The reason I started this blog was to share my interest in therapeutic writing. As many of you know, this focus has changed slightly but today I want to return to a topic that remains important to me: therapeutic writing and resilience. I will begin, however, with what creates the impetus, the need, to develop resilience: trauma and suffering.
Suffering happens. Trauma causes lasting, ongoing distress. Bearing witness to trauma and suffering helps us recognise, acknowledge and relieve the pain. Being resilient is understanding trauma, knowing that it results in alienation as well as dissociation from the traumatic event itself. Resilience is being aware of how trauma disconnects us from our self and our perceptions. Trauma flays friendships, undoes families and leaves us at the mercy of others; to advocate resilience is to acknowledge the struggle to comprehend or change the situation, to acknowledge that trauma makes us feel like ‘a nobody’.
Well-meaning suggestions about how to respond to trauma, and claims that our trauma is less traumatic than another’s, serve only to undermine our survival, suggest our story is not worth sharing or we haven’t ‘suffered enough’. Comments like this rob us of the ability to decide, for ourselves, the personal quality and potency of our suffering; they turn us away from resilience and back to the trauma.
Does defining trauma as
unspeakable [and thus] resistant to representation
silence us, leave us powerless to deal with or learn from the trauma? When trauma is endlessly reproduced and recycled by the media, either for entertainment or as ‘news’, are we being conditioned to accept trauma and suffering as ‘normal’? When groups of people are traumatised, do we know those groups, know individual members of the group, only by their trauma, only by their suffering?
Who benefits from labelling individuals and entire cultures, as ‘traumatised’? Who gains by robbing individuals and entire cultures of their agency, their ability to heal from trauma?
If we study and understand the impact of trauma, shouldn’t we also study and understand how to heal from trauma?
There are some who believe in
the transformative potential of trauma itself […] the possibilities of psychic regrowth
that is a possible outcome of trauma.
Art makes healing from trauma possible. Art is an act of survival. Art builds resilience.
Why art? Because nothing else is strong enough to contain the destruction of the self.
Art doesn’t theorise suffering, it engages with it. Trauma can not
properly be grasped in a purely cognitive manner … its … chaotic and meaningless character
must be encountered through writing, painting, music, drama and movement.
What of the risk? What if by ‘re-creating’ the trauma we are ‘re-traumatised’? Memory, as it is newly understood, is a process of
selection, emphasis and amplification.
Is it possible that by drawing on our memories of trauma, actively choosing how to represent our trauma, what to represent, what to amplify and what to ignore, we can regain agency? Can remodelling our trauma provide us with the means to craft our recovery and learn to take control of our lives?
Therapeutic writing builds resilience. It helps us discover our meaning of the trauma, and reject meanings imposed by others. Therapeutic writing, like any writing, is an exacting art. It needs the support of a counsellor, who is also a reasonably skilled writer, to witness and guide the process of safely remembering and reconstructing the traumatic event. It needs someone who knows that resilience is flexibility, plasticity and strength. It needs someone who understands that the story of trauma inherently contains a story of survival and the story of suffering is a story of resilience.
The views expressed here are not not meant to serve as medical advice or replace consultation with your physician or mental health professional. The information contained in this blog should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health problem. If you have experienced trauma you should consult with your medical practitioner or a qualified mental health care provider about your personal questions or concerns.
Emily Ashman, ‘Psychic Resilience in the Fragile Images of A Petal: A Post-Jungian Perspective on Retraumatisation’, in Trauma Narratives and Herstory, ed. by Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), pp. 171-187.
Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin, ‘Trauma Narratives and Herstory’ in Trauma Narratives and Herstory, ed. by Sonya Andermahr and Silvier Pellicer-Ortin (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), pp. 1-12, p. 7.
Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery from Domestic Abuse and Political Terror (London: Pandora, 2010), p. 52.
Stephen K. Levine, Poiesis: The Language and the Speech of the Soul (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 1997), p. 120.
Stephen K. Levine, Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy: The Arts and Human Suffering (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2009), pp. 38-41
Gillian Whitlock and Kate Douglas, ‘Trauma Texts: Reading Trauma in the Twenty-First Century’ in Trauma Texts ed. by Gillian Whitlock and Kate Douglas (Oxon: Routledge, 2009), pp. 1–8, (p. 1).
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