Issue 11: “Trauma and Resilience”
Our responses to a traumatic event or situation are as individual as we are. Instinctively, we invent idiopathic strategies to help us absorb the shock and pain or get our minds around the unimaginable.
But rather than understanding and appreciating the creativity of these strategies, mental health professionals too often diagnose and categorize our responses as symptoms of pathology. The fact is most of us recover from trauma with tremendous resilience, relying only on the support of friends and family. And more often than not, we grow stronger for it.
This issue of Psychology Tomorrow Magazine not only presents the work of clinicians and theoreticians who expand our understanding of the transformative aspects of trauma, but also demonstrates the extraordinary strength and imagination of some who have personally experienced incidences of extreme trauma. In addition, the artists showcased in our gallery explore their own reactions to trauma through their work.
In “The Physics of Resilience” Laura Curren reviews research demonstrating that the most common reaction to post-trauma is a lack of symptoms and a healthy outcome closely resembling the individual’s state of being pre-trauma. Assessing symptoms within the construct of post-traumatic stress disorder, only 6.7% of individuals are likely to develop prolonged suffering and dysfunction after trauma.
Personally, were it not for the events surrounding September 11 documented by in “Facing Ground Zero,” I may not have found the courage to confront my deepest fears and discover the hidden emotional resources that have allowed me to navigate the post-9/11 world. Since these events, I’ve learned the value of true freedom and have come to appreciate the joy of solitude. And while I feel great compassion for those who suffered tragic personal loss, I cherish the comfort and safety I now feel in the world as a result of 9/11.
In “Hush Hush and Other Veneers,” Alexandra Dell’Amore chronicles her story of a girl who endured abuse to protect her family and who eventually shot the man her parents called “doctor.” The story shows how greed and lies kept her from being believed. Her lonely journey charts her self-effacing life from the 1940s to the present. By fearlessly exploring her past, Dell’Amore realizes the shame and guilt she embraced were never hers. “Hush Hush and Other Veneers” is a testimony to a young girl’s resilience and courage in the face of extreme abuse from a society that looked the other way– it is a story of hard-won freedom.
In “The Hair of the Dog That Bit You: Trauma’s Curious Legacy,” Monica Noelle shows how her experience with an abusive father is repeated in her relationship with a partner. “Suddenly I realized that while my father had humiliated my mother,” Noelle writes, “invaded my privacy and destroyed my personal belongings, he had never hit her. He would often brag about that, as if it were proof that his psychotic episodes were nothing more than typical marital spats. It also occurred to me that for the last six months I had minimized my partner, Sam’s, abuse by telling myself: It’s not like he hits me. When had I decided,” she asks, “that anything short of a physical beating was fair game in a relationship?”
In “The Physics of Near-Death Experiences: A Five-Phase Theory” by Maureen Venselaar, we travel across the fine line between life and death — between trauma and beauty simultaneously. “As we approach the end of life, our sensorial observation decreases, our normal consciousness fades and deep down in our physical body, at the (sub)atomic level, a fundamental process starts which releases a considerable amount of ‘exotic energy’ (i.e., light-energy/photons). I believe this special exotic energy is the foundation of another, new, pure and perfect body, as well as another kind of consciousness/awareness. With this new body (of exotic photons) we can travel through the barrier of space and time, as those who experience a NDE often report. The NDE is without a doubt a real voyage.”
Can physical movement be traumatic? As a psychoanalyst and a dancer, Velleda Ceccoli is keenly aware of the connection between mind and body, between thoughts and feeling states, and the way that each influences the other. Intense emotions, like fear, anxiety, depression, and grief, freeze the body and constrict its movements and possibilities, holding it in the grip of trauma. Through “Ann Van den Broek and the Dance of Trauma,” Ceccoli confronts us with the disturbing relationship between movement and trauma.
According to Alyssa Siegel, our individual responses to trauma are influenced by many factors: the nature of the trauma itself, its intensity, duration, and who it was perpetrated by, whether a parent, partner, stranger, culture or system. It is also deeply influenced by the capacity for resilience, the current stability of a life, and the strength of a support network. In “The Effect of Trauma on Caregivers,” Alyssa explains the secondary effects of trauma on caregivers and offers a prescription for those of us involved in order to help us ground, center, and sooth ourselves.
In her review of Scott Stossel’s “My Age of Anxiety,” Kimberly Lieu surveys Stossel’s mission to manage his anxiety through conventional and “alternative therapies” like yoga, meditation, hypnosis, massage therapy and acupuncture. Sadly for Stossel, writing “My Age of Anxiety” seems as traumatic as his anxiety itself. Intertwining scientific research, psychology, history, social theory, and (very) personal stories, Stossel attempts to uncover the roots of his anxiety and its resolution by presenting extremely compelling arguments for the two most powerful sides of the debate: psychopharmacology and cognitive-behavioral therapy, both in which he’s had extensive experience.
Conversed is an ongoing multimedia project between John Steven Cummins and Aron Fischer, “a game played by two men in love: part affirmation, part confession, and part archaeology of a dyad.” They started their project a year and a half ago as an escape: for John, so he could find some way to keep writing through the natural traumas of medical school; for Aron, as a way he could make work outside the schema imposed by his MFA program. Aron would make a piece and sometimes leave it for John to respond to in writing. No time limit was imposed, no piece was rejected, and no response was deemed too irrelevant nor too direct. The goal was play, as an antidote and that’s what they did.
When Film Director Michael Lucas learned that the President of his birth country, Vladimir Putin, had just signed into law a prohibition against any form of gay affirmative publication or advocacy, he knew he had to do something. Lucas understood that what was happening in Russia was dangerous for its capacity to inflict hate trauma on an entire culture. In Robert Frashure’s interview with Lucas, Lucas offers insights into the current state of Russian politics and the LGBT community, which intertwine in his documentary film, “The Campaign of Hate: Russia and Gay Propaganda.”
Stanley Siegel, LCSW