Then there is the cultural kind of trauma in which a culture traumatizes its own people. I first experienced this form of trauma when I watched the movie, “The Killing Fields,” which depicted the mass murder of millions of Cambodians by their own people. Strangely I directly experienced a sense of this type of Cultural Trauma when I witnessed the lack of response by our government to the plight of our American African American citizens devastated by Hurricane Katrina. There, right on TV, for everyone to see were our fellow citizens trapped in the flood, bodies floating unrecovered, people huddled in the stadium without water, food, clothing or shelter and The National Guard totally absent. Could it have been because most of the people were Black? I couldn’t help but believe if those people were White that the government would have moved heaven and earth to bring help to them. It was terrifying to me to see that level of racism manifest so clearly and underlying that my being Jewish, I couldn’t help but believe that in the right circumstances, as has happened so often in the past, it could have been us.
Lately I came to understand a variable of imposed cultural trauma, not by being directly involved, but rather through being exposed to it through the media. In this form of self-imposed cultural trauma the outcome is witnessed in how in certain cultures a family, community and society responds to the circumstances of when a woman is raped as if she was the criminal. I believe that culturally it is a confused and extreme form of religious orthodoxy that teaches its people to behave in this manner.
In these cultures the raped female is seen as a seductress who entices the perpetrator to the act of rape. He is the victim and she is the perpetrator. As a result, her family and the community view her as “tainted” and no longer fit to be wife/mother. In this experience the female must experiences a much greater pain than just the rape; she experiences the loss of status, loss of potential, and the accumulation of guilt and self-disgust. The trauma then is not just the rape, for the trauma of the rape in these situations is magnified by the reaction of the family and community within which she lives. The trauma then spreads like a disease as her rape isn’t viewed as an assault against a family member, but rather she has caused an assault directed at the family and the community as a result of her behavior.
I have worked hard to understand this reaction, but I am limited by my own cultural upbringing. This causes me to initially think that maybe it’s all about denial of the family and community’s responsibility to protect their women. So is it that the family and the community failure to protect her results in their feeling guilty and inadequate? Rather than accepting that responsibility for their failure to protect her and to make certain changes so that any future outcome is different, the family and community chooses to shift the blame solely to the raped female. By doing this, the female is sacrificed to protect the self-esteem of the family and the community. By removing her from the category of the good daughter to one who is shameful in effect prevents her from continued social engagement. She is viewed as having damaged the honor of her family and community and the need to kill her arises as the solution. In this way they preserve their sense of propriety by cutting off the offending member.
To me it seems to go a bit deeper and that is in the transfer of responsibility from the family and community to the female who was raped. If there are no witnesses to the rape then the female has a choice, and that is to tell no one of the assault. She can choose to keep the experience as a secret. She can choose to do this to protect her family, her community, if not herself, from shame. In this way, on the surface she can continue to live the life of the good daughter. However, the experience is traumatic and likely has deep psychological effects on her mental health as the influence of the trauma deepens in her psyche because the rape is kept secret. The hiding of the trauma, disguising it and withholding the shame from her family and the community causes her to live in denial of the experience, but all the while it subconsciously eats away at her ability to be open in her relationships with others. She has to guard the secret and she likely fears intimacy with her friends for she fears that in the experience of intimacy she may weaken and her secret would be revealed and her lack of worth would be exposed.
In secret, she hides her truth. This leads to her having to respond to the encouragement by her family to follow their cultural imperative to marry and bear children. She can’t help but to subscribe to this edict and so she accepts her parent’s decision as to whom to marry. To protect her secret she will have to fake the bleeding of a virgin and subtly have to keep her husband at an emotional distance. This distancing will confuse and hurt her husband, and in the end it may undermine the integrity of the marriage. The husband can’t help but to feel rejected and intuit the confusing lack of trust. This feeling can lead to suspicion and a feeling that she isn’t honest or loyal. Should the situation continue it could lead to threats of divorce, which also is viewed as shameful. Should he actually divorce her, it will also prove how unworthy she really is, and her self-denial of worth will be proved justified.
The consequence of this type of trap can lead to depression and if it continues unabated, to a psychotic break, or even suicide. The trauma and the critical response of the family and community forces the individual’s personality to shift in order to live out the judgment. This is the individual’s tragedy. Still, it is instructive as to other elements of trauma. One can have insight into the dynamics that shifted the personality of the family and the personality of the community to come to this position of condemning the daughter for the rape.
One might wonder what kind of experiences the family and community had been living in order to come to such a stern position. An intuitive leap would suggest that a family can also be traumatized and should the trauma be widespread enough it can effectively traumatize a given community or even a society/culture. History shows us many examples of widespread trauma, such as the Bubonic Plague in Europe during the Middle Ages, or maybe even the plagues placed on the Egyptians at the time of Moses. A whole culture may believe that they are being punished and even deserve to be punished by G-d. In societies where trauma is associated with shame, one might easily come to see that some widespread trauma must have been experienced to bring a society and culture to treat its women with such judgmental and horrific consequences. What secret(s) is the culture guarding that leads it to condemn its women for their being raped?
