fashioning belonging out of trauma?
This post continues an experiment in resourcing collective wisdom via social-media discussions. This and another few related conversations were had on my facebook wall in November of 2017. As a longing for the archiving of community wisdom and resilience, I'm making these conversations available again in this format and hope that it may serve as a resource for related research, conversations, and resilience.
Original Posting: The heart of my original question from the other day...which is that most people don't belong to any deeply rooted or deeply practiced 'tribe' and what i'm concerned about is what happens when trauma/wounding itself becomes the identity around which 'tribe' is fashioned.
In such an architecture, it's possible that healing the trauma simultaneously would mean ceasing to identity with or be identified by the 'tribe' and so the trauma is potentially held on to as an impoverished means of maintaining a sense of belonging.
Koll Kowski It's called "secondary gain"
Daniel Foor Just one angle...by including in our ancestral narrative also the (often) much older ancestors, the ones already deeply well in spirit and who lived on Earth in ways we might describe as indigenous/animist...those ancestors provide one nourishing identity factor or source of belonging that can still hold the more recent ancestors who (among other experiences) often lived through a higher degree of oppression/oppressing/dislocation/etc. In doing this the often more recent ones who were previously troubled can be ritually assisted to become more well/seated in the present, so they're still absolutely involved in one's sense of self (inc. the ancestors who have acted in culturally harmful ways), but it's with the recognition that they change. Again just one way to not abandon or try to opt out of our bond with the troubled dead (I think one relevant emphasis of the folks who seem at times to over-emphasize the wounding...Don't Forget These Things!) but also not let their suffering define us. Call in the elders, the more ancient ancestors and let them hold all of it. In that way it's actually a go deeper into the story remedy, dig even deeper. p.s. Love your questions/threads Christos and clear voice, keep up the great work!
Pat McCabe Yes. As I willfully and willingly leave the tapestry of human trauma one of the most daunting aspects is definitely the sense of being alone. Our social currency is so built on our trauma, there are few thought forms and dialogues that are there for someone stepping out of that paradigm. It is here that I draw upon my own culture, which proposes that we come from Original Beauty, and not original sin.
Beauty above us
Beauty below us
Beauty before us
Beauty behind us
There is Beauty all around us...
Desiree Lowit Working as a therapist with my focus on treating both PTSD and C-PTSD using EMDR and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy in support of helping folks to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, if not recover fully, I think there is great potential for individuals to change how trauma lands in the body, the nervous system and spirit overall. The whole issue with trauma is that the nervous system gets caught in the trauma and then one is always prepared to ward off more trauma. Yet this often leads folks to living into a life of hyper-vigilance versus living into the full bandwith of their existence. I think that identifying as a tribe (with other folks with PTSD), is a lovely stage as part of the journey to ones healing. With that, it’s a stage. So, one feels validated and held and not alone, this is very important. This here primes one for moving into the Next stage of their healing journey. As part of the journey, one can eventually get to the place of being able to handle ordinary and not so ordinary life stressors that might trigger their symptoms. Yet through both my experience using EMDR and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP), I see transformation and integration happening quite often. It takes time of course, no quick fixes here, yet there is so much potential to move forward and onward from the first (and very necessary) stages of recovery, which helps one to feel validated and like they are not alone. Then, if one should get to a place of moving to the next stage (should they have the privilege to access therapeutic supports like emdr, sp and other trauma therapies) then there would be less of a trend of being so identified with the trauma. Trauma should not define you. It can change your perception and one can learn from it and grow from it, yet if we over-identify with it, we remain in the limiting grips of trauma and it’s subsequent erroneous beliefs.
BangHan Kim Wonderful inquiry and insight. Learning so much from the commentaries. I’m contemplating the relationships between personal identity, sense of belonging, personal and collective traumas, and our changing world.
“Impoverished” feels like a good word for the state in which we find ourselves so far removed from ritual, rites of passage, community accountability, elder council, oral mythological wisdoms passed down, etc etc...
In which case i can clearly see how traumas suffered offers us an opportunity to be-long and be literally “held” frozen in a place and time of huge significance and identity shift in our lives. Without tribal witness, holding, and movement forward, what is the meaning of our lives and growth?
What is the point of growing? Does trauma identity allow us a landmark place that feels like a safe field where we can meet also our ancestral wounds// meet the gap where ancestral support is missing and we don’t know how to call it in?
Karl Frost ... and sets up a competition for status as traumatized/oppressed, which creates a social pressure to exaggerate outward performance of such. Not just loss of identity/community without trauma/oppression, but loss of status within community without more exaggerated performance.
Dare Sohei Well, a person who has nothing effective centering them other than a trauma identification, or a privilege identification, wouldn't willfully heal or release those things until they had a suitable replacement. Why would they?
So by cultivating a healthier belonging, the less healthy identities can be released.
Laura Chatain Carolyn Myss believes this to be true, but more as holding on to trauma as an individual identity than as a member of a tribe. It makes perfect sense, though. There are big disincentives to healing, one simple one being "What are you going to talk about when you're no longer talking a bout your wounding?" And "How do you get sympathy and attention when no longer ..... etc." From Myss.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES AND POLITICS OF WOUNDING AS IDENTITY FORMATION?
This post is an experiment in resourcing collective wisdom via social-media discussions. This and another few related conversations were had on my facebook wall in November of 2017 -- this edited version here alone is over 7,600 words, packed full of brilliant insights and contributions on the topic of wounding/trauma and identity. Usually, such rich discussions eventually peter out and get lost in the hard-to find backlog of old posts, the focus always being on the new and immediate. As a longing for the archiving of community wisdom and resilience, I'm making this conversation available again in this format and hope that it may serve as a resource for related research, conversations, and resilience.
Original Post: Does anybody have a clear understanding of how and where and when wounding and trauma came to the forefront of identity formation for so many discourses? I'm curious how much of it was incubated within diagnosis and treatment of veterans and those with direct involement with war -- and I'm pondering how that might have eventually come to be internalized and normalized by society at large...in which case I shudder to think that our culture now views itself as suffering trauma from simply being alive, and that warfare and everyday civilian life within this culture are perhaps increasingly being used synonymously...
Jeremiah Evans It was decided that we “know” about trauma...and have decided to no longer wonder about it. Now that we know, we set about deanimating trauma. It is now a problem which we fix by applying a static formula.
