Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Trauma...Part I

July 4, 2013

On the day that the United States celebrates Independence Day it seems very fitting that I write specifically about the concept of trauma and my own particular insights into it.

The following material is taken directly from the National Institute of Mental Health website:

"PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm.
The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved one or strangers.

PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of 
traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes."

When you consider the great variety of incidents that may trigger the development of PTSD it quite frankly amazes me that human beings get as much done as they do on a daily basis because each and every day you can often pick up a local newspaper and read stories featuring such unfortunate incidents.  

PTSD is also amazingly common it would appear.  Indeed, just since I began this blog and started the process of moving forward after receiving my own diagnosis I have already had two different women disclose to me that they were raped earlier in their lives.  One, a close friend, was raped when she was 17 years old.  And the other woman, the nurse practitioner I met with yesterday when visiting a cardiologist, confided to me she was raped by her brother.  She disclosed this after I spoke of my PTSD diagnosis.  Sexual violence as an expression of power distortion between the genders is all too common and it would seem it might actually increase here in the United States due to the rightward march of state policies as evidenced by increasingly restrictive measures being adopted in regards to women's reproductive health and abortion services.

While I believe the description of PTSD listed on the NIMH website is correct I do not believe that it fully captures the full extent of human suffering in the world as related to trauma.  The definition noted above tends to focus more on the experience of trauma an individual person may have.  But consider a broader perspective.

How would you describe the consequences of culture clash, namely when a much more powerful culture "discovers", interacts with and then assimilates and/or destroys another culture?  Is not the loss of your own individual and cultural identity AND the simultaneous disintegration of your people's way of life such a disturbing and overwhelming experience that it would qualify as a trauma?  I would argue yes.  But in this case the trauma affects countless people rather than a few individuals.  And history is replete with such examples both recent and otherwise.

As a man of German heritage I can refer you to German history in which the primary recent example of mass trauma is World War II and the Holocaust of the twentieth century.  The Nazis invaded much of Europe and set about to exterminate the Jews.  This was a mass trauma whose impacts still resonate today in the lives of those who were directly affected as well as their progeny.  And thus an important aspect of trauma becomes clear.  Trauma can affect whole populations.  Equally important at least is that the experience of a traumatized person has implications for immediate family and friends who perhaps were not first hand witnesses to the upsetting event.  The impact of trauma doesn't necessarily remain confined to those who directly experienced the trauma.  There is a ripple effect.

I gained insight into trauma related to what I earlier called "culture clash" when as a young man of twenty-three years of age I lived and worked on a Native American reservation in South Dakota.  I lived on the Rosebud reservation and worked with the Lakota Sioux people.  It was my first intensive experience of cross cultural immersion.  And this experience most certainly opened my eyes to the legacy of cultural destruction the Lakota people experienced when the peoples of "my" part of the world, namely Europe, came to North America, settled it and changed the lives of the indigenous peoples here forever.  It is instructive to step completely outside of your daily frame of reference by leaving your culture and living in a very different way.  In doing so you can gain fresh insight into your own culture including its gifts and pathologies.

And yet I believe the concept of trauma can be elaborated upon to describe not just human-human relations but also how humans interact with the planet Earth.  I will further elaborate upon that in an upcoming post.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!