Category: Social Trauma

A sketch of societal-based obstacles to transformation after trauma

In the preface to his book The Order of Things (1966/1973), Michel Foucault shared the following excerpt from an ancient Chinese encyclopedia: “… animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) …

Why do women have sexual fantasies of rape?

The United Nations describes violence against women as a “pandemic in diverse forms.”[i] Thirty-five percent of women have experienced sexual and/or physical violence, often in intimate relationships. In some nations, an unimaginable seventy percent of women have suffered sexual and/or physical violence in intimate relationships.[ii] In every country in the world, the threat of sexual and physical violence is …

The intergenerational transmission of recovery

Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (c. 1590) is a story of revenge and rape. Titus murders Tamora’s son. Tamora then has her other two sons revenge their brother’s death by raping Titus’ daughter Lavinia. Afterwards, they mutilate Lavinia, severing her tongue and hands to keep her from testifying against them. During Shakespeare’s era (and in some parts of …

“Toys of War”

In this touching and brief documentary by Andrew Berends, children in South Sudan use clay, pieces of fabric, and flowers to narrate the raid on their village that led to murder of family members and their current state of homelessness. Art is known to help heal the psychological rupture that trauma causes. For these Sudanese children, their creative ‘play’ gives expression …

Dreaming of a Safe America

The United States, perhaps like all nations and all people, is caught in unconscious, conflicting drives and denied vulnerabilities. In Dreaming Up America, historical novelist Russell Banks identified three dreams at the heart of America’s unconscious conflicts, dreams that originally drew people to America: “There was El Dorado, the City of Gold that Cortez and …

A meditation on violence against women and nature

“He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part …

The sensorimotor approach to storying trauma

Far too often, getting on with ‘everyday life’ requires suppressing the impact of traumatic stress on body, mind, and spirit. This self-imposed desensitization to one’s own suffering also lessens how empathetic we are to others’ suffering, including to their stories of trauma. Much like the Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, and blog aggregates that keep us …

Dismantling altars

A couple of years ago, I took a writing workshop with Dennis Slattery, PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Among the writing “meditations” he had us do, one was called Dismantling the Altar. As Dr. Slattery wisely noted, we have a tendency to create altars, and other “as if” edifices. Although we create altars to support or even inspire …

Need help loving humanity? How to evolve beyond “us” versus “them” thinking

Painting of the word "Love".

One of the greatest threats to humankind is our tendency to create what sociologists call in-groups and out-groups. While such distinctions contribute to group solidarity, increased safety, and a personal sense of belonging, they can also lead to the us versus them thinking that underlies humans’ greatest acts of cruelty. Each of the following precipitate from us versus them …

Capitalism exploits the body’s response to traumatic stress

Shelves of Ceramic Models of Brains

The Great Recession, like financial disasters before it, took its toll on bodies and psyches as much as it did on bank accounts and lifestyles. Suicides, family violence, stress-related diseases, and mental disorders increased during the crisis. For many, these hardships continue. Yet even during the best of times capitalism’s dependency on social hierarchies — …

Globalization: The age of psychological neoteny

Neoteny refers to when a species’ traits that are typically associated with juvenile stages of development are carried into adulthood. A common example is the Mexican salamander, or axolotl. At full maturity, the axolotl continues to look like a tadpole, which supposedly is more adaptive to its environmental niche than the adult salamander body. As the …

Want to reduce mental illness? Address trauma. Want to save the world? Address trauma.

Different explanations have been given for the increased number of people suffering from mental illness. Some have claimed the increase is the result of ever-expanding diagnostic criteria and syndromes that risk medicalizing normal emotional reactions. Others argue the increase is the result of the pharmaceutical industry financially courting the medical establishment as well as using …

History after trauma

In 2012, I saw on display at SFMOMA Sam Durant’s “History never ends, I hate to bother you”: Sadie Coles HQ gave this explanation of the piece: “The show’s title [History Never Ends, I Hate to Bother You] may furthermore be read as a sardonic refutation of Francis Fukuyama’s famous postmodern thesis ‘The End of History?’, which proposed …

Trauma nation?

Medicine is where hope is alive and well in America. During the past fifty years, due to rapid advances in microbiology, many persons who once might have died prematurely, or suffered debilitating diseases or disorders, instead enjoy productive lives, albeit often with chronic illnesses to manage. Through its near-miracle successes, the field has engendered the …

Shopping our way to extinction

We humans have been destroying environments and eradicating species throughout our history. When some of our ancestors arrived in the Americas over 10,000 years ago, they wiped out at least 70 genera of large mammals and literally millions of animals — including ground sloths, camels, wild pigs, and several species of horses. Not much seems to …

“The Why Factor”: Cultural memory and PTSD

Screen Shot of BBCs "The Why Factor."