Insight is not always pleasant. One may see many secrets that once revealed would affect the culture’s perception of itself. Many of these secrets would unbalance society and its perception of worth and rightness. In my lifetime when the Supreme Court awarded the first election to George W. Bush while there were so many improprieties in the voting and subsequently when President Bush and his team lied about the Weapons of Mass Destruction which led to the war in Iraq, this to many was traumatic and as a result overwhelming. It was so culturally overwhelming that there was no outcry to these atrocious distortions of the values that most Americans hold dear. It was just too much and so the mass of our culture fell into denial and disenfranchisement.
It seems to me that secrets have a life force of their own and is often guarded with an illusion that protects itself. The illusion is extremely powerful and can protect itself in many subtle and also overt ways. It can easily cast any revealer of the illusion, the revealer of the secret, as a dangerous enemy. I guess that’s why Democrats who are progressive in America are cast by Religious Republican Conservatives as Bleeding Heart Liberals, people who are to be viewed weak and weepy. In earlier times these same kinds of people were cast as Communists for their concern about the poor and the working class. At the time of the Roman Empire the Loving Christians were cast into the Coliseum for kind of the same reasoning. Strange isn’t it. Of course at the commencement of our country, people who didn’t fit in and support tyrannical imperatives delivered by powerful people were cast as witches and sorcerers and burnt or drowned.
Perhaps the raped woman is revelatory, focusing light to the culture’s secret, and thus one can understand the drive to eliminate her at least in reputation from the family and community. Definitely by casting her in shame, she is diminished. The community fears, in a state of trauma induced paranoia that whoever can reveal the secret will by this act ultimately gain control. The function of the secret is to prevent access to the “Truth” and by doing so power is maintained. By attaining power through the maintenance of the secret provides a distorted sense of empowerment, the antidote to the cultural trauma and the consequences from that trauma, which is a feeling of helplessness; failure to protect her.
One can only wonder about the affects of trauma when it affects a whole culture. To me when trauma becomes a secret it will ultimately undermine the strength of the culture unless it is brought out into the light and its healing promoted. This is true of course for all social structures below it. For healing, the trauma must be acknowledged and the responsibility for it shared by all levels of society.
I feel that in how people respond to a traumatized individual determines the hold of trauma on the person’s psyche. An open, accepting, nurturing and supportive response can moderate its long-term hold so that it becomes manageable. A judgmental and punitive response deepens its hold. One can’t help but to wonder what intervention can possibly be effective thereafter if the initial response is negative, for it seems as though the longer one lives within that response, increasingly will the individual assume the negative identity. Yet, inherent within most individuals is the will to fight, to free oneself from the affect of trauma and its accompanying prison of deceit.
So, how can the hold of the trauma be broken, and the healing promoted? Maybe the hold of trauma can’t be broken or fully healed. Maybe one has to even view it as a permanent disability. In this perspective then perhaps, in the end it’s really all about just learning the skills of managing our trauma and our response to other people’s trials.
In any case then it would make sense not to attempt to get overly intimate with a traumatized person who has assumed the negative personality that was placed upon them by their family and community. Perhaps a relationship that is more distant is what is required, one that is distant enough not to excite the defense mechanism of the secret. It is a difficult position to assume for both the traumatized individual and the one who is in a social relationship with that person.
In regards to the time that I was experiencing the panic attack on the cliff, hanging on to my grip on the cliff for all I was worth, the crisis produced a life changing experience not only in reinforcing the damage of its re-occurring attack on my psyche, but surprisingly also in the manner in which I moved on with the climb to assure my survival. I can’t really say I overcame the fear, but I did make some kind of decision to go for it whatever may come. I can say that an awareness of the depths of my drive to live has been a positive outcome of this experience and in a way has contributed to my confidence that I can get through it or at least get on with living life.
In all that I’ve written I don’t really have any answers for anyone else. I definitely don’t adhere to the theorem that “If I could do it so can anyone else if only they want it enough.” I do know that when I have what I call an insight, I experiment with it in my own life and if it withstands the test of my life and supports some improvement in the manner in which I live life, then that’s what motivates me to share. It might be helpful. I sincerely hope so.
Should you wish to share your experiences with trauma or have something to add or even challenge I welcome your input. Jonathan@Outfar10.com.
Until then, as always, Peace, Love and Harmony is the Vision. To me, it’s all about learning how to live it and in this, so we need each other. I mean, what’s the point of getting there and finding one all alone, with everyone I care for being somewhere else.