Trauma as Initiation

You may be wondering what Karla McLaren is talking about when she refers to the three stages of initiation.  What she is referring to are three stages that naturally occur in the human psyche.  Incidentally, they are also represented in the rituals of many indigenous people.  Stage one is where an initiate is sent out on a sort of quest.  He or she is young and lacks experience about the world.  Here is where he or she is going out without the support of the tribe – maybe for the first time.  In the case of an initiation ceremony, there may be a task of some sort that the young one is to complete before he or she is allowed to return.


Stage two is where something happens, that has not been experienced before – it is intense in nature, whether the intensity is experienced through physical, emotional, or psychic pain, the initiate is not sure whether he or she will survive.


Stage three is where the initiate returns to the tribe and the tribe receives him or her, and there are members who listen while the initiate tells the story, offering comfort, tending to any wounds, validating the emotions and the experience.  Stage three is where the initiate re-emerges into the tribe as a transformed person.  In a sense he or she is broken open, and potential can now come forth in the form of a mature perspective, inherent gifts, and wisdom.


With trauma, stage three does not happen because for one reason or another, the “tribe” does not function as a safe place to share the stories of the life changing event.  There is no one to offer validation that is safe or affirming.  When this happens, the initiate cycles through stages one and two again.  The natural push is to have another chance to experience the life changing effects of stage three, which is so essential to growth and personal evolution, which is the normal and natural tendency of all human beings.

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