Disrupting Patriarchal Legacies of Dealing with Trauma and Pain

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by Juliana Mota Diniz


The global scenario of the collapse of the socio-ecological health of places and the breakdown of complex social systems is, in some ways, a projection of the devastation of our internal landscapes mirroring what we, as a western society, must urgently look at within and among ourselves.

Without recognizing personal and collective pain and overcoming the association between success and invulnerability, we will be little able to make significant internal and systemic transformations. They are interdependent and begin to take root in reality when they overcome the barrier of superficiality.

We need to admit that we are hurt and find braver ways to deal with our wounds.

Going beyond compliance

In the West, our parents and grandparents generations were encouraged to hide their problems from friends and family. Almost no one talked about abuse of power, neglect and abandonment, emotional dependence, psychological disorders, etc., although these occurred in many homes and communities.

Forced to fester under the guise of social status, these problems have morphed into intergenerational wounds and constrained enormous potential for creativity and innovation. But now many young people are taking on the task of dealing with the hidden traumas handed down through countless generations. We are no longer willing to sacrifice our lives and ideals as many of our parents and grandparents did for living in a context where conformity was desirable.

The change in posture from indifference and control to care is the bridge we must cross towards overcoming patriarchy.

  The reason for so much avoidance of the realization that some scenarios of personal and social life were emotional conflict zones is that it requires emotional resilience, openness to pain, empathy and care. Moving through pain is possible when we stand as an empathic witness beside it. The change in posture from indifference and control to care is the bridge we must cross towards overcoming patriarchy.

It represents the reinsertion of feeling as part of the human condition and the possibility of reaching the core of the converging crises that threaten the planet and humanity. Touching pain, being with it and moving through it is the turning point that will make it possible to elevate humanity from the condition of enemies of oneself, of others and of nature to healthy participants in the web of life.

The effect of patriarchy

For Gabor Maté (2008), a physician specializing in childhood development and trauma, the attempt to escape pain is what creates the most pain. Due to our inability to bear pain and, at the same time, remain open to the experience, we build protective mechanisms, shelve emotions and condemn vulnerability. We start to defend ourselves from the circumstances that weaken us because we want to avoid the memory of impotence from the shocks of pain. But with compulsory avoidance we begin to replicate, collectively and at all times, our personal wound.

The automatism in avoiding pain and difficult emotions is due to the validity of patriarchy as the modus operandi of the society of industrial growth.

The automatism in avoiding pain and difficult emotions is due to the validity of patriarchy as the modus operandi of the society of industrial growth. There is a mindset, which is cause and effect of the survival of patriarchy, that overemphasizes self-improvement, competition, domination, and the “go ahead at all costs” philosophy. Since we were born, this worldview has been present in our neural circuits, restricting our responses to challenges.

In the face of any sign of pain, the nervous system leads the body and mind to the defense response. So, when not worked through, our wounds keep us stuck in self-preservation mode—the emotional fight-or-flight state. Thus we spend our days busy defending ourselves against life. The energy spent on pain relief or on the automatic defense response compromises the development of inherent potentials.

As we dissociate ourselves from the world around us or try to control everything and everyone through rationality, reactivity and aggressiveness, we become a traumatized species that specializes in creating trauma around us. Wounds left unanswered dampen the inner impulses that guide us toward the expression of the authentic vision we would like to share with the world and toward gentle, collaborative participation in our collectivities.

But the point is that everyday big and small problems open up symptoms of deep wounds that are potential gateways to perception and transformation. Admitting this is the height of personal responsibility, a mark of emotional maturity and the possible way to promote human evolution. When enough of us do this, humanity will be transformed.

The critical mass quest

Rupert Sheldrake (1996), biochemist and doctor of biology, postulated in the 1980s a hypothesis about how living beings learn and acquire new behaviors. He found that when a behavior is repeated enough times, it forms a morphic field with a cumulative memory based on what happened in the past. Morphic fields are structures that span space-time and shape physical forms and behaviors.

Everything, living and non-living beings, is associated with a specific morphic field that makes a system function as such, that is, as an integrated whole rather than a jumble of parts. Unlike gravitational and electromagnetic fields that transmit energy, morphic fields transmit information so that the knowledge acquired and aggregated by an individual becomes a collective asset that is shared by all individuals in that system.

Morphic resonance, the name of Sheldrake’s theory, demonstrates that a change in a species behavior occurs when a critical mass is reached. Critical mass is the required number of individuals that need to adhere to a particular habit in order for the behavior of the entire species to change. Thus, he explains how new patterns of behavior can emerge and, with that, how the nature of species, including humans, can change.

This means that the culture of a collective of people changes when enough people change their behavior. This process begins with the unimaginable being done by some and repeated by others until a critical number of people make the change and this new behavior becomes the pattern of how we act and, consequently, of who we are. This is how human behavior change happens: we repeat behavior motivated by a principle or value enough times until, suddenly, we become what we do.

Any legitimate form of activism must go hand in hand with the understanding that our personal pain and the Earth’s pain are closely related and play a decisive role in the way things turn out

.That is why we need more and more people who are experts in their own trauma in order to prevent them from gaining collective proportions and resulting in the limitations and misfortunes we witness on a daily basis. Any legitimate form of activism must go hand in hand with the understanding that our personal pain and the Earth’s pain are closely related and play a decisive role in the way things turn out. Without this recognition, our personal and professional initiatives, although well intentioned, will continue to be fragmented, superficial, unsustainable and, at times, unethical.

Within trauma are competencies that we need to recover in order to respond to present challenges. Through the elaboration of trauma, personal and collective intelligence and power cease to be at the service of self-preservation and are directed towards self-fulfillment. Taking care of our personal miseries is a condition for acting responsibly in the world. In doing so, we act out of authentic participation and committed service to the most beautiful world our hearts know is possible.

