A World Torn Apart by Trauma
Even when competing for their most basic resources—food and territory—animals typically do not kill members of their own species. So why do we humans? What has happened to propagate the large–scale killing and violence exploding around the world today?
While there are many theories of war, there is one root cause that gets overlooked, yet it is perhaps the single most important cause of the form modern warfare has taken. Human violence—man’s inhumanity to man—and its perpetuation and escalation are deeply rooted in post-traumatic stress, or unresolved trauma. In short, past encounters of violence with one another spawn a legacy of separation, prejudice and hostility. This is trauma on a large scale, fundamentally no different from that experienced by individuals.
Trauma: The Enemy Within
Let’s just review what happens when individuals are traumatized. First, their internal system will remain aroused, so they are always “on edge.” They are constantly aware of a pervading sense of danger and suspicious of everything and everyone. Not knowing why they feel that they’re in danger in turn causes fear. Their reactivity escalates, which in turn amplifies a need to identify the source of the threat. Propelled by the tremendous terror and rage that lurks just beneath the surface of their experience, they are unconsciously driven into reenactment to help regulate the ongoing escalation of arousal.
The reenactment of trauma in the form of potentially harmful behaviors is one of the strongest and enduring reactions that occurs in the wake of trauma. Once an individual has been traumatized, it is almost certain that he or she will continue to reenact parts of that experience in some way, to be drawn over and over again into situations reminiscent of the original trauma.
When that person has been traumatized by war, the implications are not only obvious, they’re frightening for all of us. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor, locked in a compelling cycle of reenactment. Imagine now an entire nation of people with a similar post-traumatic history; for example, two populations located in the same geographic region but with different religions or ethnic traditions, such as Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Burma, Kurdistan—all regions bloodied and torn apart by bitter, ancient animosities. Sadly, there is no shortage of examples of genocide, ethnic cleansing, racial hatred and war in humanity’s history.
A Revolutionary Idea: Mothers as Ambassadors of Peace
Several years ago when Dr. James Prescott first engaged in his important anthropological research on the effect of infant and child rearing practices on the prevalence (or absence) of violence in aboriginal societies, he found that the societies in which child rearing was characterized by close physical bonding and stimulation through rhythmical movement had a low incidence of violence. Conversely, the societies with diminished (or punitive) physical contact with their children showed clear tendencies towards violence in the forms of war, rape and torture. Moreover, when parents themselves are traumatized, they have difficulty imprinting their offspring with a sense of basic trust. And without that sense of trust, children are more vulnerable to later trauma.
Some exciting work inspired by Norwegian researchers uses what we know about the critical period around infancy to allow not just one individual but an entire group of people to begin transforming the trauma their past encounters have brought about. It involves infants and their mothers in an experience that generates trust and bonding before the child has completely assimilated the parents’ anxious state.
Disarmingly simple, as most brilliant ideas are, this is a somatic method that requires only a room, a few simple musical instruments and some blankets. The process works as follows: a group of mothers and infants from opposing factions are brought together. The encounter begins with this heterogeneous group of mothers and their infants taking turns teaching one another simple folk songs of their respective cultures. Holding their babies, the mothers dance while they sing the songs to their children. A facilitator uses simple instruments to enhance the rhythm in the songs. The movement, rhythm, and use of the voice in song strengthen the neurological patterns, which produce peaceful alertness and receptivity.
A magical moment occurs after the babies have been placed on the floor and are allowed to explore for themselves. Like luminous magnets the babies gleefully move toward each other, overcoming barriers of shyness as the mothers quietly support their exploration from a circle around them. The joy is so contagious that soon the mothers are smiling at each other and enjoying an experience of deep bonding with members of a community that earlier they distrusted.
That sense of mutual connection eventually and effectively spills out into the entire community as, one by one, mothers become ambassadors of peace when they share their experiences with others. Incredibly, entrenched hatreds and suspicions, the product of generations of strife, begin to weaken. And all it requires is an outside facilitator to begin the process by leading the first group.
Let The Healing Work Begin
Trauma cannot be transcended. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology which brought us here—we know this to be true. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and globally, from reenacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them. And we can only do so by addressing the problem at its roots, in our physiology.
Of course, new approaches such as the one described above are not panaceas; but they are a place to begin. They offer bright hope where political solutions alone have not worked. Now is the time to apply these healing principles and procedures on a larger scale, to heal the world.
Time and again, Somatic Experiencing® has demonstrated remarkable results in healing trauma in individuals. Somatic Experiencing® training can create another global force, one comprised of knowledgeable, compassionate foot soldiers for healing, dedicated professionals who are able and willing to wage another kind of war, one that will bring an end to violence, but through the most peaceful means imaginable. It is incumbent upon healers and health care workers, therapists, teachers and communicators to step up and lead efforts to resolve trauma now, or we will only have humanity’s epitaph to write.
How to Support War Victims with Treatment Strategies
Ray: Iraqi Vet Severe PTSD/TBI provides interested professionals with insights to how effective this technique can be to overcome severe trauma from war and fearful combat experiences. The disc condenses over five session hours into two edited hours of viewing, including features that allow you to customize the level of instruction and provide you with the additional tools necessary to implement SE® for this acutely demanding need.
In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness is Dr. Peter Levine’s most recent book. In it, he explores the interconnections between evolutionary neurophysiology, animal behavior and trauma. Based on four decades of clinical work and years of research, it demonstrates how the sensation-based approach, Somatic Experiencing®, effectively heals trauma.
Research Writings from Peter A. Levine, MD, can be reviewed by clicking Memory, Trauma and Healing.