and freedom, succes and meaning require self-discipline;
  • Others may hate me, but they don’t win unless I hate them and then I destroy myself;
  • With routine that may become ritual, I can lock sacred parts of everyday living no matter how I feel;
  • To stay clear of envy and jealousy and harmful desires and understand that there will never be enough and that the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in denial;
  • Practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around me;
  • It’s an important matter to place belief and control in the hands of something larger then myself (I strongly believe in the dual force of nature/the universe). 

To this day, I’m working on breaking through unwanted patterns but I feel that I’ve come a long way and that creates often a feeling of true contentment. I feel that in most cases what I’m doing is the right thing, that I have a fairly stable base to fall back on and that I don’t get so carried away by everything that goes on in my mind.

Over the years after that moment I talked about earlier in this article, I have been feeling this feeling in which I experienced sudden relief more. Not only when reading and drinking coffee but also with times in daily life. It’s just a relief that I can communicate my feelings and that most conflicts resolve in a normal ending. It’s just a relief to know my boundaries and to be able to act on them to anyone else. And the biggest relief is that I don’t feel that drained anymore because I’m able to hold a healthy balance before I’m a heavy bag full of shitty emotions. 

I have learned to see these small moments as feelings of oneness with being and the universe, the surrendering to the process of living and learning. 


This article was written with inspiration from:

  • I Am Dynamite: The Life of Nietzsche by Sue Prideaux
  • The Wisdom of Trauma by Gabor Mate
  • A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  • The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson
  • Stillness is the key by Ryan Holiday