Of late, there is great interest in the healing power of meditation for people who have suffered traumatic events in their lives like rape or war. Many people experience flash-backs post a traumatic event, wherein they have to relive the trauma again and again. Such tendencies of the mind are a coping mechanism to get accustomed to the reality. Many minds simply cannot cope with what happened and can have complex PTSD outcomes such as creating separate disassociated personalities to convince themselves that the trauma happened to someone else and not them. If you are experiencing any such clinical issues, I strongly suggest that you consult a psychiatrist, since they are outside the scope of this article. Otherwise, in general, meditation does create an exceptionally resilient mind and is both a preventative as well as an effective healing intervention in cases of trauma. Please read on to know about how meditation heals trauma. Trauma is especially difficult to discern in autistic people, since many of us have difficulties with verbalizing distress and also in non-verbal expressions of it. Below is an account of the miscommunications and disconnect that can pan out and result in a traumatic event in an autistic person’s life. Their subjective experience can be that of truth itself being ripped into two. Consider a scenario where a neurotypical man and an autistic woman are writing letters to each-other about their experiences and perceptions of a mutual sexual encounter. Their fictional accounts might go something like these.
The Neurotypical Man’s Perspective
I could see in your eyes when we first met that you liked me just as I liked you. There was surely a powerful instant connect and an inexplicable chemistry between us. We didn’t disclose it, but our eyes exchanged much. I called you later, as men must make the first move. I told you that I liked you. You wanted to play hard to get. I understand that. A woman of dignity must not give in easily. So, you said that you’re not looking for romance in your life right now. Ok, I’ll play.
We planned to meet for “a casual conversation”. But I know what that means. Of course, it is not a done thing to be too direct and explicit about these matters. That would ruin the mystery and the romance. So, I tentatively asked you if you would be comfortable meeting at a nice resort. You wanted the same, but a woman must play hesitant, of course. I understand that that goes with the pious image. So, you asked, “Just to talk?” You needed me to further convince you of what you already wanted. Ok, I’ll play. “Yes, I’m uncomfortable with public places, since people stare and judge. I’d like to hold your hand and be comfortable. Is that ok?” “Sure”, you said.
We met at the best resort in town. We talked about many random things, but we both knew why we were there. As you lay beside me talking, I tentatively placed a hand on your belly. You looked at me invitingly. We kept talking. Testing the waters further, I kissed you on your forehead and your eyes called me closer. I kissed you on the mouth just as you wanted me to. You acted surprised, as women often do. You wanted me to dominate you and show you how much I desire you. So, I held your right hand in place, while you gently pushed back to release your growing passion and energy. I understand that it is more erotic that way. Your left hand lay limp, as your body responded to my powerful kiss. I undressed you, as you looked up at me desiringly… And then we made love.
The Autistic Woman’s Perspective
I liked and respected you for many reasons when we first met, but I was rather surprised when you later called me asking for a date. I wished to focus on other priorities in my life right now, but was too polite to say a hard no. So, I said yes. It’s just one date, after all. What’s the harm? But you wanted to meet at a resort? Just to talk? You said you’re uncomfortable in public places. Ok, maybe. Everyone has their issues. I trusted you. You seemed nice and dignified. So, I said ok to meet at a resort, reiterating that I am coming only because I trust you. At the resort, I felt a bit anxious. So, I shared a little anecdote where I once found myself in an intimate situation with someone without intending to. I said that that made me upset. I hoped that you would understand my implication: please do not touch me. You didn’t seem to register that. So, I dropped it. I got comfortable as we breezed through different casual topics of conversation. Until you placed a hand on my belly!
I suddenly realized that you intended to do more than just talk! I quickly assessed my options as to how I can react to this. I realized to my dismay that I had already lost the option to react strongly when I had made the decision to trust you. Nobody would believe me if I say that I had no such intentions or expectations when I decided to come there with you at that time. What were my choices now? If I had told you that I was uncomfortable with your hand on my belly, would you have removed it or would you have attacked me? I felt vulnerable. I decided that my best bet was to act casual. That would at least give me some time. I tried to keep the conversation going as naturally as possible, while loud panicked sirens were going off inside of me. You took your hand away and I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought that that was it. I got comfortable again as we kept talking. But then, you came forward and kissed my forehead. “I’m uncomfortable. You’re too close”, my mind said. But then, you immediately went back and I didn’t have to say anything. I got comfortable again, as we kept talking. The next thing I know you’re kissing me on my mouth!
I was shocked and tried to struggle, but you held my right hand in place. I couldn’t even move my left hand, because I was paralysed in fear and shock. I later learnt that this is a defense mechanism of the body called the “freeze response”. Strangely, my body responded to you even though I was frozen and my mind was screaming, “No, no, no!” How could my body betray me so when my heart is not in this? How does my “No” matter if I am physically responsive to you? Can I then blame you for doing this to me? Should you listen to my body or my mind expressed through my words? Can a man back off when he is feeling desire and the woman is physically responsive, but saying, “No”? And why do so many women play such games deliberately to confuse men and corrupt the general sexual culture? How did my body respond to you anyway, without my conscious intent and acceptance of what was happening?
It turns out that this is more common than known or acknowledged by the legal system and the general culture, because of its complexity and inconvenience, but is a well-recognized phenomenon scientifically. When involuntary arousal happens during a sexual assault, the body is not enjoying itself. It is trying to protect itself in the event of a rape by minimizing damage.
But you didn’t know that. Neither did I. I just knew that things were happening against my will. You undressed me, as I looked up at you helplessly. And then I surrendered my will…
This is a good way to demonstrate how autistic people go through lives experiencing and expressing trauma very differently and they are often mis-read in social situations, potentially putting them in dangerous situations. Even well-meaning neurotypical people can inadvertently hurt autistic people, because their mind-radars are typically scanning for non-verbal signals of distress and sometimes even mistaking verbal signals for playfulness or teasing. This article does not seek to portray neurotypical people negatively and only seeks to bring out potential misunderstandings, since an understanding of the complexity of the problem in the context of autism is important, before we can begin to talk about solutions and how meditation can help.
How Meditation can help
Meditation is a conscious practice of staying present. This reinforces to the victims that their current circumstances are ok and they needn’t continually recreate and relive the traumatic event in their minds. The present moment is neutral and safe, not an intense story. Meditation also heals self-doubt and low esteem and works from the inside on self-acceptance. Autistic people often live out their lives walking on eggshells. Meditation can heal trauma by making them accept and come to terms with difficult facts like they can often find that their realities and stories can often be unique to them and not even be understood or validated by people closest to them. Meditation can help people be independent of the need for external validation by creating self-acceptance, honing self-love and creating gratitude for the little things in life, rather than dwelling on the negatives. Much about how trauma affects us depends on how we use our minds and meditation can be a powerful training in our healing. Meditation immediately post trauma may not be possible or even be desirable in some cases, since some people can find it too intense and destabilizing to look inward. Those who experience clinically significant distress may please consult a professional. Others might first try distraction tactics like socializing in a very safe, trusted and positive setting or listening to very uplifting or soothing music until their minds are healed enough to bear looking inward at their pain. Once this has been accomplished, they may begin meditating and their mind’s healing.
To know more about how meditation can help trauma healing, please mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work out together how to help you.
To know about how meditation can be profoundly therapeutic for high functioning autists in general, click here. To know about the deepest potentials of the mind that meditation can unlock for autists and neurotypical people alike, click here.