Recently, a foreign correspondent contacted me to ask what thoughts I had about the impact of the 9/11 conspiracy trials on New Yorkers. Her question invited thinking of the specific event of these trials as well as broader issues of recovery from trauma. For me, in addition to the hope that justice can be served in a just way are the issues of bearing witness and resiliency in the face of uncertainty.
Yael Danieli (2009) who has addressed the role of reparative justice for massive trauma, reminds us that while public justice is necessary for healing, true healing must always involve more than legal and political dimensions. Healing and the integration of unthinkable loss take place in all aspects of the individual (physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and psychological) and across all the social connections -couple, family, community, national and international – that he or she shares. Much as we have seen with those who have waited years for the trial of the accused when a family member has been murdered, or the courage of a rape victim willing to face a courtroom, seeking public justice, while important, is never easy. Justice served can often re-traumatize and invite more pain. It is part of the process of healing and closure – not the final answer.
Having worked with 9/11 survivors, family members of victims, firefighters, spiritual and mental health caregivers, I would say that for most the reaction to the the trial of the 9/11 conspirators will be personal and complex. The location and meaning of the trial as well as world-wide media coverage interfaces with what has unfolded for them and those they love since 9/11.
For many in New York and throughout the world, the trial of the conspirators and the public witness of accountability promise the possibility of social justice for social injury. For some New Yorkers it feels appropriate that the trial will take place on the soil where so many were killed.
Other have strong feelings against this. The revisiting of 9/11 brings for them a resurgence of the traumatic loss and horror of that day. While they have gone on despite …
One of the unique things about Thanksgiving as a holiday is that on that day most people across the country, from all ethnic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds do the same thing — they gather with others to give thanks and eat some version of turkey and the required ritual side dishes. What can be quite different, however, are the feelings of the people gathered.
Holidays are mile markers. The same predictable food and rituals that provide family cohesion and social stability become the counterpoint of how life has unfolded in planned and unplanned ways over the course of the year or years. Yes, there is always something we can give thanks for but when there has been hardship, traumatic loss, frightening diagnosis, unexpected separations – Thanksgiving can be difficult. Is there a way to face it? Maybe.
You Are Not Alone
Sometimes people who have suffered trauma feel like that are looking through a glass at a world that is preparing to enjoy a holiday they can neither feel nor be a part of. They feel a dreadful sense of estrangement from normal life. It is not uncommon. Regardless of what you see in the media or read on the greeting cards, lots of folks are carrying emotional pain on Thanksgiving. You are not alone – you are human.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
If the trauma has just occurred, one or both of you may be reeling from the event, disorganized, grieving, distracted – the last thing you have the time or energy for is the holiday. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe life is not defined by one day.
Sometimes a traumatic event has taken place near or around Thanksgiving. As a result, that day and the holiday season may become triggers for painful memories, feelings and physical stress. Such feelings may recur for many years although not with the same intensity or impact. It is very helpful for partners to validate such feelings in each other even if they may not be crying the same tears or having the same memory. Bearing witness to a partner’s feeling rarely makes …
We have discussed in earlier blogs the impact of trauma on relationships, reconsidering the anger in your relationship, communication for anger management, the impact of trauma on sexual intimacy and attempts to reclaim it.
Where Does Forgiveness Fit In?
With Couples, forgiveness implies the recognition that one has been hurt by the other, and the willingness to release the negative thoughts and feelings toward the other partner. Forgiveness is not about denial, condoning abusive behavior or remaining in a dangerous situation – it is about finding a way to go on. It is about dealing constructively with anger in a way that leaves room for a couple to keep trusting, moving and hoping.
Forgiving yourself is crucial to your own emotional well being and that of your partner. Forgiving yourself is central to forgiving others. One of the most difficult reactions that people have in the aftermath of natural and manmade disasters, war and even serious illness is shame and self-blame. Blame is associated with guilt for action or failure to act. “Why did I take the car out in the snow?” “Who lives in a place that has hurricanes?” “Who turns their back on a baby for even a moment?”
Shame is a perception of self as unworthy, damaged, unacceptable in the eyes of self or others. “How can I be an acceptable spouse if I have been raped?” “How can I be a tender lover if I spent a year as a warrior?” “What smart cop gets himself shot?” Often it is a partner’s inability to forgive self, that leaves no empathy for themself or for anyone else.
Self Forgiveness on the other hand involves an acceptance of humanness and lack of control in the face of the uncontrollable. It accepts that most people do the best they can in the unexpected moments in life. It recognizes that forgiveness of self facilitates recovery because it takes back energy from the “Could have” and “Should Have” to moving on.
Are There Some Things You Just Can’t Forgive?
Behavior that does not change and remains purposely hurtful or dangerous is behavior that no one should tolerate. Seeking help, going on …
It takes more than just showing up to reclaim or renew a good sexual relationship. Would you just show up on the dance floor to dance the tango together? Apart from the fact that you may have no interest in the tango – probably not. To really dance, you need a plan. When two people make a plan and share a goal to connect – it usually happens. Yes, at first your timing will be off, the pace may seem wrong and you will step on each others feet, but if you want to dance together you will hang in until it becomes smooth – until you know and trust each others’ moves as only partners can.
In our book, Healing Together, A Couple’s Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-traumtic Stress, the title of the chapter on reclaiming sexual intimacy is “Dancing in the Dark” because we wanted to invite couples to reclaim, renew and even reinvent their intimacy as partners. The chronic stresses of daily life as well as the assault of unexpected trauma and loss can create enough stress and distrust to make partners feel like strangers. The touch, the trust, and intimate knowing that couples can share is an invaluable emotional and physical source of transforming, healing, and renewing.
Too often couples feel that so much has happened, so much has been said or unsaid, so much time has passed that they give up on reclaiming intimacy. Some partners get stuck in the face of sudden changes and want to wait until it is the “way it was.” Many believe they have to “feel” the urge to even consider a plan.
It Is Only Too Late To Start If You Don’t Start. Often I ask people to consider that any intimate reconnection even just holding hands changes their feeling state and the state of the person they touch. It is the nonverbal validation of a connection. If they physically connect they will feel differently about who they are and the bond they share.
Embrace What Is New. In life and certainly in the aftermath of trauma, it is impossible …