BBC’s The Why Factor posted two short podcasts (18 minutes each) on trauma — one on cultural memories of traumatic events and the other on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “Cultural Memory” explores how societies respond collectively to traumatic memories, such as war and extreme human rights violations, which often involves silencing memories of the past as …

The impact of trauma on protecting and preserving Earth

Photo: Oak tree in grassy field.

Do you worry about the nuclear waste and bombs squirreled away in underground bunkers? And wonder what would happen if there weren’t humans constantly monitoring these stockpiles? Such questions once led me to read Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us (2007), which explores what would happen to the planet if humans suddenly disappeared. His book answers the …

A world without “narcissists”

Photo of Zeng Fanzhi's "Mask Series No. 9" (1994).

The Committee responsible for revising the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has gone back and forth in their deliberations over Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but it looks like the diagnosis will remain. Never mind their concerns. I doubt omitting narcissism from psychiatry’s Bible would curb the common practice of hurling the label at foes …

All those lingering lusty images…

Large Lizards Copulating

There’s something untoward about a married woman of my age writing about lust, let alone feeling it. I should be spending time managing my hormones rather than hot flashes of an entirely different sort. But I am here to disclose that, yes, lust continues well into middle age. And here lies the problem: lust continues …

Compassion fatigue and the fear of being a victim

What if there is something fundamental about empathy such that when we cannot act on it, we lose part of ourselves, perhaps even our humanity? What if we have unwittingly created a world in which we chip away at our capacity for empathy, and with it, one of the unique traits of humankind: the ability …

Grief following natural disasters

Since 1975, natural disasters increased by 430%. Yet percentages mean little to those whose homes, communities, and livelihoods are destroyed when monster storms like Hurricane Sandy (2012) collided with the Atlantic Seaboard. Thank goodness for volunteers, places of worship, civic-minded organizations, and professionals who plan for the unthinkable, and are there when shock and disaster …

Born to be raised

I often wonder what it would take to heal centuries of violence, oppression, complicated grief, and emotional neglect. And yet the impulse to heal, social engineer, and reform often seems symptomatic of what is traumatizing about the US and the West in general — that perpetual need to fix a broken system. We know things aren’t right with the …

Trauma’s imaginal worlds

Few people pass from birth to death without intimate knowledge of trauma’s capacity to alter the landscape of the psyche. So many experiences are traumatizing: war, rape, death, car accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes, bullying, scapegoating, incest, family violence, racism, homophobia—and this, a cursory list at best. Even if you are fortunate enough to dodge trauma, its …

Alexithymia, emotional neglect & capitalism: How are they related?

Alexithymia. Now that’s quite the word. Derived from the Ancient Greek, it means “without words for emotions,” and identifies difficulties with recognizing and naming feelings. Since emotions are central for understanding oneself and others, not being able to discern what you feel can cause distress, agitation, and anxiety — along with rocky, unsatisfying relationships. (Honestly, …

On social trauma

Every month Somatic Perspectives on Psychotherapy provides interviews with clinicians and thinkers who take a somatic approach to psychotherapy and studying the human condition. The interview below with Eric Wolterstorff focuses on social trauma, which is defined as “the impacts of threats, disasters, deprivation and violent conflict on the capacity of societies to adapt to the world, regulate …

Wired for distraction

USA Today identified 2010 as “The Year Technology Replaced Talking.” Rather than face-to-face communication, it seems a significant number of us prefer using cellphones and other wireless devices to keep in touch, even when the person we want to talk to is just a spoken word away. (93% of Americans have cellphones/wireless connections.) In her …

Responding to the aging revolution

According to author and historian Theodore Roszak, “in another generation, every industrial society will include more people above the age of fifty than below it, an unprecedented condition.” Inevitably, societies will have to change to adapt to a significant part of the population living in the advanced stages of life. However, the scenario does not …

Can the West save the world from mental illness?

When health care is inadequate to nonexistent in a country, mental health care is generally much worse. In places like sub-Saharan Africa, where treating AIDS and malaria burden an already overrun health care system, mental illness is largely ignored. Families in the poorest countries around the world sometimes resort to tying mentally ill family members …

Foretelling extinction?

Mental illness has reached epidemic proportions. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates eighteen percent of American adults suffer from a mental disorder each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) claims depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. These numbers, however, do not do justice to the burden of mental illness in our …

Trickster will have its way

I have rubbed down to nubs thoughts about my current research interest — how Jungian analytical psychology and trauma-informed psychotherapy intersect in practice and theory. How are they complimentary? Contradictory? Should one subsume the other? Which is more supportive of human experience today? I was beginning to feel stuck in the research process — and just a …