A World of Trauma

I think if it were possible for someone to snap their fingers and cure all the post-traumatic stress in this world, things would get much, much better.  That sounds obvious, but I don’t just mean in the obvious ways.  First of all, I think many more people would be affected than just those with PTSD diagnoses, or even just those who fit all the criteria for such diagnoses.  I would be willing to bet that most of the world’s population, if not all of it, would experience some kind of relief.  After all, take all the people who’ve witnessed or been victims of violence, be it multinational war or a neighborhood gang conflict, domestic abuse or state-sponsored terrorism, civil war, child abuse or assaults related to the trafficking of drugs, weapons or other illegal products.  Take those who’ve been threatened with violence.  Take all those who’ve survived sexual assault, attempted or completed rape, or childhood sexual abuse.  Who’ve experienced natural disasters: fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, heatwaves, floods.  Take most of the people who’ve been incarcerated in jails, prisons or refugee camps, or who have addictions or eating disorders, as trauma has been shown to be nearly universal in those groups.  Take nearly everyone who’s ever been in a car accident.  Take everyone who has ever feared for their life or their bodily integrity, who has ever felt unsafe to their very core.  Granted, those groups overlap greatly, but even accounting for that, lucky is the individual who has never experienced trauma.

Working with that understanding, the next question becomes, how does all that trauma affect us as groups, nations, and societies? How has it influenced the way that we relate to each other, those we know, those we hold dear, and those we’ve never even met?  People who study the affects of trauma on individuals have noted that it can create a survivor’s mentality.  Empathy and morality are left behind as extraneous and even hindrances to protecting the self.  A basic assumption of every-man-for-himself takes hold.  This state of mind can be extremely effective in crisis situations, which is why, evolutionarily, it exists.  The problems come after the emergency is over, when individuals remain in that mode of self-protection and survival at all costs.

Knowing this and given the prevalence of trauma across the world, I would go so far as to venture to suggest that we have built entire systems, governments and institutions on this mindset.  I have to wonder if the arguably-pathological lack of empathy visible in everything from an individual’s scorn for the homeless to an international body’s protection of pharmaceutical profits over human lives can be traced back to this survivor’s mentality.  Perhaps this is naïve of me.  Perhaps the only other explanations I can see, greed, indifference and outright meanness of epic proportions, are really what’s going on.  I prefer a more optimistic view of human nature, one that says we hurt others because we have been hurt, not because we are sadists.  If for no other reason, I prefer this understanding because it allows for the possibility of something different.  The potential for change.  Looking back over the sheer quantity of trauma we as human beings have suffered and continue to suffer and impose on each other, the probability of healing looks far-fetched at best.  But at least the possibility exists.

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