“The Trauma of Everyday Life” By Mark Epstein: Universal Condition

…(T)rauma, if it doesn’t destroy us, wakes us up to both our minds’ own capacity and to the suffering of others. It makes us more human, caring, and wise. It can be our greatest teacher, our freedom itself, and it is available to all of us. Publisher of The Trauma of Everyday Life

Last month was the release of psychiatrist and Buddhist Mark Epstein‘s The Trauma of Everyday Life, which acknowledges not only that we are all affected by trauma but also that going through the pain is an important part of growth.

What’s also important, though, is how the author defines trauma. Micah Toub, The Globe and Mail: “…Trauma in this book means both serious events such as losing a job or a loved one, but also small disappointments, failures, and that old intangible existential angst that bog us down on a daily basis. Even if all seems okay, he encourages us to remember: ‘The spectre of loss is always hovering.'”

And actual loss also hovers. As Epstein told his own mother, who was feeling guilty at some point for still grieving the death of her spouse, “Trauma never goes away completely. It changes perhaps, softens some with time, but never completely goes away” (The New York Times, 2013).

According to various book descriptions, The Trauma of Everyday Life combines Buddhist thought and stories with the work of psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott (1896-1971).

QUOTES ON DEALING WITH TRAUMA (from the above NYT article):

  • Trauma is not just the result of major disasters. It does not happen to only some people. An undercurrent of trauma runs through ordinary life, shot through as it is with the poignancy of impermanence.
  • I like to say that if we are not suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, we are suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Our world is unstable and unpredictable, and operates, to a great degree and despite incredible scientific advancement, outside our ability to control it.
  • In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth.
  • When disasters strike we may have an immediate empathic response, but underneath we are often conditioned to believe that “normal” is where we all should be.
  • Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away. The closest one can find to a consensus about it among today’s therapists is the conviction that the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay. The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.
  • The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.

Kirkus Reviews: “Although the Buddhist wisdom he imparts isn’t always necessarily layman-friendly, the connections he makes mostly steer clear of spiritualist mumbo jumbo or, for that matter, clinical psychobabble. However, some readers may get the sense that his main thesis—which could probably be summed up in the line, ‘If one can treat trauma as a fact and not a failing, one has the chance to learn from the inevitable slings and arrows that come one’s way’—is stretched a bit too far and isn’t quite enough to effectively carry an entire book.”

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