Matthew Stillman Christos Galanis I would venture to say that at one time when trauma happened to a person or a people that that the traumatic event might have been considered a visitation by an alive spirit or god or gods and the trauma might have been spoken to/courted/tended thusly.
Karl Frost my experience with 'trauma' in postmodern humanities is 1) postmodern scholars coming in after scientists and healers had come to identify a phenomena as important for us to understand and address, postmodern scholars redefine the term and generate a bunch of writing using the new (not as documentedly important) definition of 'trauma' pretending that the import still applied to their 'interpreted' use of the word, and then 3) use this body of writing to establish legitimacy over something that had both social cache and funding attached to it.
Christos Galanis The history of trauma studies itself as a scientific field is intimately linked to treating veterans in post-war years, most especially WWI (shell-shock) WWII (Gross Stress Reaction) and the Vietnam War (PTSD). Along with Kubler-Ross and the (problematic) depiction of even death itself as a traumatizing event, it seems trauma and wounding have become increasingly central as a diagnosis for anything other than what we would dictate for ourselves and the world.
What I'm curious about is how and where and when significant portions of the general civilian population began basing their primary identity on trauma or wounding -- identifying with one's race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/class/gender/first nations status as not only a politically marginalised identity, but that identifying as a marginalised identity is in itself a diagnosis for wounding/trauma regardless of the specifics of one's own lived experiences and the quantity or quality of hardship one has encountered. I'm not denying or dismissing anyone's lived individual experiences or expressions of them, I'm just wondering on how this slow seep has now apparently spilled into notions of even dominant/centred identities (ie. whiteness) being in their own right traumatized identities because of the effects of oppression on the oppressor. I'm also not denying or dismissing these claims, there are strong arguments to be made in all these accounts. But I'm wondering about the very centrality of wounding/trauma in all these identifications, and what happens once everyone can claim some aspect of their identity as being one of wounding/trauma -- is it possible to have respect and compassion for someone if they don't claim trauma/woundedness, or does one first have to scramble to get under an identity-umbrella of trauma/wounding in order to deserve care and compassion?
At the end of the long day of traumatized identities, I can't help but wonder if much of this is simply a desperate attempt by so so many to be simply regarded with respect and compassion, and to be resorting to claiming for themselves a traumatized/wounded identity as the most socially acceptable manner to get this?
Ben Spatz When I say trauma studies I don't mean the medical work you are talking about Christos Galanis but rather the more recent turn to trauma in the humanities. I basically agree with Karl Frost's narrative of how that developed except I don't see a problem with it. It seems right to me that humanities scholars should take on and rework concepts coming out of medicine from their more distanced and critical position.
In any case the trauma studies I'm talking about were very influenced by Holocaust studies and how to make sense of that historical trauma from the position of the second and third generations, who didn't experience it directly. I think the relevance to identity is much deeper than simply wanting to be heard and respected: it's about how to articulate a kind of wound that is sedimented in embodiment way below the level of articulate language; and also how to get at the workings of violence beyond the level of individuals, not just in terms of group identities but also across time. Trauma studies is not my field but I'm aware of its wide impact across the humanities.
Jared Williams As someone who’s done very little academic research into this stuff, it’s my understanding that modern medicine certainly and modern psychology possibly developed largely in war zones or in their peripheries... is that true? Is that what you’re already implying? That the root of the tool to ‘fix’ the trauma is biased toward trauma and wounding?
Tamsin Haggis I'm properly tired today and unable to dive into all this complexity, though I have just skimmed all the comments with interest. Your question stuck in my mind this morning and the first thing I was thinking was, is this a question about discourse, or is it a question about a verifiable biological phenomenon? I'm not up on all the social science and humanties discourses and critique of the history of this idea, but as far as I know, the identification of trauma as a biological phenomenon has come to the fore in the last twenty or thirty years with the work of people like Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk (animal studies of behaviour in relation to life-threatening overwhelm situations etc, moving things on from the hazy recognition of the same in humans as 'shell shock' ) and the epigenetic work your friend mentioned in a comment above.
I started to wonder what a definition of trauma might actually be, went and did some googling, and saw that many of the definitions distinguished between physical trauma and psychological trauma. This seems to be extremely outdated in the context of recent neurobiological research which focusses on the nervous system (and fascia and hormones and all the rest of it etc) as part of an interrelated whole. I'm not sure I've contributed much to your discussion except to say that at the level of biology I wonder if the difference between war-created threat to the integrity of the system or abuse/neglect-created threat to the integrity of the system ends up biologically being pretty much the same thing?
Dare Sohei id like to chime in from my non-academic view of trauma, which includes acute vs chronic, emotional and physical... i do think that ptsd and such always existed, but people dealt with it in numerous folk medicine/magickal ways... which we have marginalized now and since the burning times.
theres also a strong possibility that one way to reframe trauma is lack: lack of resiliency skills and resiliency skills training from a number of causes, one major one being lack of wilderness skills training, lack of initiatatory ceremonies, lack of animal husbandry skills, lack of trade skills n general. there's a need for BOTH emotional and physical (sensory) resiliency skills training. without those what do we have? learned helplessness, and extreme vulnerability to hardship, addiction to privileges, etc.
Rebecca Solnit I was told that PTSD was defined as a kind of damage, lasting damage, for political reasons, to make the Vietnam War untenable. And that's stayed with us as the idea that we are a sort of porcelain that can be shattered rather than, sometimes, something resilient or even that sometimes living matter heals. Paradise Built in Hell: The mainstream story also tended to portray everyone remotely connected to the calamity as a traumatized victim. Once again, the language of a frail and easily shattered human psyche surfaced, as it had so influentially before the aerial bombing of the Second World War. The powerful phrase “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” or PTSD, was invoked, suggesting that everyone who survives or even witnesses an ordeal is damaged by it. The term arose from the politics of the Vietnam war, when antiwar psychiatrists and others wished to demonstrate the deep destructive power of an unjust and ugly war. As one British psychiatrist put it, the new diagnosis “was meant to shift the focus of attention from the details of a soldier’s background and psyche to the fundamentally traumagenic nature of war.” The risk for PTSD is far higher, unsurprisingly, for those who are already damaged, fragile, inflexible, which is to say that events themselves, however horrific, have no guaranteed psychic outcome; the preexisting state matters.
