Mechanisms in Trauma

Barry Hart

Eastern Mennonite University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

A: Well, I think the distinction is to have people understand what has actually happened to them emotionally, cognitively, behaviorally, spiritually, physically, and to give them some information about the reactions that they have had. We talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or reaction, well these are normal reactions to a very abnormal set of circumstances and people need to be made aware of that. It's an educational component as one thing.

Another component is giving them the space, freedom and support to vent their anger, frustration, tears and their anguish, or whatever it might be. So helping them go through a mourning and grieving process and not saying, "Well don't worry about it, just forget about it," that usually doesn't work with most people. Again there are some amazing stories about people that are able to forgive immediately but there are also not amazing stories and very troublesome stories about people who have forgiven to soon and have not been able to really deal with that cognitive, emotional, and spiritual set of feelings and reactions that they have. So we need to offer the grieving process. Referring back to what I was saying before, I think it is helpful for a lot of people and individuals and collectives if they can also start to work for justice and for peace. It's not just getting healthy for the future and that's important, but it's becoming healthy for a future where conflict is not so readily happening and escalating because people have understood how they must work for justice and peace. The process of working for justice and peace is also healing in itself.

It's not an either or situation. I believe we need to have a process in the initial stages. This differs for different individuals and groups. Initial stages of people actually integrating and working through a mourning and grieving process. Getting beyond the anger, which is a normal response. One doesn't want to say, "Don't be angry," if that's the reaction. Rather look at how the energy of anger can be prevented from turning to rage and revenge and how that can be redirected into healing and integration and to working for just causes in the future, so people will not do the same things.

We have some examples here in the United States and around the world where individuals and groups have started to work for justice and to prevent similar things from happening. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD). I mean look at the pain there but look at what they have done. They've worked organizationally to help change systems and structures to prevent these things from happening in the future. There's Mothers in Black or Women in Black that have suffered a lot of things and have really changed a number of things in their own societies. I believe that the new voice is not the individual prophetic voice, not to negate that, but a collective voice of people who have been traumatized and know the pain of trauma.

People have gone to the depths of their own humanity and they find some incredible things that I call "trauma wisdom" or being trauma wise. They are able to go to a place where there's nothing and what they find out of that darkness and that desperation is in many cases, and I would say with the help of support systems and processes that allow them to heal and integrate this trauma, they find what is important in life. They find that relationships are important and the love of their children and potentially their religion deepens. Although the opposite can happen sometimes involving religion, but through a creative process it can deepen.

A lot of things often happen in relationship to what is important in life moving from what I was doing to something that has much more meaning because I understand how precious or important life is. Taking from the different religious traditions what keeps me going is this concept in the Greek punuma or in Hebrew the ruwak, this "life force" that's in us. To take that force out of someone through killing them, but we can also take that force out of them psychologically and emotionally in different ways. To have that restored and a new wind come in to people, a new breath and understanding that life is precious and so what I want to do for my life and for life of people around me is to maintain that preciousness and to share what it means. I think that to me is what keeps me going in this field. My hope is more and more people will gain that feeling and that insight, and that will work for justice and will against structures that are violent and oppressive. Hopefully that things overtime will change, will we have conflicts and wars with us? Yes, we will, but I think we can say that we're in a era that we should have less and less and we now have the ability to negotiate more and more and find ways through these conflicts.

It doesn't seem true in today's world right now, but I believe that's really what's happening. I was really impressed when the representative from the Vatican came to President Bush and said basically, "in today's world have no need for war." Now, Catholics have a just war theory and they can find places and there are very distinct guidelines and regulations and rules about where war is justified ???And other religions as well. We come from a peace tradition within Menonitism, so we don't go there about just war. At the same time to have a representative go to a President of the major power in the world and from that background of just war theory saying this war that you're about to go into is not just; I am highly impressed by that. More and more we will start to see that we won't just say this isn't necessary, but we'll give good reasons why it's not necessary and alternatives to violent approaches.