Suggestions toward healing social trauma

Cynthia Gayle

Suggestions toward healing social trauma

By Cynthia Gayle

What is needed to deal with the trauma of this current national and world crisis? Here are some suggestions from my experience as a psychotherapist and from my current studies in sociatry (social healing).

Expression of Grief and Mourning in Community:

We know that those directly injured, families of those killed, rescue workers of all ilk, and even the souls of the dead, are all in severe trauma. Those of us watching, b/c of the technology of media, are experiencing secondary trauma.

People know how to help those directly impacted, and that those people need help and support. There are well trained disaster teams all over this country for helping those most directly effected.

For the rest of us, we need to about our feelings. It is time to put aside rhetoric. We need to have places in community settings, besides the family, to talk about our pain, fears, horror, confusion, anger...without judgment, without political debates, just expression of feeling.

Ideally, I would suggest some trained facilitators, and/or strong spiritual leaders who can help provide the container, the structure, so that it is safe and a connecting experience. But it is crucial that this is not led as group therapy. There may be resources available to refer people if they need.

This public expression of feeling I think is critical. It connects us, we experience in the moment our interconnectedness...and it facilitates healing. It can be done with neighbors, friends, work, or larger organized groups. Emotions must be expressed before we can access creative solutions. This includes our own pain as healers or activists! We must be aware of it and not let it be covered over in words or debates. We must attend to our own healing.

Spiritual Practice and Ritual:

In community, not just churches and synagogues...that will be happening. Everywhere. We must draw on and strengthen our spiritual practices for sustenance, hope and strength. We must meditate but not stick our heads in the sand (and not judge those who do stick their heads in the sand — they do b/c they cannot handle the pain).

We must draw on our spiritual wisdom and knowledge. A quote from a letter I got online, "This is the moment of your ministry". As a friend said, "This is a moment of choice for the world to choose compassion".

Allyship with Arabic and Islamic Communities:

This is essential. Diverse communities must join forces with these communities who are peace loving. Share their words of condolence and peace. Help must be given to those who cannot differentiate the perpetrators of these crimes and an indictment of these cultures and religions.

We must counteract the images and words that provoke prejudice, educate about that. But do it not with debates and with list of facts. Do it with and in relationship, with connection. Try to put the debates over Israel aside if at all possible for the moment.

If this allyship can be done successfully over the next 6 months, much will be achieved. I heard on the radio here today, an interfaith service in Seattle for "Compassion for the innocent injured, and that not more innocent be injured, either in military attacks or in prejudices and hatred". I heard of attacks on Muslims in New Zealand as well as in Seattle.

Be aware and prepared for diverse groups getting impacted with their unique traumas. I was in a small dialogue group where a Japanese born woman expressed her feelings of alienation and fear every time the phrase, "another pearl harbor" was spoken. A friend of mine born in Japanese internment camp says every time she hears that, it feels a knife in her gut. Two gay friends expressed alienation and grief b/c they are not allowed, even as HIV negative, to give blood, something people are told they could do to help. They felt disenfranchised in being able to help.

New Ways to Work with Oppression:

These are times that are ripe for further polarization. And that in itself is what we are up against. All efforts should be made to try to respond to people where they are at without polarizing them. This is the most difficult thing to achieve.

I will repeat what I wrote before from, "Strategic Interventions for Anti-Oppression" (Dr. Leticia Nieto). There are several stages of awareness of oppression both in what is called the "agent" groups and the "target" groups, in any of the "isms" that exist. (Re: Age, Disability, Religion, Ethnicity, Social Class, Sexual Orientation, Indigenous Background, National Origin, Gender).

EG, in agent groups (oppression that is systemically held in the "privileged" group), first stage is, denial that the other group has any oppression. Second, is defense against the awareness of oppression; third a minimization of the oppression; fourth, an acceptance of the reality of oppression; fifth is called adaptation and sustained awareness...this is the stage for allyship towards social change.

There is a similar set of stages for internalized oppression in "target" groups. To do effective intervention, we should try only to move a person one step up to the next stage of awareness. Otherwise the jump is too large, and people cannot bridge it, and polarization continues.

Rather than getting caught in polarizing discussions, we should be trying to identify and understand where the person is coming from and try to connect and dialogue with them. In the National Coalition Building Institute, Anti-Prejudice workshops, they teach to do intervention, we should not shame or confront someone with prejudice, but listen to their experiences and pain.

In mediation, it is taught that for the a person to move out of the stuck position, they must have both understanding and empowerment. What this means is, we need this ability to understand not just for the oppressed but for the prejudiced in order to facilitate the movement toward more awareness. This calls on new or special skills for social activists, complex skills of interpersonal relationship. It calls us to be social healers.

In sum.....we need to build interpersonal relationships, connections and identifications, in the flesh, in the moment, in interaction....emotionally, spiritually, compassionately and strategically.