Monday, August 15, 2011

History repeating itself: an aspect of PTSD

We were looking into one of the “shower rooms” at Dachau, a concentration camp in Bavaria now a museum. It was only a few steps from the ovens that processed Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies into ashes.

I was leading a group of doctor of ministries candidates, now a group within a group. We sorted through our feelings that night as a part of being a growth group; it did not occur to me until I began doing these blogs to wonder what others in the larger group were feeling. My feelings now are much the same as then: saddened, sickened, reverential. All of these were set in a context of the historical. Now that I am increasingly exploring the post-traumatic condition, increasingly I am wondering about what other persons touring Dachau, Buchenwald, and the many other sites were, and are, experiencing.

This past week I was reading an account of a grandchild who left her home in Israel to visit a village in the northern Romanian area. It was only one of hundreds of sites where thousands upon thousands of Jews perished in the Holocaust. At one point she stood looking up at the top porch where her grandfather was accustomed to pray; what were her feelings? Two alternatives come to mind in such experiences, only one of which is a sense of hallowed memory.

This week Annelie and I have spent some time discussing what we have come to term “secondary” PTSD. In this secondary aspect a new generation re-experiences in an immediate, intense, and emotionally overwhelming way what has been transmitted to them. History is on the verge of repeating itself rather the person learning from history. The “disorder” of PTSD becomes a lively potentiality in a totally different context.

One reads all sorts of things over the years and forgets where. One sticks to my mind in this context. In the Muslim world immediately prior to the Crusades, that culture was quite superior to the European. For the latter, it was “the Dark Ages.” After the Crusades, with its horrors heaped on top of atrocities, many mothers in the Muslim world would scare their kids into “being good” with such stories – I guess that happens in every time and place that moms will warn you that the goblins will get you if you don’t watch out. In some societies, however, only such, much more so after massacres. This suggests that a secondary post-traumatic experience can become ingrained – and such a society tending to become frozen in time, history ready to the repeat.

We are all confronted with a challenge, since we are all going to take our turn in living through some life or death trauma: do we learn and evolve from it, or doom both ourselves and our children’s children to recycling it?

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