The term PTSD is nowadays applied to anyone who is pained at or preoccupied with the memory of a calamity, rather than only those who are so deeply impacted they are overwhelmed or incapacitated by suffering or fear. On September 14, 2001, nineteen psychologists wrote an open letter to the American Psychological Association, expressing concern over “certain therapists…descending on disaster scenes with well-intentioned but misguided efforts. Psychologists can be of most help by supporting the community structures that people naturally call upon in times of grief and suffering. Let us do whatever we can, while being careful not to get in the way.” One of the authors of the letter told the New York Times soon after, “The public should be very concerned about medicalizing what are human reactions.” That is, it is normal to feel abnormal in extraordinary situations, and it doesn’t always require intervention. Nevertheless, an estimated 9,000 therapists converged on lower Manhattan to treat everyone they could find. The Washington Post commented on the belief that PTSD is ubiquitous among survivors—“a fallacy that some mental health counselors are perpetuating in the aftermath of this tragedy.” It was another way to depict survivors as fragile rather than resilient. Kathleen Tierney remarked, “It’s been very interesting during my lifetime to watch the trauma industry develop and flower. The idea that disasters cause widespread PTSD is not proven, is highly disputed. It is also highly disputed that disaster victims need any sort of professional help to get better rather than social support to get better.”
Joy Working The word "broken" has come up a lot in this conversation, and I am reminded of the history of American prisons. At first, prison was largely co-ed and penal. Nobody thought of criminals as "broken", so they never thought to "fix" them.
Then the Quakers came along with notions of redemption and started changing the model to one of reformation. I assume that as reformation became the new norm, supportive services would have been added, and the "root of the transgression" would eventually be considered. There are those here who can add psychotherapy to the appropriate spot on this timeline, as well. I can imagine that as trauma gained the spotlight in conjunction with identifying one's Soul, it may have become a more important piece of self identification. "Look, I'm broken, but can be fixed."
Bruce Hooke From what I heard about how the men in my family who fought in WWII were changed by the war it seems clear to me that they came back with what we would now call PTSD, but of course that was before that diagnosis existed. Even so, the reports are that they were never the same after the war and their children suffered as a result, in ways that influenced how available they were for their children (my generation). In other words, my perception is that whether or not we have a name for it, the damage caused to the human psyche by major traumas echoes down through the generations. Since very few places in the world escape war or other traumas that affect broad swaths of the society at least every few generations (if not much more often), part of being human is living with the stress and damage that results from trauma. Pretending otherwise doesn't make the damage go away, it just buries it deeper inside us.
If anything, I feel like naming and diagnosing PTSD has reduced it's normalization within society. After WWII (and earlier wars) the men and women traumatized by the war were just expected to integrated back into society. War was normal and part of being a man in particular was being able to deal with things like war. Now we at least realize that war is not normal and that it damages those involved in deep and lasting ways.
It is important to note that the fact of living with trauma should not be used as a way to duck our responsibility to be good people and good citizens of the world. That's a victim mentality, which does not help anyone.
Zahava Griss What a great question. My grief teacher Sobonfu Some said that the epidemic of homelessness in our country started after Vietnam because the vets did not know how to come home to themselves. They did not know how to belong. I think today there is a crisis of belonging. Om says, "victimhood is wearing the cloak of social liberation." My sense is that really we want healing and belonging and connection but somehow the conversation has been distorted into blame. Perhaps that's because blame is less vulnerable. I think our collective pain body is extremely active and it perpetuates itself. So each time we activate the parts of us that are not our pain such as our soul, our creativity, our love, our resilience, our pleasure not as an escape but as an affirmation of our value… We are shifting this culture.
Catherine Magill Christos, would this also include things like the 'wound gift concept'? I've been curious about this idea of basing my identify and my gift to the world in a wound...was first introduced to it here: https://ssir.org/.../social_change_and_the_shadow_side_of...
Christos Galanis And to add another angle to this discussion of trauma, I don't know exact figures but at least a few years ago, the segment of the US military with the highest rates of diagnosed PTSD were remote drone operators -- the men (and women?) who lived at home, with their partner and possibly children, who would report to work every day and remotely operate a drone somewhere on the other side of the world, for their scheduled work-shift, and then when their shift was done, return home to family life. There's many theories for this, and, I find it quite compelling for understanding what exactly it is we're trying to describe with the word 'trauma'
Lara Owen Predating the PTSD discourse, the concept of the originating wound as a shaper of personality goes back to Freud, surely. Developed further by Melanie Klein and many others. During the years I was studying psych and hanging out in that world, I'd hear people say "What is your wound?" in conversation, as if it was like "Where did you grow up?" The answer is supposed to be something simplistic like "My mother was a narcissist" or "My father left when I was 2" This obviously is not sophisticated thinking, but it is often used as a (thoughtless) shortcut. I don't think it's a helpful way to conceptualise a life but it has become a very common way of telling one's life story to oneself.
Bethany Reivich Christos Galanis I think it goes beyond such recent historical and linear tracking, although, that's all a part of the culture of trauma. In a 'society' lacking rites of passage/initiation (the marked transition of one identity to another) the culture of trauma has the taste of being a sort of lingering bardo. With dissolution of distinct cultures and human roles in them (in 'globalizing' culture, or a sort of imagined idea of a homogeneous culture, abstracted from land and sense of place), the trauma doesn't crystallize into something meaningful in any given cosmology. There is no community to hold and contain the pain and help make meaning of it -- even if one is lucky enough to have some personal community, there is still no cohesive worldview/container for the experience (anima-mundi -- the individual soul's connection to the world....). So, even if we set up novel initiations, to do a wilderness fast, etc, again, there is no cohesive community/wisdom tradition to return to, because worldview is going through its own initiatory crisis. Though some manage to forge a deeper identity through their personal trials, contemplation, and action, in general the work is too archetypal for an individual and attempts to 'get over it' lead nowhere, because the culture itself is in a liminal time of change and gutting of identity and can't offer a container for individual alchemy. Rites of passage -- ritualized recreations of inner and outer conflicts within humans and between them, and the natural world -- aren't the only traumas in life, but the ritualization of extreme states contains them within a functional cosmology where the place of the one in crisis returns to the community with a new understanding/meaning/inspiration etc of her/his place in it. A growing fascination and increase in mechanistic proficiency, strategy, etc in military business and warfare (and media), and the culture of trauma, as I see them, are more analogous with the dissolution of culture/cosmology than the cause/effect of trauma. People simply identify with the 'figurehead' of war and military. But military and war seem more the unconscious ritualization. Ironically, more conscious ritualization was amputated with the transition from animism to to objectification, from poiesis -- the expanding of an image into many senses (mysterious and meaningful in its polymorphism) -- to utilitarian science -- its deduction into abstraction (conquerable and simplistic). The ritual is war, but that is only the focal point for what is happening analogously -- internally, individually, and collectively in a liminally-stagnated-non-culture -- It's not cause and effect, in that quantifiable, empirical linear way, and trying to deduce it to that is part of what perpetuates it. Any pain is tolerable with meaning (cosmological place), but without it, pain becomes the focus, and the difference between children and adults is harder to define..... As much troubling as the culture of trauma is the backlash/new-age anti-empathy movement. Both are symptoms of a larger gap in our sense of place, which fittingly, often shows up in the psyche like a gaping wound....how one fills it is, or what one does with the understanding is the question.
