Ep. 16 – Your Brain & Trauma: The Mental Art of Kintsugi

I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Pressing sticky buttons on an old typewriter in my childhood bedroom allowed me to bring people and places to life and keep me company on lonely days. I went on to dabble in theatre, dance, debate, and other creative outlets that could splash paint on invisible ideas – and do so sometimes with an audience. 

In my professional journey, I have written words for publications and people. I’ve spoken on stages in front of thousands and in rooms with just two. 

What I know and what I’ve learned is that sometimes what we create is meant to reach the many and other times, important times, they are to be found by the scared few.

This episode is for the few. For those of you who know deep grief and trauma. 

Whether you found this today randomly or intentionally, my purpose here is to offer a short story about golden art. 

In episode 7, I shared a different story about a medical procedure I had recently where they repaired a scar of mine. I related to that mental work – like with scars – that we can do with neuroplasticity to write over or create new pathways to help us unblock and unlock both in our minds and in our bodies. 

When the brain – and the body – is processing a traumatic experience, it’s as if all the wires were pulled out of the wall all at once. The surface functions all still work fine. But inside, the brain is sorting through what goes where and in what order. Your body has been jolted into survival mode. 

Our nervous system gets completely flooded by stress hormones – and these hormones are there to help us do one of three things: to fight, to flee, or to simply freeze. 

These show up in different ways for different person and in different situations. This episode doesn’t offer a prescription forward, but it does offer, hopefully, some recognition. 

You see, trauma and grief are literal disruptors. The nervous system is halted from its regular flow and works overtime to try to go around that giant rock that was just dropped into your life. Your amygdala is your emotional gatekeeper and it goes on high alert at the first signs of stress. It starts talking to the hippocampus – that’s the part that directs all your learning and memory. And then your prefrontal cortex helps try to regulate and interpret emotions and impulses and start solving complex problems. 

Traumatic stress overactives all of these areas of the brain. You start living on high alert and it’s deeply exhausting. And when you live with it continuously, your body starts to normalize it. 

Trauma and grief become part of your mental processing center. It’s amazing how you can function with them running around in the background of your life and still be a very productive. But there’s a price. 

I remember that clearly when my dad died. There was a very distinct Before and After. Just that morning, I had been tending to details that seemed so relevant and then suddenly, nothing was relevant. Time slowed down for me and simple tasks took all my strength. I looked around at others going on with their lives and was struck by their normal-ness. I wondered when I would ever feel that way again. 

The loss of normal was seen on a worldwide level these last few years in the pandemic. Normalcy vanished, and we all found new adaptive ways to cope, collectively and individually. And even though we were all affected differently, there was something important about sharing this knowledge of what was happening. There was comfort in knowing we were all picking up pieces after a giant rock fell into our worlds. 

And that’s the point I want to offer today. 

That this story – your story – gains strength from being shared, from having oxygen poured on to it. Bringing the experience into the light opens up a much larger toolbox that can repair your mind, your heart, your body. 

There is a story of a 15th century Japanese shogun, a military leader, and he broke a beloved tea bowl. He sent it off to get repaired and it came back crudely connected with thick staples. He was distraught so he took it to a local craftsman and asked if there was any way to help. The craftsman worked a lot with jewelry so he used gold dust to join the pieces back together. The bowl was restored and shiny in its splendor. And a new art revision inspired a movement called kintsugi. Instead of hiding the broken pieces, kintsugi highlights them in a golden shine. 

And your mind has that same power of that craftsman. It has the kintsugi power with innate and artistic ability to repair, to recover, and to renew itself. 

Your experience isn’t one of simply surviving something; it’s one of the deep strength to feel golden again. 

To do so, we must bring our pieces forward and ask for help so we can get that gold. 

This is a club to which I wish no one belonged. Yet if you find yourself here, know that you aren’t the only member. Sharing the story, being understood is profound. Healing, gold, is available to us all. It’s not easy, in any way. But it’s possible. 

So whatever brought you here today, thank you for listening. I hope you find some dust of gold. And until next time, I hope you take good care. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
Unlock Video Library.

Unlock helps you skip the line and save time with smart, simple steps that get results. Come visit the free video library to get keys to real-life ways to unlock your brain.

Share this post

I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.