It's wasn't that long ago in our western world that wars, crises, hunger and dictatorships were our reality. If it wasn't us who experienced it, we each know at least one or more family member that did.
"Trauma comes from the Greek word - wound."
"When thinking metaphorically on a wound it's either raw and painful and every time you touch it you experience extreme pain. Or you develop scar tissue over it and the scar tissue is hard, not very flexible, it doesn't have the capacity to grow and it doesn't have any nerves, so it doesn't feel. " Dr. Gabor Mate
In the last seven years, I've been traveling, studying, teaching and living in different countries, different cultures. The history of a place always interests me and naturally many conversations with colleagues and students led to it. But my real curiosity, that probably was born from my own family story, was on how these histories, shape us - our personalities, experience and our bodies today.
In the face of the COVID 19 and our global effort to fight it, this curiosity kept moving in me.
Observing how different cultures deal with the same situation, their resources and their pitfalls. How some kept calm and it took them a long time to react in the face of the rising numbers, while others were in high level of panic already from the beginning. How some leaders took mature charge and others avoid taking for long time any responsibility. How some come out with calming messages of solidarity and others with fears and threats. How some cultures more tend to trust and follow their leaders, while others rebel and mistrust.
And the individuals within a culture, how some trust and follow the guidelines and others doubt and feel like their leaders have some evil hidden plan. Some that this time connect them to spirituality, to faith, to the goodness and others that struggle with fears and loneliness. Some that take actions of solidarity and others that isolate themselves completely.
Some days ago in a conversation with my husband on the situation, our different perspectives popped up. Instead of crushing in with different opinions, I told him let's have a look at our histories. None of us have experienced any of these during our lives, but our parents and grandparents surely did.
My family were on two sides in the second world war, one side was Polish that fought against the invasion of the Germans and the Russian, and in the end had to run away. And the other side, was Jewish family that went through and lost many family members in the holocaust.
My husband's family lived under a dictatorship in Portugal until 1974 and lived in the time of colonies in different parts of the world.
We talked about what we know about their individual experiences under these circumstances,
How old they were? What support them to survive? What they did the day after it was over?
What life decisions they took from it? And what trases of it we can see in these societies today.
In my first year in the practitioner training in the Bodynamic system, we needed to write and share our life histories. A group of twenty plus people, when I am (34) the youngest ones and the oldest are in their 70's. Each one of us stood and talked on their ancestors lives, this experience was so strong for me at the time. I remember these days as highly charged, some people reacted with emotions, others were exhausted. It showed to me, how unconsciously these stories and experiences live in us.
Psychohistorian Howard Stein takes up the topic of collective trauma in America and imagines all the possible directions trauma can be transmitted in nations, ethnic groups, religions, and families. Traumatic transmission ferries out unacknowledged grief along multiple vectors. Stein says mourning is "short-circuited," groups become "stuck" in time, and collective solidarity is created in the process.
Transmission is the giving of a task. The next generation must grapple with the trauma, find ways of representing it and spare transmitting the experience of hell back to one's parents. A main task of transmission is to resist disassociating from the family heritage and "bring its full, tragic story into social discourse." (Fromm, xxi)
The emotional ties between a child and ancestors are essential to the development of our values. These bonds often determine the answers to myriad questions such as: “Who am I?” "Who am I to my family?” “Who can ‘we’ trust” and who are our enemies?” “What ties me to my family?” And, most importantly, “of these ties, which do I reject and which do I keep?" (Barri Belnap, 127)
How does it affect us in this time of crisis?
Times of crisis are like a boiling point, there are many stressors and everything is on a higher volume. We are forced to be more home, with ourselves, with our family, we are in a way less distracted and at the same time more triggered.
If we have a right hamstring problem that only comes out when you run, but when you walking around you never experience it so you think everything is fine. But when you start to run you realize "oh my hamstring is hurting". It was always there, but running take to this threshold, exposing it. Dr Rangan Chatterjee
Dr. Gabor Mate that is known globally for his work, he believes that any mental and physical pathology can be traced to childhood experience and how we cope with this experience, and how this experience and coping did to our physiology, the function of the genes, functioning of emotional apparatus - which makes us behave in certain ways that are either promote or protect us from illness and pain. Point in an interview he gave that we are not separated physiological organisms, we are part of a much larger role that includes our family system multigenerational we were born into and the culture we grow and function in.
"When we look at this current crisis many people react with extreme fear and panic, now fear is a natural response to a threat so there is nothing wrong with that, but the fear is not universal and shared by everyone by the same degree. People that experience some hurt during their childhood, fear is built into their nervous system, immune system and their physiology. When something happens later on in life that has a fearful connotation, that old fear gets triggered. One of the impacts of the trauma is when things happen in the present, our response reflects on past experience. In this time of crisis when people experience a lot of emotions, are these emotions were not there before and we were just busy and distracted to notice them?
It's an interesting time for people to notice the emotions that arise for them and question, I have this emotion, the crisis is new, it's a new situation. But are these emotions new or do I know them already from the inside? Let's be curious about our reactions, let's experience our bodies, if you feel this tension in your chest or belly don't distract yourself, actually pay attention to it and be curious about it, seat with it." Dr. Mate
And I add if it's hard for you - reach out for contact, ask for somebody to seat,
be attentive and curious with you.