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The Gravitational Pull of Trauma: An Invisible Portkey to the Past



Imagine trauma as an enchanted, cursed object, like a portkey from the Harry Potter series (Rowling, 2000: 70). Normally, portkeys are objects that transport you instantly to a pre-determined location. Now, consider gravity as a similar kind of magical force. Just as a portkey, when touched, yanks a person from their current location to a far-off place, gravity's pull on a person with unresolved trauma can work in a disturbingly similar way.


This gravitational portkey is not a visible object you can avoid or ignore; instead, it’s an invisible force field that lies hidden in the spaces and moments of your everyday life. You might be walking through your day, seemingly free and unburdened, but suddenly, a random sight, smell, or sound acts as a trigger. This trigger activates the portkey, transporting you back to the traumatic event in an instant, no matter how much time has passed or how far you've tried to run from it. Trauma destroys time (Stolorow, 2007).


You could be enjoying a sunny afternoon, feeling light and unencumbered, and then, like a portkey that’s been activated without warning, you’re suddenly yanked back into the dark, painful moments of your past. This gravitational pull doesn't just remind you of the trauma; it immerses you in it, making it feel as immediate and overwhelming as the moment it first occurred.


In my work with clients who self-injure this can particularly amplify this effect, as the act of self-injury itself can be a powerful trigger for both the client and me. The sight or discussion of self-inflicted wounds can act as an immediate portkey, transporting both of us to the depths of pain and suffering that underlie these actions. In that moment I navigate my own emotional responses while maintaining a supportive and empathic presence for the client, making the therapeutic process both a journey through the client’s trauma and a confrontation with my own potential vicarious trauma.


In its essence, the emotional trauma of self-injury shatters the concept of absolutisms, this can be catastrophic, one that alters one's existential sense of 'being in the world'.


In literature, this phenomenon is often discussed in terms of the deep emotional impact that trauma work can have on therapists. Just as gravity is an inescapable force, the emotional weight of a client’s trauma can become a pervasive presence in the therapist's life, challenging their ability to remain grounded and resilient. Understanding and addressing this parallel process is crucial for maintaining therapeutic efficacy and personal well-being.

Thus, the therapeutic relationship becomes a delicate balance of navigating these emotional portkeys, ensuring that both the client and the therapist can manage the gravitational pull of trauma without becoming overwhelmed by it.


This is where the deeper significance of Kohut's (1984) concept of "twinning" comes into play. As a therapist, my goal is to establish a 'sibling-like' connection with the client, sharing a mutual understanding of their darkness. These 'portkeys' to my own trauma facilitate this twinship. Within this relationship, difficult and hard to accept feelings tied to trauma, such as isolation, alienation, loneliness and sadness, are transformed into connection and empathic resonance. My integrated understanding of the client's traumatized states facilitates a dialogue that allows the temporal continuity of their existence to take shape and strengthen, thereby fostering a reliable sense of self for the client.


This piece is inspired by my latest PhD research' findings :The existential fragility of working with clients.


References:

Kohut. H. (1984). How does analysis cure? A. Goldberg & P. Stepansky (Eds.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Rowling, J. (2000). Harry Potter and the goblet of fire. New York: Scholastic Press.

Stolorow, R. (2007). Trauma and Human Existence. The Analytic Press.

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