Traumas as Social Interactions

("He" in this text - to mean "He" or "She").

We react to serious mishaps, life altering setbacks, disasters, abuse, and death by going through the phases of grieving. Traumas are the complex outcomes of psychodynamic and biochemical processes. But the particulars of traumas depend heavily on the interaction between the victim and his social milieu.

It would seem that while the victim progresses from denial to helplessness, rage, depression and thence to acceptance of the traumatizing events - society demonstrates a diametrically opposed progression. This incompatibility, this mismatch of psychological phases is what leads to the formation and crystallization of trauma.

PHASE I

Victim phase I - DENIAL

The magnitude of such unfortunate events is often so overwhelming, their nature so alien, and their message so menacing - that denial sets in as a defence mechanism aimed at self preservation. The victim denies that the event occurred, that he or she is being abused, that a loved one passed away.

Society phase I - ACCEPTANCE, MOVING ON

The victim's nearest ("Society") - his colleagues, his employees, his clients, even his spouse, children, and friends - rarely experience the events with the same shattering intensity. They are likely to accept the bad news and move on. Even at their most considerate and empathic, they are likely to lose patience with the victim's state of mind. They tend to ignore the victim, or chastise him, to mock, or to deride his feelings or behaviour, to collude to repress the painful memories, or to trivialize them.

Summary Phase I

The mismatch between the victim's reactive patterns and emotional needs and society's matter-of-fact attitude hinders growth and healing. The victim requires society's help in avoiding a head-on confrontation with a reality he cannot digest. Instead, society serves as a constant and mentally destabilizing reminder of the root of the victim's unbearable agony (the Job syndrome).

PHASE II

Victim phase II - HELPLESSNESS

Denial gradually gives way to a sense of all-pervasive and humiliating helplessness, often accompanied by debilitating fatigue and mental disintegration. These are among the classic symptoms of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). These are the bitter results of the internalization and integration of the harsh realization that there is nothing one can do to alter the outcomes of a natural, or man-made, catastrophe. The horror in confronting one's finiteness, meaninglessness, negligibility, and powerlessness - is overpowering.

Society phase II - DEPRESSION

The more the members of society come to grips with the magnitude of the loss, or evil, or threat represented by the grief inducing events - the sadder they become. Depression is often little more than suppressed or self-directed anger. The anger, in this case, is belatedly induced by an identified or diffuse source of threat, or of evil, or loss. It is a higher level variant of the "fight or flight" reaction, tampered by the rational understanding that the "source" is often too abstract to tackle directly.

Summary Phase II

Thus, when the victim is most in need, terrified by his helplessness and adrift - society is immersed in depression and unable to provide a holding and supporting environment. Growth and healing is again retarded by social interaction. The victim's innate sense of annulment is enhanced by the self-addressed anger (=depression) of those around him.

PHASE III

Both the victim and society react with RAGE to their predicaments. In an effort to narcissistically reassert himself, the victim develops a grandiose sense of anger directed at paranoidally selected, unreal, diffuse, and abstract targets (=frustration sources). By expressing aggression, the victim re-acquires mastery of the world and of himself.

Members of society use rage to re-direct the root cause of their depression (which is, as we said, self directed anger) and to channel it safely. To ensure that this expressed aggression alleviates their depression - real targets must are selected and real punishments meted out. In this respect, "social rage" differs from the victim's. The former is intended to sublimate aggression and channel it in a socially acceptable manner - the latter to reassert narcissistic self-love as an antidote to an all-devouring sense of helplessness.

In other words, society, by itself being in a state of rage, positively enforces the narcissistic rage reactions of the grieving victim. This, in the long run, is counter-productive, inhibits personal growth, and prevents healing. It also erodes the reality test of the victim and encourages self-delusions, paranoidal ideation, and ideas of reference.

PHASE IV

Victim Phase IV - DEPRESSION

As the consequences of narcissistic rage - both social and personal - grow more unacceptable, depression sets in. The victim internalizes his aggressive impulses. Self directed rage is safer but is the cause of great sadness and even suicidal ideation. The victim's depression is a way of conforming to social norms. It is also instrumental in ridding the victim of the unhealthy residues of narcissistic regression. It is when the victim acknowledges the malignancy of his rage (and its anti-social nature) that he adopts a depressive stance.

Society Phase IV - HELPLESSNESS

People around the victim ("society") also emerge from their phase of rage transformed. As they realize the futility of their rage, they feel more and more helpless and devoid of options. They grasp their limitations and the irrelevance of their good intentions. They accept the inevitability of loss and evil and Kafkaesquely agree to live under an ominous cloud of arbitrary judgement, meted out by impersonal powers.

