Monday, April 18, 2011

How the long term Post Traumatic undermines the Peace Process

We were laughing about a baby carriage and Annelie threw her arms out wide. It was a trigger. A flashback leaped out its biological hiding place.

It was of a young boy, the incident one of “friendly fire.” A V2 rocket, aimed at England, fell short and exploded on the house next to where Annelie lived. There was a boy. The only way to get him to the hospital through the rubble from bombings was in a baby carriage. His almost severed leg kept falling out and dragging. A man got out his pocket knife.

Annelie thinks she did not actually see the incident. Such “incidents,” however, were told grown-up to grown-up, and a small child just was there – and listened, listened, listened. The result of such a process is also an authentic flashback, simply a step, or even steps removed from the causal event.

I was first aware of this in a rather surprising way. There was a particular gruesome event involving two sheriffs’ department. When I got to the waiting room there was already a chaplain from the other department. I wanted to go right in to where some officers were interviewing victims. The chaplain held back and explained. “If I go in there, I am going to have post traumatic stuff to handle myself, just like those officers. I will be working with them later on this and I need to keep my head clear.” That man was a professional.

The term, secondary narcissism, was coined by Sigmund Freud to describe the psychological reality of boundless self love, with all its entitlements. Sometimes we do this in a joking way:
Boston, the home of the catfish and cod,
where the Lodges speak only to the Cabots,
and the Cabots speak only to God.
Sometimes peoples around the world do not speaking jokingly of Secondary Narcissism when the subject turns to American Exclusivism. Think some religious groups, for that matter.

In the same way, I believe we can extend this to the post traumatic stress disorder. It can be transmitted to others; it can be housed and reappear far removed from the causal event. We can see this happening in museums dedicated to memorializing atrocities. We have repeatedly seen how a peace process can be undermined because memories erupted out of past traumas. A sequence would be: peace talks, triggering flashbacks, stress building, anxiety arising, distrust emerging from the recesses of memory, alienation mounting. It all culminates in withdrawal.

Similarly, so often we are told that historic re-enactments are celebrations of heroic actions. Quite worthy, quite appropriate. What else, however? Can you sense underlying anxiety readily triggered? How we can tell if what we are actually seeing is a re-experiencing of the post traumatic and currently arousing stress, is when the persons involved begin exhibiting the characteristics of that Disorder: rage, alienation, withdrawal, interpersonal disruptions – you can go down the line for yourself. 

You and I are going to have to get a handle on this.

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