Image: “Soul” via Pixar

Childhood trauma has been a hot topic for discussion in the psychological world since Dr. Stephen Porges and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk dropped their body-based theories in the 1990s.

While traditional talk (cognitive) modalities were able to effectively address many mental and emotional health challenges, somatic psychologists believed they could rapidly address deep emotional issues, simply by paying attention to the body.

The foundational theory of somatic approaches is that our bodies hold memories of everything that has ever happened to us in this lifetime. van der Kolk informs us: “All of our experiences in this lifetime are recorded somewhere in our physical selves.”

In recent years, scientific research has since added an extra layer of interest following investigations into transgenerational trauma and epigenetics. This is untreated trauma-related stress passed on to second and subsequent generations. These are the people who have trauma symptoms but no recollection of an event. PTSD specialist Yael Danieli (2009) has observed: “It travels through families until someone is ready to feel it.”

But are we missing a piece? Past Lives expert Ainslie MacLeod tells us that it is not so much present life trauma that impacts us, but our past lives.

What is a past life?

If we think of the soul as that eternal part of us that will continue on long after we are finished with these bodies, then it makes sense that these souls must have been doing something before they came into these bodies as well. These are past lives (or reincarnations).

According to MacLeod, the purpose of the soul’s journey is to travel from a place of “me” to “we;” from fear to love. By the time it becomes an old soul, it will have learned through experience that we’re all connected. (If you are a follower of Polyvagal Theory, you will know that human connection is vital to health and happiness!) Unfortunately, MacLeod says, there are a lot of souls out there who have still to learn that essential spiritual lesson.

What are soul levels?

1-5 = young souls
6-10 = old souls

MacLeod says Scandinavian countries like Sweden and Norway but also Germany and Holland tend to have older souls while America leans toward younger souls, who tend to be driven and all about power. If we were to choose an example of each…? Greta Thunberg versus Donald Trump just about covers it.

Young souls act out badly. Qualities include cowardice, dishonesty, bullying and the need to rule (not govern). They don’t need advisors or guides (wise old souls) and self-exploration is a definite “no.” There is no empathy – particularly towards those that are different or whose experience isn’t theirs. The thought system of a young sold veers toward black-and-white (“if you aren’t with me, you are against me”). There is an advantage to having a common enemy as this unites young souls.

These are the characters that get others to fight on their behalf without going to battle. These are the politicians that create wars. These are the “religious” leaders who are intransigent and use their beliefs as a weapon. These are the souls who incur negative karma that future incarnations need to “pay back.”

MacLeod defines old souls as introspective. He says there is a definite flip from looking outward to cultivating inner consciousness when a soul moves to level six. These are the folks that can read a room. These are the book lovers, self-healers, artists, and thinkers. There is a whole lot of “grey” in the life of the senior citizen soul; there is fluidity and movement. And openness. These are the atheists among us or the ones who create their own religion.

At the extreme end, old souls are transformers. There’s a cap on membership for these chaps and ladies, but the company is impressive: Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were great old souls and visionaries.

MacLeod tells us popular culture favours the younger souls. We elevate those who seek to rule, rather than govern. Our media focuses on controversy, disaster, finance and politics, with little room for ‘human interest’ (human connection). Consider, too, family systems. Old souls born into a family are often influenced by the younger souls. And this may not be intentional; it may be purely exposure to young soul values that causes them to doubt their own values. Those children that do not conform become the ‘scapegoat’ or ‘black sheep’. Those children who submit often assume the role of the ‘nurturer’ (takes care of everyone’s emotional needs), ‘clown’ (uses humour to hide true feelings), or ‘lost child.’

How do past lives impact us?

According to MacLeod, past lives are based on karma. The Sanskrit word roughly translates to “action” or “deeds,” is a core concept in some Eastern religions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. “Every soul on the planet is working through some kind of karma. Whether you were the perpetrator or the victim, it’s inevitable that you’ll have experienced traumatic past life events that created karma. In this life your soul will seek to heal from the consequences of those actions.”

MacLeod claims western society often has confusion about the purpose of karma. “The truth is karma is not a punishment. There’s no [Marvel] team of Avengers out to beat you up for something you might have done 300 years ago. Karma is simply the universe seeking balance, and an opportunity for the soul to achieve profound spiritual growth by healing the events of the past.”