Andrew Wass "our culture now views itself as suffering trauma from simply being alive": don't several religions have this attitude towards existence, that the here and now is terrible and only when we meet our maker/join nirvana is it all good?
Daniel Bear Davis The term "post-traumatic growth" deserves a place in this conversation somewhere. I'm seeing it used more and more often. Also, many have dropped the D from PTSD, recognizing that the functioning of the nervous system is not a disorder. Which leads right into your question...
Katie Lee Weille What an interesting thread. One additional perspective is that trauma theory, which I learned about in the 1990's as a young psychotherapist, presented a new paradigm of liberation from old pathologizing ways of formulating people's - especially women's - distress - as personality disorder, hysteria etc. . So Freud had suggested his female patients had fantasized about sex with a male relative and Masson published this book saying that in fact freud's patients had in fact been sexually abused not had sexual fantasies. And with van der Kolk's groundbreaking work on trauma (from veterens to abuse survivors), we could now validate (that word came up earllier in this thread) the reality of our clients' suffering rather than just diagnosing them as borderline or some other label that suggested a deficiency or lack. In other words, it was empowering for someone to re-formulate themselves as not crazy but rather adaptive, ie they had had to cope with something difficult, hence their distress/ symptoms. By extension, trauma as a construct could legitimize the suffering of whole groups of people, and van der Kolk's later work considers community level experience and processes. Also the fascinating points people make here about the role of dance and other embodied forms of healing, have slowly been finding their way into the psychiatric/ clinical discourse on trauma, as the clinic van der kolk started in boston and the training programs associated with this ouvre have increasingly embraced an embodied 'somatic' approach to treatment (and of course, on his own parallel track, so has Levine).
So my impression is that the clinical tradition has done its best, given the intrinsic biases and blindspots endemic to the whole western medical model which undergirds and often rules psychiatry, this movement and van der kolk's work seme to me relatively progressive and open-minded, making intelligent use of accumulating research and clinical experience. However, the fragilities of the social justice movement and victimization becoming weaponized, are a whole development that go way beyond this clinical history. For this, i would strongly recommend Jessica benjamin's incredibly groundbreaking work on the psychodynamics of victim - victimizer dynamics and what is needed to break out of the polarized stalemates that people on all levels of micro-to-macro interactions find themselves digging into, hurting eachother perpetually as a result. Her last book Beyond doer and done to' has some powerful work on this topic as she looks at what heals: in short, mutual recognition, or, witnesing the suffering - without freezing the sufferer into an othered victimized status- and acknowledging the capacity for destruction that lies in all of us.
Richard Povall I'm no expert in this field, but based purely on personal observation I believe this narrative has grown directly out of the 'survivor' culture that has become increasingly endemic. Your point about veterans and their perhaps influential contribution to the notion of survivor guilt and other forms of trauma feels apposite. Certainly living in the US in the 1980s, and in northern California in particular, the presence of so many Vietnam vets contributed to a much heightened awareness of both survivor culture and post traumatic stress. Justifiably so. California was one of the first countries in the world (I believe) to introduce kerb cuts at intersections in order to allow better access for wheelchairs - because there was a much greater prevalence of wheelchair users in a place where many vets were landed on return from the war zone, and many simply stayed. Here, survivor-hood felt not only palpable but a moral imperative. Notions of 'wounding' and 'trauma' and being a survivor now seems to have been claimed by the many in a culture focusing on the self and self-hood. Survivor discourse became a mechanism for claiming special rights and privileges. I feel like I'm stepping into precipitous territory here, but I find much of the current discourse shallow and, frankly, an irritant.
Jonathan Megaw Hmm surely there is something of the notion of a defining wound in most major world religions and creation myths? Without trying to list them, Id suggest as examples that the Christian ‘Fall from Grace’ is treated as an original and defining wound very much in Christian churches’ dialogues and dogmas, and that there is much fetishisation of Christ’s wounds historically, As another example that Buddhist traditions have as a fundament the suffering of our unrealised condition! Post Nietzschean Western thought has incorporated the notion of a defining condition of dysfunction or wound for which healing is sought, from Freud, as alluded to by others here, to Marx!
It is clear though, as was well documented in the observation of and experience of soldiers of WW1, that what have become the defining symptoms of PTSD are observable and predictable, particularly in war zones. The culture of personal politics which seeks to emphasise the harm that has been done to individuals by other individuals or by a dominant culture, as self-defining may have had its antecedents in post=WW11 post-modernism, counter cultural trends that had their most popular flowering in the period from the late 1950”s-70’s, with therapies developed in Esalen Institute California for example perhaps specifically influential here. However we should not forget that it does in fact have roots in resistance to slavery, colonialism and patriarchy.
Surely the notion of psycho-somatic wounding may have become in some quarters a wearisome self-aggrandisement and projection of the cause of negative states onto others but I am concerned that the experience of war veterans for example are not diminished by an aversion to any unfortunate cultural trends!
