Emotional Trauma

Curandera painting from Belize
Curandera painting by Eduardo Garcia

It may come to no surprise to you that diseases such as high blood pressure, arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer have been linked to unresolved emotional stress. The Maya recognize diseases of the soul as well as the body and are aware that there are both spiritual and physical causes of illness. Our work addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual bodies of the individual in such a way as to return to vitality, peace and well-being.

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“The indigenous peoples throughout South America and Mesoamerica have long understood both the nature of fear and the essence of trauma. What’s more, they seemed to know how to transform it through their shamanic healing rituals. After colonization by the Spanish and Portuguese, the indigenous peoples borrowed their word susto to describe what happens in trauma. Susto translates graphically as “fright paralysis” and as “soul loss” Anyone who has suffered a trauma knows, first, paralyzing fright, followed by the bereft feeling of losing your way in the world, of being severed from your very soul.”

In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness Peter A Levine, PhD


Michelle with "Momma Ceiba"
Michelle with “Momma Ceiba”

Traditional Maya Understanding of Spiritual Illnesses

Excerpted from Traditional Healing Approaches to Modern Psychiatric Disorders – Rosita Arvigo, DN

Susto

This best translates as fright or trauma and is universally experienced by each and everyone of us at some time in life. Susto is one of the manifestations of soul loss. It is believed that the soul or the ch’ulel is frightened out of the body by some traumatic event. Susto can happen to infants, children, or adults and has a plethora of causes.

Susto in infants can be caused by: loud noises, especially when sleeping, witnessing domestic violence, being dropped, sudden changes such as moving homes, spanking, violent potty training, sexual abuse and incest, and abandonment. These infants are suddenly cranky, difficult to calm down or put to sleep, slap at their caregivers, and cannot play. They may have sudden changes in stool that may be loose and green to watery. Indigestion and colic are to be expected as well as skin rashes and cradle cap.

Susto in children can be caused by: witnessing a frightening event of any kind, violent movies, domestic violence, drunkards in the household, abandonment, sexual abuse and incest, being in a car, bus, or plane accident, or nearly being in such an accident, loss of a loved one, fires, hurricanes, nightmares, and severe bullying by peers. Children with susto show a sudden disinterest in their previous hobbies, studies, and friends. They will not sleep or eat well. There may be constipation or diarrhea and bloating. Hair loss is a possibility and they take on a pale complexion with dull, stringy hair. They cry easily and cannot play happily.

Susto in adults can be caused by: accidents or nearly being in an accident, rape, incest, sexual abuse, domestic violence, witnessing a murder or violent death, violent movies, being mugged or robbed, sudden bad news, fires, explosions, tornadoes, hurricanes, war and its consequent events, bloodshed, sudden falls, ete. This results in sleep disturbances, indigestion, bad complexion, pale color, lack of interest in life, studies or their chosen profession. Fear will be their constant companion and they may be plagued by ghoulish nightmares.

The loss of ch’ulel affects the efficiency of the immune system, and the circulation, digestion, elimination, and nervous systems. Patients are usually told that they have “some kind of heart disease,” “some kind of leukemia” or are written off by their physicians as hysterical types and hypochondriacs.

Pesar

Pesar best translates as grief or loss. Again, like susto, this can and probably will happen to everyone at some time because we will all experience loss of some sort during a lifetime. Pesar is caused by loss of what is dear to us due to death, fire, natural disasters, a broken heart, or being fired from a job or losing a career position. Infants and children experience pesar when someone dear to them dies, a best friend or their own family moves away, loss of a favorite teacher or school, or weaning from the breast. Adults can have pesar due to loss of any kind. The most common symptom of pesar is a deep, mournful sigh that seems to come for no known reason and is rather constant. There may also be changes for the worse in personality, nightmares of abandonment, and a strong sense of hopelessness mixed with vague depression.

Tristeza

‘Tristeza is sadness or depression of the type that seems to linger for years, or has always been with the person for as long as they can remember. It seems that these people may have been unwanted as babies, unloved or abused in early life, or experienced a series of peer rejections at school. They cannot find their true path or passion in life, feel isolated, alienated, and that life has been unfair to them. They have trouble getting started in the morning, sleep too late, drink too much, abuse drugs and substances, and often have had decades of psychotherapy and used mood altering drugs to little or no avail.

Envidia

Envidia translates as envy or jealousy. This can be devastating to the object of another’s envy, especially when it is ongoing and long term. The victims of envy feel that their present lifestyle must change in order for them to find happiness. They suddenly feel discontent with their spouse, job, home, and hobbies.

If the envy streams from companions at work, they convince themselves that they must change jobs to find contentment again. Arriving at work makes them feel depressed and anxious, and as they leave, these emotions are somewhat relieved. When envy comes from someone in the household or a neighbor, the person who is envied suddenly wants to move away. When they leave home, they start to feel much better and relieved of their emotional burdens.

Envy is insidious and has a thousand manifestations on the emotional, physical, and spiritual plane. Those suffering from envy are dejected, pale, and depressed and cannot say why. A fast-beating heart is common, with sudden palpitations that can be quite frightening and mimic heart conditions. Physical symptoms of envy include skin conditions, indigestion, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares, hearing voices, and an array of unexplained health problems. They will usually say, “I’ve been everywhere and no one can find out what is wrong with me.”