"Trauma...is not something to be ashamed of, not a sign of weakness, and not a reflection of inner failing. It is simply a fact of life."

“We all want to be normal. Life, even normal life, is arduous, demanding, and ultimately threatening. We all have to deal with it, and none of us really knows how. We are all traumatized by life, by its unpredictability, its randomness, its lack of regard for our feelings and the losses it brings. Each in our own way, we suffer.”

“Primitive agonies exist in many of us. Originating in painful experiences that occurred before we had the cognitive capacities to know what was happening, they tend to blindside us, traumatizing us again and again as we find ourselves enacting a pain we do not understand.”

"Far from eliminating the ego, as I naively believed I should when I first began to practice meditation, the Buddha encouraged a strengthening of the ego so that it could learn to hold primitive agonies without collapse.”

“The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not.”

― Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life

Trauma does not just happen to a few unlucky people; it is the bedrock of our psychology. Death and illness touch us all, but even the everyday sufferings of loneliness and fear are traumatic. In The Trauma of Everyday Life renowned psychiatrist and author of Thoughts Without a Thinker Mark Epstein uncovers the transformational potential of trauma, revealing how it can be used for the mind’s own development.

Western psychology teaches that if we understand the cause of trauma, we might move past it while many drawn to Eastern practices see meditation as a means of rising above, or distancing themselves from, their most difficult emotions. Both, Epstein argues, fail to recognize that trauma is an indivisible part of life and can be used as a lever for growth and an ever deeper understanding of change. When we regard trauma with this perspective, understanding that suffering is universal and without logic, our pain connects us to the world on a more fundamental level. The way out of pain is through it.

Epstein’s discovery begins in his analysis of the life of Buddha, looking to how the death of his mother informed his path and teachings. The Buddha’s spiritual journey can be read as an expression of primitive agony grounded in childhood trauma. Yet the Buddha’s story is only one of many in The Trauma of Everyday Life. Here, Epstein looks to his own experience, that of his patients, and of the many fellow sojourners and teachers he encounters as a psychiatrist and Buddhist. They are alike only in that they share in trauma, large and small, as all of us do.

Epstein finds throughout that trauma, 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.

More info about Mark Epstein:

Mark Epstein (born 1953) is an American author and psychotherapist who integrates Shakyamuni Buddha's teachings with Sigmund Freud's approaches to trauma. He often writes about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy.

More info on trauma by others:

“The fundamental shift in providing support using a trauma-informed approach is to move from thinking ‘What is wrong with you?’ to considering ‘What happened to you?’”

"Equating mental illness to...medical illness or disease is denying the major damage trauma causes."

"We inherit pain. When it’s not coped with, it gets passed again."

"Abstract thinkers experienced nearly twice as many intrusive memories as their concrete thinking counterparts."

"Getting down into the nuts and bolts of how this works in our body can help us understand why we feel the way we do."

The majority of therapies (and therapists) have not yet moved from treating behavior and thoughts to treat what propels those actions and ways of thinking. For treatment to be successful, the alterations on brain functions, and their relationship with all aspects of personality, emotional experiences, and thought processes, need to be included in treatment, together with the identification of the dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

Research shows that people build resilience as they 1) pursue an active coping style of facing their fears, managing their emotions, and problem-solving; 2) engage in physical exercise; 3) cultivate a positive outlook; 4) develop and live by meaningful principles; 5) seek social support; and 6) look for good in bad situations.