Cator Shachoy hmmm.... I'm not sure whether I am understanding your questions correctly, but within the field of craniosacral we recognize that birth trauma is very common. This has nothing to do with war or overwhelming physical/emotional experiences we may have later in life (but can actually lay a foundation for our later patterning). Birth trauma can result from a variety of sources. It can be a result of medical interventions which somehow disrupt the natural flow - induced labor, forced separation of mother & child, being put in an incubator, etc. We recognize these interventions may be medically necessary to save the life or mom or baby, and that they are not necessarily wrong or bad, but there is an imprint of trauma on the nervous system. Birth trauma can also result from a 'normal' healthy birth... because birthing is intense, about survival, life/death, and separation. The imprint on the nervous system is what indicates trauma. As a cranial practitioner I can feel it in the cranial wave -
a physiological pulse. Stanislav Grof talks about the birth matrices and trauma in one of his books...
Eric Chisler Here's the rupture that the response would seem to emanate from in my view:
What must have befallen a people to whom mutual grievance seems a sane qualifier for personal identification? What must have been in prolapse in regards to all things identity which trauma has rushed in to replace? And, what must have been that thing's capacity to mediate trauma such that it would never ossify into an identity in the first place?
Dave Carrier Interesting -- but not at all arresting -- to my simple mind how thought-threaders go to the mind to look and find new verbal explanations to make "our times" seem especially troubled in relation to other past or concurrent times. Folk have come back from war in trauma forever. Always. Always part of being alive in groups of folk, be it tiny tribes -- harsher yet there/then?! -- or expanding nations.
Madelanne Rust-D'Eye Christos Galanis - just encountering this thread now, and will chime in as it's a topic I'm passionate about ... I use somatic approaches and paradigms when working with PTSD in my psychotherapy practice -- very much informed by Van Der Kolk (as mentioned by Katie Lee Weille), Stephen Porges, Peter Levine, etc -- and I also teach about how PTSD happens at the neurological level in my Body-Informed Leadership courses. I believe that understanding the neuroscience behind PTSD helps us to identify elements of our own experience that may be related to PTSD, to have true understanding and compassion for others who are experiencing PTSD, and paradoxically, to also access greater resilience, both in terms of understanding the power of post-traumatic growth as well as understanding what isn't PTSD, and in such cases building the skills to get better at tolerating discomfort in our bodies & psyches. So in a sense, becoming more specific in our collective use of the word "trauma" can also support us to be compassionate while working collectively towards resilience. In terms of your earlier question about integrating epigenetic and ancestral traumas into a neurobiological framework, my experience has been that with trauma healing, you don't need to diagnose the "original cause" (which can so often have happened in early life, before conscious memories could be created, or be stored in non-conscious brain systems, or as you've suggested actually originate ancestrally) in order to help the nervous system to do whatever it needs to do to restore integration. You just listen to the somatic cues the body presents, and offer appropriate support as the healing process unfolds -- it doesn't necessarily matter when or where the trauma originates. Although re-weaving the story of the trauma is often a very meaningful experience for the person in recovery -- it's just more often an end result, rather than a diagnostic jumping-off point.
Christos Galanis Just to say, I sincerely appreciate all the incredible sharings and insights and generosity of all of you in this thread and some other related ones. I'm also appreciating the level of respect and kindness and general consideration and care I'm experiencing in these threads, especially compared to the way such themes can often descend into bullying and nastiness in other places quite quickly. There's some very sensitive and vulnerable and triggering themes being discussed here, and I love being able to trouble them with all of you.
<3 to the brave
an explication of the longings behind this blog
There’s a fascinating little world that emerges when a donkey meets a bridge. Or to be more specific, when a donkey meets a human that wants him to cross a bridge together. Known to most who spend time with donkeys is the curious fact that many donkeys just really don’t like crossing over bridges; especially bridges with water flowing beneath them. Try it yourself – you’ll be rambling along with a donkey in fine form, going forward together, yet when you come up to a footbridge, your furry-eared friend will suddenly dig in her front legs and progress no further.
No amount of pulling, pushing, or cajoling will budge your companion; once a 400-500 pound donkey locks his front legs and makes a decision, it’s almost impossible to physically impose forward motion through normal force.
For many, forcing compliance by beating with a stick or whip has been the go-to solution for this inter-species impasse –- resolution through imposition of one’s singular will over another through brutality and the violent overriding of the donkey’s own innate instincts, its own relationship to bridges and water, and its own power of self-preservation. This is partly the reason for the donkey’s reputation for being stupid and stubborn. Stupid because the donkey doesn’t appear to be intelligent enough to understand and comply with your will, like when unpleasant tourists try to communicate with locals by shouting at them; as if louder and harder somehow will cut across the fact that the sounds themselves carry no meaning. Stubborn because even if the donkey does understand, she won’t conform and act out your singular desires and needs over and above her own.
In actuality, donkeys are incredibly intelligent and sensitive beings, imbued with an intense sense of curiosity and contemplation, their bodies fine-tuned for parsing out the most minute details in their environment. Their memory is also remarkable, as donkeys are known to recognize two and four-legged friends even after twenty years apart. As animals that are hunted by other animals, their survival has depended on their ability to track and log potential threats over thousands of generations, accumulating an archive of environmental relationships that are passed down through their embodied epigenetic memories. In donkey behaviours and protocols live not only the bodies of their ancestors, but also the lands that sustained their ancestors. Though I haven’t come across an explanation for donkeys’ dislike of bridges anywhere, my sense is that their ancestral lands offer a clue to this particular behaviour. Originally evolving in the stark deserts of what is now Egypt and the North-East of Africa, donkeys would have seldom encountered regular and steady streams of water. And then like in most deserts, when it does rain it pours, and the land is too dry to absorb the downpour. As the water has no place to go, it will dance wildly across the parched earth, moving in unpredictable floods and furies, sweeping away whatever is in its path.
In his sublimely beautiful elegy to water - The Secret Knowledge of Water - author Craig Childs describes how in the deserts of the South-West United States, more people die from drowning in flash floods than they do from dehydration. There, many make the fatal mistake of assuming that storms off in the far distance will have no effect on them as they carry on trekking under clear skies through canyons and dry river beds, unaware of the massive wall of water rushing towards them at fantastic speed with nothing to slow down its surge. Perhaps for reasons such as this, donkeys evolved to avoid attempting to ford running water, preferring to stay safer upon higher and dryer ground, waiting out sporadic periods of flash flooding. This would be a completely different experience than that of horses, which evolved in grass-covered steppe landsscapes that would not be prone to such types of flooding. And although they both belong to the equine family of mammals, donkeys are not simply small horses, but a totally different species with a totally different habitat, history, disposition, and social structure.
