I watched this.
It’s a talk given to Rwandan counselors following the genocide. I found it very helpful. She repeated the element of healing which she has mentioned in other videos: talking, tears, and time. By this she means something I might put into a longer sentence, which is that we need to be able to feel our emotions while processing the trauma in a conscious way. And it doesn’t happen quickly. How long it takes depends on the support you have in the rest of your life, how much other stress you are facing, the severity and complexity of the trauma itself, and probably the internal resources and resilience you had before the trauma occurred.
It was helpful to be reminded.
She also says that healing requires three other elements: relationship, purpose and faith. Now, she is a Christian, so she speaks from that perspective, but I think generally she is talking about an ability to rebuild one’s meaning structures of the world. She’s talking here of moving more into the future, because she makes this point that trauma does not go away. You have to live alongside it. We would like to be able to forget the trauma, but our brains were designed to remember.
Well, I don’t know that I have all three, but I have been working like crazy at purpose. I was thinking about this, and also about what she says about how we experience the trauma when it is happening: we are helpless, we are devalued, we are humiliated, we are powerless and we are afraid.
I don’t know how to say this exactly, but I feel like integrating the trauma means integrating those feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, humiliation, powerlessness and fear. Which ought to mean understanding that we felt that way during the trauma, but I think it can feel like it means those feelings are permanently who we are and the thing to do is really to try to get rid of the trauma, so that we don’t need to experience those feelings again.
The thing about purpose is that it needs to take into account the trauma. It can’t ignore it. It doesn’t need to center on the trauma, but I don’t think it can be some attempt to reconstruct life exactly as it was before.
The problem with this is that it can feel that acknowledging the trauma means the badness that seems to be a part of the trauma is permanently with us. That sense of defectiveness can surface and interfere with our ability to re-engage with life again.
I think I am struggling with that. If I move forward with the life that I am working at–teaching in Country X again and supporting C, in particular–then I am acknowledging that the trauma happened and that life with the trauma is different from what my life might have been if it hadn’t.
She says also that speaking about the trauma is the opposite of what happened during the trauma. It reaffirms our value. We become subjects rather than objects. That makes a lot of sense to me, and it helps me. If I acknowledge that I felt worthless when I was trafficked, then it reaffirms that I am human being who can have feelings about things. If I had been an object, I would not remember what happened. I would not have had any feelings about it. I would not have a story to tell later. You can damage an object, but it does not feel pain. You can discard a paper cup, and it does not feel betrayed. Speaking says, “This happened to me and I matter.”
I am starting to see what was so damaging about various approaches to trauma I have been exposed to. I might have encountered them because those were my own notions to begin with or because those were the coping methods my family already used to cope with the trauma that had been passed down to them.
I did not feel I had control over the story: I did not understand it was my story to tell. I believed it needed to be the correct story and my problems were due, at least in part, due to errors in my story. In therapy, I became powerless to tell my own story in the same way I was powerless when I was traumatized to begin with. When I was victimized, I was told in one way or another: You have no value, not even enough value to feel distress about how I am treating you. In therapy, I heard (and it might have been my filter) you don’t have sufficient value to define your own experiences. I didn’t know any better. I thought this is how it was supposed to be. I had never been given the right to think or to feel or to make meaning of my own before. I assumed the therapist would look at my experiences and tell me what to think.