In her ground breaking intuitive inquiry into the psycho-spiritual impact of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on adult women, transpersonal psychologist Jacqueline Linder (2014) described how CSA can affect a woman’s body, heart, mind, and soul for many years after she experiences the initial trauma. Indeed, survivors of this type of primal wounding frequently experience decades of chronic shame, self-loathing, and contamination of their identity, and may also develop patterns of dissociating from their bodies in order to escape their worst moments of psychological and somatic pain (Linder, 2014).
As with any trauma, unbearable memories may transmute into sensory experiences, overwhelming emotions, unhealthy behavioural re-enactments, and a pronounced incapacity to initiate, navigate and sustain intimate relationships (Emerson & Hopper, 2011). Linder’s contribution, extrapolating from psychoanalyst William Niederland’s concept of ‘soul murder’ that describes how “victims of violence who are not killed physically […] nevertheless […] walk as though dead in the midst of life” (Niederland, 1980 cited in Wirtz, 2014) was to find that at the core of some CSA survivor’s feelings was a sense that their soul had been wounded, shattered, stolen, or lost. In such cases, survival, recovery, and healing require the decision to live to be made over again in complex, adverse and repetitive circumstances (Linder, 2014).
My repeated decision to live, and determination to recover from the effects of CSA, has facilitated not just my physical healing, but a gradual and sometimes bumpy process of psychological growth and spiritual transformation—a kind of body, heart and soul recovery, if you will. Cortright (2007) describes healing as “a reparative process of working through old wounds and emotional hurts and trauma” (p. 73), and growth as “the emergence of…new potentials, new feelings, new experiences, new parts of the self coming forth toward actualization” (p. 73). He suggests transformation occurs “when there is enough healing and growth to bring about the emergence of a new organizing principle that alters our entire being” (p. 73).
In my case, a combination of reparative surgery, depth psychotherapy, meditation, yoga, and dance/movement therapy have helped me evolve from a state of fragmentation (a wounded inner child unconsciously fleeing her body and seeking conflict with family and society), into a state of increasing integration (an adult traveling a path home towards her inner essence, psychic centre, or “spirit”). On this path, I have experienced that body, mind, and soul are ultimately inseparable, and that physical healing, emotional restoration, psychological growth, and spiritual transformation call for embracing and reintegrating each of these domains of our embodied existence.
The thread of my life that started with CSA weft and warped through a series of medical and psychoanalytic interventions in my 20s and 30s, until I discovered spiritual practice and creative embodied expression in mid-life and finally achieved some semblance of restoration to a full sense of self. Along this path, something extraordinary happened when I began to move more consciously away from outer goals and towards connection with my inner self or spirit. This process allowed me to emerge as my own witness, able to observe my sensations, emotions, and behaviour from a place grounded within my body rather than dissociated from it.
In that place, I became more able to accept and withstand what Jungian psychotherapist Hillevi Ruumet (2006) describes as “inevitable returns” to the physical, emotional, and relational sites of the initial wounding. This, in turn meant that I could hold uncertainty about how the future might unfold and that I no longer felt compelled to invest most of my energy into struggling towards an elusive ideal of healing. In a way, I surrendered to what was, and that’s when things started to change.
I find it helpful to use Ruumet’s (2006) model of psycho-spiritual development to provide structure and meaning to my story, because she doesn’t prescribe any single path for healing and wholeness, or any particular outcome. She also doesn’t pathologise wounding. Rather, she suggests that there are boundless and simultaneous possibilities for all humans to develop at the egoic level of consciousness (finding individual accomplishment), at the trans-egoic level (developing unconditional love and compassion, authentic self-expression and finding sacred vocation) and at the transpersonal level (discovering and embodying the harmony of the body, mind and soul) during a lifetime, and that each type of growth is as valuable as the other.
In essence, Ruumet’s (2006) model permits as many experiences of transformation as there are individuals, and therefore, my story and all stories fit this model. It also feels appropriate, because she encourages lifelong engagement with one’s primal wounds, and the attenuation of our egoic responses to them, as a way to improve one’s psychological health and spiritual wellbeing. In other words, for Ruumet, genuine, sustainable transformation involves a lifetime of peeking beneath our bandages to see what more needs healing, and to go about that healing with the utmost self-compassion. This resonates with me as, time and again, life compels me to lift my bandages, and I realize that what I thought was resolved still needs my care and attention and may always do so at multiple levels and in a variety of integrated and embodied ways.
Emerson and Hopper (2011) state that making peace with the body is key to healing from trauma (p. 6). As a survivor of CSA, I faced a cluster of physical and psychological symptoms that threatened my quality of life, self-esteem, self-image, and even, at times, my physical existence. My healing and growth had, for decades, been intimately connected to fighting or curing those symptoms, but has ultimately been achieved by diving ever more deeply into my body to connect with my spirit.
Looking back, each step of the way was inevitable and necessary. The first steps required a surgeon’s skill to repair surface tissue; the next ones, the support of a therapist to find my voice. Beyond that, yoga and dance helped me connect with my soul, and even more deeply, meditation helped me reveal my spirit. Having experienced the need for different depths of experimentation on my journey, I passionately support Linder’s (2014) call for practitioners who work with survivors of CSA to ensure that a full range of medical, psychotherapeutic, spiritual, and expressive (body, mind and soul) therapies are available to them.
Our online distance-learning MSc in ‘Consciousness, Spirituality & Transpersonal Psychology’ provides an intellectually-stimulating programme of study which focuses on diverse topics around the nature of consciousness, the dynamics between psyche and soma, the psychology of self and higher states of being, and the psychological basis of spiritual and mystical practices. Our MSc programme is distinctive in valuing experiential approaches to learning and in encouraging students to incorporate insights from the programme into their own life journeys. In addition to a rigorous academic curriculum, modules exploring integral life practice, transpersonal approaches to research, and a research dissertation focus on the practical application of learning. The MSc programme consists of 180 course credits and most students complete the programme over 3 years, studying part-time. The programme is run entirely online, and it is validated by Liverpool John Moores University in the UK.
Cortright, B. (2007). Integral psychology: Yoga, growth, and opening the heart. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Emerson, D. & Hopper, E. (2011). Overcoming trauma through yoga: Reclaiming your body. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Linder, J. (2014). The psychospiritual impact of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) on women who experienced CSA as soul loss. (Doctoral Dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2014.
Ruumet, H. (2006). Pathways of the soul: Exploring the human journey. Victoria, BC: Trafford Publishing.
Wirtz, U. (2014). Trauma and beyond: the Mystery of transformation. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal Books.
Lorraine Clewer, M.Phil.
Lorraine is a Mexico based dance/movement therapist and trauma-sensitive yoga instructor. Originally from the UK, she is passionate about weaving together self-healing, collective transformation and social justice around the world. Her search for ways to integrate learning from two decades of work in grassroots education, women’s empowerment and social movement building in the Arab World and Latin America, with her personal experience of healing from complex trauma, led her to the Alef Trust. She is currently researching experiences of psycho-spiritual healing in women who teach yoga in jails in Mexico and Europe and expects to graduate with an M.Sc. in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology in 2020. She has recently embarked on further training to become an Integral Psychotherapist and holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Human Geography and International Development.