Where horses are hierarchical and tend to congregate in close herds, donkey herds are egalitarian and they disperse themselves over great distances in order to alleviate the strain on their desert habitat. Where there is an alpha horse in a herd that all the others follow, donkeys tend to have one or two best friends that they prefer hanging out with, with no single alpha donkey. In domesticating horses, you need to ‘break’ the lead horse, yourself becoming the alpha, whom the rest of the herd will subsequently follow. Such is a politics of dominance and compliance; perfectly suited to a large dense horse herd that needs to move quickly and efficiently as one unit when coming under threat.
The natural synergy between hierarchical horse socialization and human military capacities and technologies is one of the fundamental ingredients for the development and rise of the earliest empires of ancient Mesopotamia and the gradual proliferation of civilization.
In The Horse, the Wheel and Language, David Anthony traces horse-drawn military chariots back to at least 3500 BCE, placing this vital technology at the very centre of the expanding city-states from which Western civilization is derived. Similarly, the domestication of donkeys for transport between 4600-4000 BCE allowed for the first ever large-scale trade regime between Egypt and Assyria, with donkeys so revered in the ancient world that they received royal ceremonial burials.
The ancient covenantal dance between humans, horses and donkeys plays a key role in the historical tides of power and territory, and the parallel hierarchical social structures of horse herds and armies is a powerful example of how inter-species collaboration and understanding can facilitate swift change and massive upheavals. Unlike horses however, with donkeys there is no alpha to ‘break,’ as the widely dispersed desert herds had no need to move quickly as one unit, and therefore no need for a regimented hierarchical social structure. Subsequently, in order to get donkeys to follow your lead, trying to identify and break the alpha is a hopelessly lost cause. Trying to ‘break’ a donkey and become the lead donkey would be incomprehensible to them as a strategy or a form of communicating power or territory, since they’re not looking to an alpha to dictate their collective behaviour and choices. Not that many don’t try. Given these histories, however, the scene of a human trying to get a donkey to submit by force becomes both tragedy and comedy, as the donkey could never comprehend that this human is attempting to become the alpha donkey in the herd, while the human just pushes on even harder, cursing the donkey for its stubborn resistance and lack of respect and understanding for this performance of power and dominance.
Which brings us back full circle to the donkey and the bridge.
How do you get a donkey to cross a bridge without the option of breaking the lead donkey and having the rest follow your lead, or without beating it into a cowering shell of itself?
From what was taught to me in my time working with rescued donkeys in New Mexico, and from all my research into the matter, the answer that comes through is the relational, collaborative negotiation of difference.
In The Wisdom of Donkeys, Andy Merriweather’s memoir of trekking through the south of France with his donkey, the author is confronted with just this very conundrum as his donkey Gribouille pulls up short at a foot bridge and absolutely refuses to budge. Exasperated, devoid of other options to get around the stream, and unable to progress any further, Merriweather spends hours trying to get his companion to dial-down his ancestral instincts. It finally takes Merriweather walking slowly back and forth over the bridge literally dozens of times in front of Gribouille to convince him that it’s safe; his own body providing the model from which Gribouille can integrate this experience and eventually carry on. As a map for the negotiation of power, territory, difference, and ancestry, this scenario has been working itself on me for many moons, teaching mysterious understandings that continue to compost their way through me.
An echo of this scene plays out in the 2017 Spanish/Scottish documentary Donkeyote in which the film follows the director’s uncle Manolo as he ambles through Andalucía with his own donkey, Gorrión. In this scene, Manolo crosses a small footbridge over to a rest area where he’s decided to enjoy his lunch. Gorrión, however, will not follow him, and the familiar struggle ensues, in which Gorrión needs to slowly be convinced that it’s safe to cross over. What one may witness in watching this scene is that Gorrión is not simply being difficult or stubborn just for the sake of it – you can tell from his eyes and his posture that a significant part of him wants to follow his friend Manolo over the bridge, And yet this much older part of him - his ancestral knowledge - keeps him rooted in place, his body caught between an ancient voice of caution and protection and the beckoning of his beloved human companion.
The past and the present are wrestling with each other over a bridge in the bodies of these two beings, the equally intense longings for collective survival and continuity grappling with the longing for personal companionship and belonging.
It’s a tension I believe most of us are playing out, with or without knowing it. We are the place where these two great longings meet; the longing for protection and security and fixity (expressed as trauma) imbued in us by our evolutionary and ancestral histories alongside the longing to integrate the new and inspiring (expressed as art); to sing with the voice of that which quivers our bellies and rattles our teeth; the impulses of creation itself striving to feel the sun upon its raw face.
Might there be a way to understand trauma and art as two different harmonic registers of the same vibrating string; their frequencies integral to the underlying structure of vibrant reality? Can we understand these pounding and throbbing rhythms of existential longing for fixity and creation as the genesis of that which manifests as our very bodies?
If you were to ask me what I hope to give voice to with this blog project, I would answer that everything I mean to express is already alive in the confluence of contemplating this moment – the triptych of the donkey, the bridge, and the human. The words that I hope will accrue here are born of many longings: Longing to abandon the old tired frame that insists that all relations be understood as a binary of power-over and victim-under. Longing for relying increasingly less on guilt, shame, blame, or annihilation as coping mechanisms for the pain that arises from trying to keep one foot back, high and dry above the wine-dark rivulets of life. Longing to increasingly live with the understanding that ancient hands and ancient lands are ever present in our days, and living as if one’s rational, individual will is perhaps not the be-all and end-all of a life lived well. Longing for works of redemption and justice that come from the full-throated singing of that which is inside us that we most push down and try to make small. Longing to gestate a space where non-human voices and collaborators are given the respect and hospitality from which - gods willing - they might share their mysteries and wisdom. Longing to build an archive of allegations, rumours, and stories that have already been shared with me, or will reveal themselves to me in their own way, in their own time and rhythm.
Welcome, reader. Let our days be filled with bridges, and streams, and both human and non-human companions who know the value of both.
