arguing for the strength of the traumatized mind

I have found, that living under circumstances of chronic traumatization, of sustained abuse, has made me a better critical thinker and has increased my ability to understand the needs, emotions and motives of other.  But this could be a mythos created by me to make sense of my disorder and pain.  Still, I think that those who suffer chronic traumatization as children, and thus during crucial brain development, experience a different development of mental capacity.  Forced to live in a mode of hypervigilance and to consider at all moments the thoughts and motives of those perpetrating the abuse, abused children learn a sort of “double consciousness,” W.E.B. Dubois’ name for the state of mind possessed by oppressed groups:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of  others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,–an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in     one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder (The Souls of Black Folks)

Often I have felt as though those around me were seeing the world with a different set of lenses, ones which are blurry and leave images soft along the edges, whereas in my world all of the edges are hard and unyielding.  Speaking with other survivors has lead me to believe that I am not alone in this feeling.  Many of us feel that we see what others cannot.  Whether or not this is a deeper truth or a figment of the traumatized mind remains to be seen.

Judith Herman refers to a similar thought process in Trauma and Recovery, though she likens her version to George Orwell’s “doublethink” and the psychologist’s use of the word “dissociation”  According to Herman, “the dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness” (1).

“To speak publicly about one’s knowledge of atrocitites is to invite the stigma that attaches to victims” (2) I have plenty of friends from high school (middle and elementary) who do not believe that I was abused. I worked long and hard to create the appearance of a normal family, not because I wanted to be like everyone else, but because I didn’t want my abuse to be the thing that distinguished me from the crowd.  I wanted to stand out, but because of who I was not what was done to me.

Let’s take something horrible and make something good out of it.  I want to show the horror; give voice to the voiceless; but I also want to make what we have, take what we have suffered and transform it into something that gives the former meaning.  So that our sacrifices will not have been in vain.

2 thoughts

  1. Your blog is very interesting, as a trauma survivor I relate to your discussions about dual identities, language/loss of and and the hard-edged, immediate perceptions that come with the experience. Some of what happens in development as well is a selective dulling of those experiences in order to protect a child-self from incomprehensible rejection that has nothing to do with them. I’ll be checking back often …

  2. Thank you for your response, Taliba. I hope that you will check back. I am actually working on my dissertation, which discusses the use of blogging by those who have been traumatized. I would love any feedback that you could provide. Are you also a blogger? Feel free to contact me personally at my email [email protected].

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