The collective soul never forgets.
That World War II is over for more than 70 years now and the genocide on Native Americans ended in the early 20th century is––from the psyche's point of view––a delusion.
"We in the physical world can easily forget all sorts of things, but the soul does not forget anything," writes Dutch system therapist Daan van Kampenhout in his book "The Tears of the Ancestors". "The ancestral triumphs, their failures, their hopes and disappointments, they are all still there in some form.“
The present has a past––if we do not take care of it. We see that every day in the news when white supremacy rules and nature is exploited like in the times of the Second Industrial Revolution of the 19th century.
In the mainstream consciousness, historical events can easily be forgotten. Yet for the collective soul, a loss is never lost.
American psychoanalyst Vamik D. Volkan explains, why: “When members of a victim group are unable to mourn such losses and reverse their humiliation and helplessness, they pass on to their offspring the images of their injured selves and psychological tasks that need to be completed.“
Trauma is a time capsule.
If feelings like fear or anger are not acknowledged when they arise during a historical event, they will be passed on till they are felt.
Trauma is a time traveler––also on a personal level. Many people still live in the reality of childhood events. This is acknowledged in psychotherapy and other healing traditions.
Yet the effects of trauma coming from the collective and intergenerational levels are still not seen in most treatments of body and soul.
As a Gestalt-Therapist working with collective and intergenerational trauma and beauty in Berlin, Germany, and in online sessions, I deeply appreciate what the pioneer of psychotherapeutic work on traumas in Germany, Prof. Dr. Luise Reddemann, points out. For her, the time has come in psychotherapy "to give the collective past more space than before.“
„It is not only about knowing“, she writes in her book about working with children of war in psychotherapy. For her, it is about “letting ourselves being deeply touched to allow grieving, and accepting the past as it was to finally be more present“.
The word "Trauma" derives from the Greek and means "wound".
“Collective“ refers to shared experiences of people in a community or society.
Most of the time, people who experience a collective wound cannot fully feel it. Exploding bombs with dead and injured human beings, systemic oppression, persecution or defamation most of the time are not workable for a person alone. The loss of agency is too strong.
The only agency we many times have when we feel overwhelmed with emotions is to split off the experience from our awareness.
We might freeze the emotional content until we cannot feel it anymore in order to survive––another time capsule is born.
Maybe we will pass it on to generations to come, creating waves of fear, torment or violence that seem to come from nowhere in the future. Yet they have a history. And history will repeat itself until we take care of it.
The unresolved trauma of the past will be the bad news of today––and tomorrow.
Are we ready to face that, and change it for the better for ourselves and generations to come?
If so, we might listen to some questions and slowly let the answers emerge.
You might want to feel your body to enable yourself to find the answer to that.
Because in my experience as a psychotherapist, the body is key.
The body knows the truth––often earlier than the mind.
Physical bodies, as physicists have known for a long time already, store information and can deposit it in solid but also in liquid bodies, on a short or long term basis. That's why we can enjoy Mozart in concerts on DVDs––the information is burnt into matter.
The soul works similarly with the body.
If an event is too intense to process at that very moment, the information––events, feelings, thoughts––is filed in the tissue of life with the precision of a laser beam and stored in the body.
This can have severe effects, physical symptoms from back pain to illness or constantly recurring emotions of unresolved fear, anger or sadness.
And this is good news.
The physical and emotional body is a gateway to the past if we take the symptoms as helpful guideposts. We just need to find a way to read the signposts and follow them.
Learning to presence the sensations of the physical body, emotional space, and mental sphere paves a pathway to the landscape of the soul.
This pathway in the soul leads from the personal to the family to the collective––and back.
Again, this is good news. Because we do not need to stay alone on that path.
“Every trauma that happened in contact can heal in contact“, says Thomas Hübl. The Austrian founder of the Academy of Inner Science inspired me with his insights about how to work with collective trauma in his Pocket Project Training in Israel. With his team, he recently launched an Online Summit on Collective Trauma gathering experts from around the world to shed a light on the hidden dynamics in society that create huge effects in our world. (https://collectivetraumasummit.com)
While these dynamics become more and more conscious––how can we actually work with them?
To gather knowledge and expertise from around the world, I am hosting a circle of psychotherapists from countries like the USA, Colombia, Netherlands and New Zealand in video conferences every other week to exchange how to work with collective trauma.
The explorations with my colleagues from around the world show that each of us has a unique access to the collective. This access is right in the center of our trauma––in our ancestors.
A woman who fiercely forbids her child to be loud in public may still feel the fear of her grandmother during times of oppression in Germany.
A talented man who consistently fails in school may sabotage himself in loyalty to the racism his great-grandfather experienced during colonization.
A man who fiercely fights to own a gun in the USA might still live with a mindset of a settler in the 18th century.
If we allow ourselves to turn towards these old experiences that are still alive in us, a whole new world is waiting.
Because in my experience, not only the losses of humanity stay in the collective soul but also its rewards.
Our ancestors hold the rewards for us.
My grandfather Rudolf was a guide for me in this.
Rudolf worked as a teacher with children with mental disabilities when he became a member of the NSDAP, the Nazi Party. As a soldier, he fought in Poland and Russia to make Germany great again. Many years I turned away from him because of that.
Only when I worked with the intergenerational trauma in myself long after he had died, I started to realize that his soul was waiting for me to welcome my anger, shame, and grief about the trauma.
When I felt that by connecting with his soul, I experienced his own grief and shame about his deeds. It was possible to experience how he went wrong. Rudolf helped me to learn one crucial lesson:
We need to be able to distinguish between people and their actions.
Only then I can love my ancestors while I feel my agency to say Yes or No to their deeds.
This to me opens the collective intelligence that waits for us in our lineages.
Today, the wisdom of Rudolf’s soul allows me to work with the faces of Fascism that show around the world.
This is a blessing that my colleagues and I experience many times in our research in the circle of psychotherapists:
When we face old collective trauma and delve into the remnants of war, genocide, and oppression and how they show in us and in our families, we also encounter new resources.
To pass on this gift, I developed “Fruits of the Roots“, a personal journey to discover one’s roots as a resource. On this guided path into the landscape of the soul, it is possible to access the trauma and the underlying wisdom of the ancestors even if data about their lives are missing.
The work with body, heart, and mind allows us to precisely address the stored memory leading beyond the intelligence we know today, finding agency in collective intelligence.
It is amazing for me how facing our personal experiences can open a pathway to feeling our forefathers and foremothers with their trauma and hidden treasures.
We just need to remember that the collective soul never forgets.
Joachim Christoph Wehnelt
More about the offer “Fruits of the Roots“ here
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