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are we struggling to repair what's been done in the past, or are we negotiating the price of its integration?
Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.
And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.
And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
This post is an experiment in resourcing collective wisdom via social-media discussions. This and another few related conversations was had on my facebook wall in November of 2017. Usually, such rich discussions eventually peter out and get lost in the hard-to find backlog of old posts, the focus always being on the new and immediate. As a longing for the archiving of community wisdom and resilience, I'm making this conversation available again in this format and hope that it may serve as a resource for related research, conversations, and resilience.
Ok -- here goes.
Coming out of the richness of several conversations on here, I'm circling around an insight into two significant but different desires within social justice communities and those who want to take some form of action to engender a more just society. I'm feeling like at least a significant portion of inter-community conflicts that come up could very well stem from two very different goals, while those involved are assuming that they're working towards the exact same goal.
As always, the difference for me comes down to verbs and their etymology, which I feel often reveals the underlying relationships being advocated for or embodied by those concerned.
I see one desire or approach being that of Reparations.
The other desire or approach is that of Redemption.
I'd ask that you leave some space to not immediately go into the most popular contemporary associations of these words, like political movements in the US regarding the African slave trade, or religious/Christian undertones around redemption and sin, but to allow these words to have a life of their own and recognize that they have been around for hundreds, probably thousands of years at their roots, and that they signify two very different qualities of relationship and this is why we retain two specific words for each quality of relationship.
The etymology of reparations is clear in the word itself -- to repair, to fix, to mend. To me, this desire is already freighted with the narrative that something is broken, that something happened that shouldn't have happened, and that something needs to be done to restore that original unbrokeness or wholeness or rightness. It implies a potential for going back, for a redo, for fixing things and putting things 'right.' This gesture also implies that in seeking to repair, one knows what the reason for the brokeness is, and how to fix it, and how things 'should' be. I recognize this approach in a lot of therapy work, diagnostic models, and approaches to social justice that involve fixing society or culture. It places oneself at the centre of the narrative, as having the agency and capacity to fix things. I don't mean to shame or dismiss this desire -- I know it well in myself and it's by far the most familiar go-to impulse in the face of injustice.
The etymology of redeem is trickier...it means something like 'to buy back, to ransom, to release.' It places the emphasis on the thing, or person, or culture, or history that is being redeemed, rather than yourself. It also necessitates some form of exchange -- a transaction -- that you yourself must *give* something of yourself in order to buy back that which is to be redeemed -- you have some skin in the game, so to say. Something *must* be lost, in order to release the thing which you care about and desire to be redeemed. To me, this is also deeply relational, and intimately personal.
I feel that we have so few models of redemptive justice. And I'm wondering about the relationship between redemption and reparation -- what is the quality of grief required for one to forego a need for reparations, and to develop the capacity for redemption? It's an immense sense of dying in order to release the need for things to be fixed or set right or to happen some way other than how they already have.
I'm wondering how this knowledge and discernment in the face of conflicts or divergent tactics might support more understanding and compassion, and a recognition that people may be working for different goals, in their own way, in their own time and in their own process of development and capacity.
Thoughts, insights, feedback, comments, all are welcome as I work to untangle what this all means to me and my relationships to justice, trauma, activism and compassion.
Matthew Stillman quick thought - I love redemptive justice and all that you are conjuring around it... AND what if the earlier state that is being redeemed was broken and unjust? Transformative justice is implicitly invoked when talking about redemptive or restorative justice but it might need to be more explicit too.
Christos Galanis Matthew, your insights remind me the absurdity of restorative conservation projects along the Rio Grande in New Mexico that I was involved with for a while...the Pueblo people wanted to reintroduce tree and plant species that pre-dated European contact. The hispanics wanted to reintroduce species that predated Anglo conquest. Hunters and libertarians wanted to restore peregrine falcons that had not been seen in the area for over 100 years. Conservationists wanted to reintroduce a species of tortoise that hadn't existed in that landscape since the Pleistocene era.
My point being I suppose that all acts of memorial are in themselves political, and this is why I'm fascinated by this idea of redemption as something that can only be based in the present and in direct relationship between oneself, or a community, and the thing being redeemed in the exchange. There's some really tricky stuff around the nature and metaphysics of time and temporality in here that i won't go into right now
Dare Sohei im writing this with the intent that it will help me get clear on the transactionality of grieving:
the fundamental technique here is journeying/trance work, in relation with what the Aboriginals call the Dreaming, what i am calling The Imagination. the capitalizations are important because this is animism, and these are alive places, not some ability we own. there is no "my imagination". there is only The Imagination and i have the capacity to access it.
Access in this context is the "cure" for the 'crisis of imagination' that trauma incurs.
another important principle here is something i got from jodorowsky: "the past wants the future to make sense, but it's the future that gives meaning to the past." to me, this "explains" how mythopoeisis "works".
In trauma states, one can cognitively grasp that there are other feelings available, but one cant seem to access them "in real life".
somatics and other forms of journeying work create a Temporary Autonomous Zone where access is re-enabled.
the tricky part of birth and early childhood trauma is that we lose access early to some fundamental connection to "source" before we have a chance to really encode the skill of it.
journey work allows access to the felt sense of our "original self/selves" and also our "future self/selves" at the same time.
journey work specifically dealing with repairing the health and building good present time relations with the ancestors allows access to a felt sense of belonging, which is a core component of what i am calling Nurturance.
in my experience, it's this mega-meta-prima-state of nurturance that creates what we call resiliency.
in order for me to have felt sense access to this, i had to move through a lot of grieving, become a channel for grieving, and learn to surrender to grieving when it arises in my experience. (this is not easy because surrender and grieving are direct relationships with Death, who is an alive being)
aka the more i want to access a healed state, the more i actually have to release and let go of: my opinions, my desires, expectations, etc.
this overview isnt complete but it is a start. in closing, what i want to say is that this kind of animism, that includes sensory awareness of other kinds of beings, is radical AF to colonial thought. it literally kills it with kindness.
Christos Galanis Perhaps the grief undertaken in the face of letting go of the idea of restoring or fixing the thing you perceive as broken is in itself an essential component of the price you're willing to pay to redeem something/someone...