Welcoming the pain

Going through trauma and embracing pain makes us more able to see reality for what it is and to be more honest with ourselves. This makes it possible for the individual to anchor his view of the world without excuses and defenses. Thus, existential anxiety is replaced by a sense of trust in ourselves and in life.

It takes willingness to be present with your pain without judging yourself for feeling fear, anger, sadness, guilt, shame and all the emotions that the mind translates as negative experiences. The moralizing judgment that emerges along with these emotions has to do with mistaken beliefs related to feeling like “if I didn’t feel this, I wouldn’t suffer” and “my dark aspect is shameful”. From them derive a herculean effort to avoid emotion and isolate oneself from experience. The result is a dulling of the ability to feel.

We nurture these beliefs because we, human beings, had to dampen emotional pain to bear it when we didn’t have enough resources to face it. At times, the expression of our emotions may have resulted in unwanted results and loss of affection. Emotions have become undesirable because, in these cases, they have kept us from fulfilling our needs and desires. But fear of emotions is unwarranted because it is beliefs and attitudes related to them that make them unpalatable. No matter how destructive they look, they can be metabolized and composted.

Replacing protection patterns with connection patterns

Trauma compromises our ability to engage with one another, replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection.

By rebuking emotions they remain inappropriate and destructive in the subconscious causing us to run away from experiences. According to behavioral neuroscientist Stephen Porges (2017), trauma compromises our ability to engage with one another, replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection.  It is a paradoxical isolation. Inhibition and isolation as a protective measure against exposure does not prevent what we fear and makes us lose the potential of life that we could access if we did not refuse involvement and flee the experience.

We realize that true security comes from living from the raw, open, real core of presence within us.

The price to pay for emotional overprotection is too much. Blocking the ability to feel pain also blocks access to pleasure. Though it may not seem like it, pain is a life-giving experience. It releases pent-up energy and dulled creativity. Without attachment or aversion to emotions, feeling them is life-giving and liberating. Listening to emotional pain gives birth to the understanding that we are beyond any disconcerting emotion and, no matter what, we are alive and, in the end, that’s what matters most. We realize that true security comes from living from the raw, open, real core of presence within us.

This radical integrity is the necessary foundation for building a life in the service of a society that celebrates life. Metabolizing the pain itself makes us anchor a more potent level of truth. In doing so, we put our originality and eccentricity at the service of the world. The clogged channels and wounds related to broken bonds become the portals to realizing a deeper, indestructible bond that connects us to everything and everyone.

It is a paradox that by coming into contact with the pain of separation we have the chance to experience our inseparability from the world. Facing pain doesn’t annihilate us as the ego supposed. On the contrary, it creates a new relationship with life. From separate and disconnected we have come to feel deeply interrelated. With the relinquishment of masks, defenses and justifications, we enjoy the incredible pleasure of being intimate, open and vulnerable to life.

Collective healing is in supporting each other on this path. It’s worth it because we stop seeing life as an overlay of traumas and realize its exuberance and preciousness. We see connections more than oppositions and adversity begins to look like adventures. Each challenge can present itself as an opportunity to make different choices from those made so far. By learning to take care of ourselves, we become more available to others, expanding our sense of empathy and our circles of affection.

Some guidelines to make friendship with pain

There are many scientific approaches and ancient wisdom traditions that offer ways to embrace pain. As facilitators of Work That Reconnects, it is important to know and experience some of them in order to discover how they can support our work with facilitation of groups and difficult emotions. From my experience with phenomenologically based psychological approaches and trauma studies, I have come to realize that an interesting path of coping with emotional pain involves:

  • Curiosity to investigate the hidden meanings of events
  • Reverence for the truth of phenomena (internal and external world)
  • Admit whatever happened without resizing or fantasizing
  • Perceiving adaptive defenses and cognitive biases
  • Stop the dramatic telling of outdated stories
  • Embrace shame and practice self-compassion
  • Remain open and choose to be real and authentic

These simple guidelines can be found in many of these ways and perhaps, I hope, inspire us to search for effective practices and perspectives to do our work of compassionately witnessing personal pain and the pain of the world.


Maté, G. (2008). In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. Knopf Canada.

Porges, S. W. (2017). The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe. W. W. Norton & Company.

Sheldrake, R. (1996). The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance. Piaget Institute.


Juliana Mota Diniz

Juliana Mota Diniz is Brazilian and has translated her essay from its original Portuguese.  She is a social scientist with emphasis on anthropology, co-founder of the Institute for Regenerative Development (IDR), and a facilitator of Gaia Education and Work That Reconnects. She has academic and practical experience related to traditional knowledge systems, socio-biodiversity, ethnodevelopment and decolonization.  Based on phenomenology, ecophilosophy, and regeneration,  she combines her anthropological and holistic experience to facilitate personal and collective learning and transformation that promotes planetary health and protects the Earth’s biocultural memory.  

Juliana  participated in the first WTR training in Brazil, in 2019 under the guidance of Ádrian Vilaseñor Galarza. WTR is one of the foundations of her  personal and professional practice.  She considers it an honor to offer this essay as a contribution to WTR. 

2 thoughts on “Disrupting Patriarchal Legacies of Dealing with Trauma and Pain

  1. Thank you Juliana. This is so clear and richly fleshed out with the references to the work of people who talk a lot of sense, I find, like Dr Gabor Maté and Rupert Sheldrake, as well as others I didn’t know, like Stephen Porges. Your reasoning and recommendations resonate very strongly with me.

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