I’ll begin with the premise that universal to the human experience is the felt sense of some degree of displacement. Everyone knows, in some capacity, what it is like to be far from home; homeless; or not welcome at home.
For survivors of complex or developmental trauma, this feeling of “home-less-ness” lingers beyond any event in which they may be actually homeless. It lives in our bodies. This is because an additional consequence to “home” not being home is the necessity to dissociate, or mentally separate from one’s very body. Thus, the body itself is not a safe home.
Let me also pause for a moment and explain what I mean by home. It’s a complicated word with a myriad of contextual meanings. As simply as I can define it, home is a physical and/or psychic space in which one belongs. It encompasses a sense of welcome, harmony, and agency. “Home” is a place where a person is wanted, finds rest, and has creative freedom to come, go, and co-create the space.
In a return to the experience of trauma survivors, I am learning that healing is a dance between finding places that welcome the body (self) home; and becoming at home in one’s own body (self). An external sense of home is necessary for the trauma survivor to receive love, care, and a model for what home can look like. This can happen in a therapist’s office, in homes of kind friends who have done enough work to develop the capacity to hold a broken mind-body, and in faith communities that are equally humble and aware of their own felt sense of homelessness.
Equally important to the process of healing is a growing sense of homecoming to one’s own self. The internal world of a trauma survivor, once a war zone because of the overwhelming nature of memory and the defenses necessary to survive, can and must also be transformed into a space of welcome for the self. Where once the self was divided and hostile, broken parts of the self, infantile and other states in which there is unresolved pain, become allies, turn towards each other in embrace, and become contained in the person’s ever-strengthening ego.
Many theorists will agree that the mind is a multiplicity, and that we have many selves. This has never been as beautifully apparent to me as in my own therapeutic process. The more I come to realize that I carry home with me, that I am at home with my internal community of “selves,” the more I am able to create an actual physical home space, and invite others to rest and play in that space.