Jared Williams Who is we? I guess this brings up Bethany's response from the previous post thread. Is what you're alluding to agreed upon methods for redemptive, reparative or restorative ritual of sorts? Because other than throwing money at a thing it's hard for me to imagine any agreed upon method for these things that would be meaningful across any spectrum of cultures or experiences. I'm not saying all hope is lost or anything but, prior to the globalization of the past 100+ years, each and every culture had agreed upon methods for healing, punishing, cleaning, redeeming and renewing a person, a village, a spirit, a landscape and, though many of them were imperfect, they largely worked because the isolation of that culture allowed for it to be true to everyone involved.... we don't have that anymore really, and in the places that do, there's the internet, so that will soon end it. I think there might be a way I just can't see it, especially w how fast things are changing. I mean, there are hardly even agreed upon representatives of groups anymore so who even organizes a thing?? Perhaps there is a way though... I will chew.
Bruce Hooke I'd be interested to hear a bit more about how you have seen those two models coming into conflict. In the process I'm closest to right now it does seem like "reparations" is being used to mean something closer to "redemption" (based on your definitions of these terms) but I have not (yet) seen that lead to conflict.
Bruce Hooke One way to approach this would be to keep bringing it down to the present. How have the ways I live my life (including the ways I've been able to live simply because I'm white) impacted other people alive today? You can't understand this without the context of the past but the final goal is not to address some uncertain time in the past but to address the present. This means that at a certain point, when so much history has gone by that it's no longer clear how a past act impacted present people then talk of reparations is no longer relevant. For example, while the Norman Conquest clearly still shapes the character of Britain today, it's no longer possible to parse out how some people alive today benefited while others are still on the losing side. On the Native American example, again, bring it down to the present. The idea isn't to try to make things the way were when white people first arrived in North America. The idea should be to say "wow, the results of how the white invaders treated the Native Americas is still being felt today. For example, the Native Americans were commonly forced off the good land and given the worst land." What can we do to give the Native Americans a better shot at a good life today, without forcing them to give up their culture? With African-North Americans (and African-Europeans) there are all sorts of ways in which past history impacts life today. Again, bring it to the present. If you stop with "what did my ancestors do" then it doesn't work. You have to ask "what did people who like me do in the past that has given me advantages in life right now and disadvantaged other people right now?"
Bethany Reivich a 'redemption' other than of the self smells of superficiality and commerce, so yes, letting go of these attachments/delusions seems wise, but there are always more where they came from.... And again, as Jared pointed out, the 'we' business continues to be the biggest hurdle in real dialogue. Dialogue doesn't stray too far from the minuscule, and the subjective; it connects the self to bigger, but it doesn't rest there -- that's always the work. my feel of the word 'redemption' (I prefer playful word use) is a powerful collection of jumbled messes that never before came together, into the recognition of my own soul and my particular, ecstatic value and meaning in this world, and in a exalted temporality that itself "repairs" the past... so yes, that's the long work of wounding, mistakes, disorientation, weaving, etc and the recognition (made possible by an unseen, but also somehow intimate hand) of one's place and meaning, and most importantly a physiological embodiment of soul -- a physical feeling/knowing, not only an idea. Which is organic , nonlinear, and multi-layered (and basically mystical). To work with this systematically has something to do with engaging intimately on public levels, of embodying and demonstrating sensitive, subjective dialogue that enfolds itself in nuance, rather than (for ex) well meaning and altruistic white-washings or wishings of premature unity. Also the reverse, of bringing the macro into the micro -- or larger questions/dialogue into intimate life. A figurehead, a friend, or a ritual (even a mundane performative act), can catalyze individuals, similar to a sort of shaktipat or laying of hands -- the expression of deep wisdom by another awakens our own, in all its intricacies, that the precise teaching of correct jargon or etiquette special to particular cultural identities cannot. That's just an example of somatic knowing. So yes, the point is the somatic sense rights itself when all else is lost. (Part of healing is to intimately visit the avoided wound, which collectively seems deeper and deeper down ... into its inherent emptiness? i.e. relating to our own madness) And maybe it wont right itself until all, in fact, is lost (our minds,at least, probably those dont get lost til other things do though_), because until then, the intellectual, abstract continues to distract radical embodiment, collectively.... And trauma (a type of loss) without a map to get out (intellectual disorientation), is itself a very important door into that somatic knowing
Ben Spatz Just FYI
If ‘indigenizing’ education feels this good, we aren’t doing it right
Becoming Indigenous: The rise of Eastern Métis in Canada
Ben Robins Absolution: Dealing with an issue by making it go away. Resolution: Dealing with an issue by coming together.
Mandy Edwards Hmmm. Apologies if I have totally misunderstood the discussion. But have you ever heard/ read up about the practice of Ho’po’ono’ono? It’s a powerful construct used by certain communities where the tribe takes complete responsibility for the misdemeanours of ANY of its members. Regardless. They ALL reparate and there is a specific prayer that is used. Here is one link that explains it:http://upliftconnect.com/hawaiian-practice-of-forgiveness/.
I don’t know if this adds anything. After being taught by Stephen (1 class in - next one in Iceland and I can’t wait!), I am only just starting to ‘wake up’ and feel my way in such things. I’ve never had the confidence before to form my own opinions on such matters. But now I can see how important it is to start thinking and having such discussions. An ant can move a mountain one grain of mud at a time. And the only way we can influence change is by first, exploring who we are and what we stand for in this world. I thank you for this opportunity
Alisa Esposito I can only answer addressing my people and my place. There has been redemption with the burial of my husband and our dear Z and kinship made through their bodies becoming our ground. I cannot speak to social justice movements or society or global anything. I have no caring for that, I cannot bear witness to an abstraction. I have no will to attempt to repair or redeem what I have no love relationship to. I trust other humans to manage work of obligation and love where they live. I have been woven in here and I didn't ask for it, I'd say work of redemption is not a thing that can be chosen but which chooses u. Like Martin Shaw has said, it's the point at which you understand that you are being dreamt, rather than doing the dreaming.....Through my being woven in here, painfully and beautifully and actually quite forcefully, I've been redeemed and my work is intensely obligated in tending to a deep hyperlocal relationship. I've become a midwife of land and people in a real place, seen and unseen. I don't know how to translate such into a more "just world." This cannot happen thru any kind of outside regulation or application of justice measures because that takes the trust and relationship out...it happens because it grows....and because you are Told to stay put and tend.