He offers 10 paths (or core values) that form the basis of our soul. [Note: Older souls lean towards positive expression of karma while immature souls embody the negative.]

  1. Cooperation. Reciprocity is the key to this value. If this has been violated in a past life, younger souls will slip into selfishness: “there is no other.”
  2. Respect. Integrity and dignity are preferred by older souls, while a younger soul carries the mantra: “you hurt me, I hurt you”.
  3. Equality. Abuse of authority and need to dominate over someone ‘lesser’ lies at the core of the younger soul, while an older soul seeks connection with minorities.
  4. Justice. Young souls will find the “unfairness” in many aspects of life, while older souls are more likely to treat others as they would expect to be treated (note, it doesn’t always end well!).
  5. Knowledge. Being denied education will prompt an older soul to seek it out, while a younger soul is more content with being told what to think (or being a “ditto-head”).
  6. Understanding. Deep emotional hurts require forgiveness, but this requires empathy. A younger soul will make assumptions, while an older soul will look behind the behaviour.
  7. Truth. If you have been a victim of dishonesty, an older soul will want to seek the truth and speak the truth! Younger souls, on the other hand, will easily lie (because “everyone lies”). And because they cannot trust themselves, they will rely on others for the truth.
  8. Freedom. Opportunity is important here. An older soul will wish to grab opportunities and extend them to others. While a younger soul, will do the opposite – going so far as denying others the freedoms they never had.
  9. Peace. Older souls will never sanction violence as a solution to any problem. Young souls, on the other hand will appease or submit to aggression and not stand up to it: “go with the flow.”
  10. Love. “Altruism” is key to this value. It often stems from a past life of abandonment or rejection. The older soul seeks to express compassion. Love is selfless, but it is not martyrdom.

What do past lives have to do with trauma wounds?

“Like an iceberg, the biggest part of you – your soul – is hidden beneath the surface.”

While there are most certainly pleasant lives that we have lived, it is the assaults on the soul that leave trauma imprints that tend to directly affect present life at some point. When they come up, it is the age of the soul that determines how we respond.

For example, two orphaned boys living in the same home find new families within a week of each other. One may live a long life with good health and financial success, while the other may struggle with addictions and end his life prematurely. Up until now, we have been told that “resilience” can make all the difference. That the presence of one person to whom we are securely attached (be it a parent, grandparent, teacher, or mentor) in this life can be a gamechanger.

But what if it is more than that? MacLeod tells us: “Past life fears lurk beneath the surface of every individual.”

“What I’ve learned working with past lives for the last 20 years is that the way trauma from childhood affects us is entirely dependent on the fears and limiting beliefs we carry forward from earlier incarnations,” he says. “Past-life memories are less often conscious, and instead show up as unexplained ailments in our bodies, and as fears, phobias, limiting beliefs, as well as an over-reaction to reminders of what happened sometimes hundreds of years ago.”

So then, what if one child had a past life of rejection? Trusting another person in the present may be almost impossible. In fact, the fear of rejection will perpetually be a trigger. (This may resonate with foster and adoptive parents with a child who deals with the fear by “rejecting” her parent/caregiver just in case she “rejects” her.)

MacLeod reveals 10 fears that come up time and time again in life (present or past): Loss, betrayal, intimacy, rejection, self-expression, authority, inferiority, powerlessness, failure, and death. These are the triggers that pepper daily life and they are easily recognizable: “When a past-life fear gets triggered, it can create a reaction that may appear…out of proportion.”

A word of warning: Some of these triggers may be reinforced by present life childhood experiences – for example, if inferiority is a fear from a past life then being bought up by a religious authoritarian will create more fear.

MacLeod says: “I often tell clients I don’t need to know what happened in their childhood in this life. In my experience, the fastest healing comes from bypassing the trigger in this lifetime by going straight to the (past life) cause.” He suggests investigating the fears that “resonate” and motivations for change.

“When you’ve worked through all of your past-life fears, you’ll have undergone a process that would take most souls lifetimes to achieve.”

 (This is not to say that exploring your early experiences, on your own or with a therapist, can’t be immensely helpful, but without taking your past lives into consideration, you only get part of the picture.) 

© Felicia Stewart, 2020