Towards Healing the Shadows in our Culture
by Samvedam Randles, LMHC, Dipl. Psych.
Thomas Huebl, who has done significant healing work around Holocaust trauma in Europe and Israel, recently sent out an invitation to mental health professionals, scientists and other professionals to explore what can be done to understand and heal collective trauma.
Last month, 150 practitioners answered that call and made the journey from all over the planet (39 countries) to his Pocket Project training in Israel. They brought their knowledge, skills and resources, as well as the traumas that have impacted (and are still impacting) their countries. I was one of them. I’m now back home, and before daily routines claim all of my attention again I want to share a little of the amazing journey that I was immersed in. I feel a new level of peace within, and my understanding has been upgraded a few notches.
What is collective trauma, and why is it critical that we learn to address it?
In The Body Keeps the Score, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk explains trauma in simple language. He says that our ability to “stay present” gets hijacked by survival-related emotions and sensations when an incident overwhelms us in ways that we cannot cope with. When the event is more than we can process, we dissociate or go numb. Then, the traumatic charge lands in our physical body, where it can be reawakened by something like a smell, a sound or an image that is associated with the traumatic event, sending us back with a flashback to the traumatic experience.
What happens when trauma gets internalized on a larger scale? Collective trauma, sometimes called cultural trauma, occurs as a result of large-scale events like war, genocide, colonialism or terror attacks. The violence and shock is so overwhelming that the entire culture goes numb, disassociates, or finds other ways to create distance from the truth of it. People may survive and move on with their lives, but the actual feelings associated with the event stay frozen, unintegrated, in the cultural body.
This frozen emotion forms an underlying energy around the culture. Unconsciously, its members then see reality through a lens that is fogged up by this unresolved past. And everyone who is born into the culture thereafter simply assumes that this fogged-up picture is reality.
Most Family Constellation facilitators have experienced that moment when a Family Constellation suddenly shifts into a Cultural Constellation. The cultural trauma that impacted the client’s family at some point in history becomes so dominant in the field that it cannot be ignored. It demands to be seen, felt and integrated.
How can this be accomplished?
Who can “host,” or open to such intensity, when the emotion is so overwhelming?
Constellation Work & Collective Trauma – The Boston Marathon Bombing
These questions arose in my own practice as a Constellation facilitator after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. The Saturday after the bombing, our Boston-area Constellation Learning Group met as usual, but nothing else happened in the usual manner. Continue reading Constellations and “Collective Trauma”