Summary Phase IV

Again, the members of society are unable to help the victim to emerge from a self-destructive phase. His depression is enhanced by their apparent helplessness. Their introversion and inefficacy induce in the victim a feeling of nightmarish isolation and alienation. Healing and growth are once again retarded or even inhibited.

PHASE V

Victim Phase V - ACCEPTANCE AND MOVING ON

Depression - if pathologically protracted and in conjunction with other mental health problems - sometimes leads to suicide. But more often, it allows the victim to process mentally hurtful and potentially harmful material and paves the way to acceptance. Depression is a laboratory of the psyche. Withdrawal from social pressures enables the direct transformation of anger into other emotions, some of them otherwise socially unacceptable. The honest encounter between the victim and his own (possible) death often becomes a cathartic and self-empowering inner dynamic. The victim emerges ready to move on.

Society Phase V - DENIAL

Society, on the other hand, having exhausted its reactive arsenal - resorts to denial. As memories fade and as the victim recovers and abandons his obsessive-compulsive dwelling on his pain - society feels morally justified to forget and forgive. This mood of historical revisionism, of moral leniency, of effusive forgiveness, of re-interpretation, and of a refusal to remember in detail - leads to a repression and denial of the painful events by society.

Summary Phase V

This final mismatch between the victim's emotional needs and society's reactions is less damaging to the victim. He is now more resilient, stronger, more flexible, and more willing to forgive and forget. Society's denial is really a denial of the victim. But, having ridden himself of more primitive narcissistic defences - the victim can do without society's acceptance, approval, or look. Having endured the purgatory of grieving, he has now re-acquired his self, independent of society's acknowledgement.

About The Author

Sam Vaknin is the author of Malignant Self Love - Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain - How the West Lost the East. He is a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, and eBookWeb , a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent, and the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory Bellaonline, and Suite101 .

Until recently, he served as the Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.

Visit Sam's Web site at http://samvak.tripod.com; [email protected]

In The News:

Why Psychology Matters  Psychology Today
Psychology's WEIRD Problem  Psychology Today
The Psychology of Nostalgia  Psychology Today

Nature VS Nurture - Theories of Personality in 21st Century

Nature vs Nurture theories have wasted a lot of energy... Read More

The Mind, Information, and Attitude

Information is flowing to us at a great rate. The... Read More

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Neurologically Based

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurologically based disorder. This... Read More

Traumas as Social Interactions

("He" in this text - to mean "He" or "She").We... Read More

What is the Treatment for Bipolar Disorder?

How do we treat bipolar disorder? Specifically, how do we... Read More

Insighting Human Behavior thru Gravity Wave Simulations of the Moon

Every police officer will tell you that when there is... Read More

A Look at The Brain

The endless, immeasurable brain. It does seem like more we... Read More

Fairies and Mental Health

Schizophrenics hallucinate alternate realities. People who claim to have been... Read More

Kleptomaniac Confessions

Ever felt urged to steal a piece of bubblegum from... Read More

Why Does It Seem That There Are More Children With ADHD Than Ever Before?

Even though the percentage of people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity... Read More

The Offspring of Aeolus - On the Incest Taboo

Incest is not such a clear-cut matter as it has... Read More

The Myth of Mental Illness

"You can know the name of a bird in all... Read More

Split Personality - A Myth or a Reality?

IntroductionIn this world today, there are a lot of unbelievable... Read More

The Iron Mask - The Common Sources of Personality Disorders

Do all personality disorders have a common psychodynamic source?To what... Read More

Accepting New Ideas

Much of the time when a new idea comes to... Read More

A Jungian Approach to Mental Illness

All of us suffer from some form of emotional distress... Read More

Do You Love Your Body?

Through out the course of one's life one is faced... Read More

Biometrics

ABSTRACTBiometric identification refers to identifying an individual based on his/her... Read More

Mind Over Matter - Proven

THE ACTS OF CREATION:The following quote is a review I... Read More

Parapsychology: Maximizing Effectivity Of Targeted Controlled Remote Viewing Techniques

Individuals with a solid working knowledge of Controlled Remote Viewing... Read More

The Diagnosis Myth

Although I risk dissension by doing so, I must say... Read More

What is the Theory of Multiple Intelligences? Part 1: Biological Basis

Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is based on the... Read More

What?s the Problem: Introducing Solution Focus Pt 1

Solution Focus is the brain child of Insoo Kim Berg... Read More

Subconscious Drives Make You Unhappy

Feelings and emotions are nerve impulses.The feel of paper and... Read More

What is Narcissism?

A pattern of traits and behaviours which signify infatuation and... Read More