Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thursday's Therapy - How Do We Best Cope With Severe Loss and Trauma (Part Two) ~With Dr. Mary Baures

Thursday's Therapy

How Do We Best Cope With Severe Loss and Trauma

(Part Two)

~With Dr. Mary Baures


By Dr. Mary Baures, Co-Producer and Author of Undaunted Spirits

Part Two

Last week, we closed our post with the following quote from Dr. Mary Baures:

"In my research I have found that positive transformations in the wake of trauma (tend) to take forms which are larger than the self, and which turn healing into an intersubjective process. The survivor takes a new interest in relationships, culture, society, or spirituality. In coming back from profound loss, certain coping behaviors and attitudes are of central importance..."

Today, we pick up here with the start of Dr. Baures listing and elucidating such important coping behaviors and attitudes that she believes are of central importance to our coming back from profound loss. Below are just a few items of her list, hopefully with more to follow in the coming weeks!

(Coping Behaviors to Help Us Come Back from Profound Loss:)

1. Aligning oneself with larger forces

In our emotional development, we need to consider our relationship to the community at large. Survivors especially need to find ways out of their private suffering and realize the universal aspects of their losses.

Finding a mission in the trauma converts injustice to a (life)-giving meaning, and enables us to rework the themes of the trauma. Art Chorn-Pond found a mission in helping other victims of war. His suffering taught him that human dignity must be revered; therefore, he has devoted himself to speaking for the children of war, since he found that when he needed people to speak for him, there was no one there. Max Cleland's greatest fear was that his disability would cut him off from society. As a politician, among other things, he has mastered this fear by pushing for legislation giving the handicapped access to public building.

2. Helping Others

As Erikson (1964) suggests, people need to be needed or they will be driven into too great self-absorption. Similarly, Hoffman (1993) stresses the need to strengthen our sense of belonging to the larger web of being. After living through traumatic experiences, the survivors in this film strengthened themselves through the care and compassion they gave to others. After having been hurt, they healed themselves by helping other(s) who had been hurt.

The Cuban Armando Valladares, a former political prisoner, recalls his experiences: "At times when one is treated like a beast, the only thing that saves you is knowing that somewhere, someone loves you, respects you, fights to return you to your dignity." In now being that someone for people in situations comparable to the ones they themselves have lived through, the survivors in this film create a sense of community which helps both themselves and present sufferers.

In her talk on "God and Horror," Hoffman (1993) points out how important it is for the clinician to remain present in the room and empathize with the patient when working with people who have suffered evil, or been abused by another person, because only human love can make that kind of horror bearable. Similarly, she argues that those who abuse can only do so because and when they feel that their victims are "separate."

The hurt and the humiliation these survivors went through seems to give them a deeply rooted feeling of being connected to a community and a desire to help others. Their highest aspirations apparently flow from their deepest hurts.

3. Creativity

Creativity enables us to transcend trauma by granting us access to more active means than merely hanging on, coping, or getting through. Studies show that resilient people negotiate emotionally hazardous experiences proactively, that creativity helps us convert pain and loss into something positive, helps us to process the themes of a trauma; it can give the dead a kind of posthumous life, and transforms destruction into something that can be shared. A private hurt thus becomes a universal one.

Creativity may have some fundamental relationship to separation and loss; it has been shown to help people negotiate their fear of death and loneliness. Writing, painting, and other creative activities enable us to tolerate threats to our psychic integrity. Visual art work seems to tap proverbial feelings and unspeakable violations, and certain kinds of writing, especially highly metaphorical kinds, can also express terror otherwise unspeakable.

Some psychologists, such as B. S. Skinner, have tried to show that people are inescapably molded and programmed by their environment, but creativity might be a way for them to liberate themselves from oppressive experiences and free themselves from conditioned responses. At the same time that they enrich the world and find universal aspects to their private hurts, they also enrich and expand their sense of their own selves.

Clinical studies teach us about the universality of grief reactions, but through studying creative responses, we can get a sense of the equally important uniqueness of the individual's feeling of grief. Being imaginative may be a vital part of survival; it also can be seen as a celebration of the individual, and hence, a way for her or him to struggle against the reductive assault of abuse.

Through creativity, survivors can find something new in trauma; it is a vital part of healing. In Mourning and Melancholia, Freud stressed the importance of the creation and acceptance of a new reality within which the survivor masters her or his experience. Unless trauma can be integrated in such a way, it will be repressed and relived over and over again as a contemporary experience rather than belong to the past. Such a response to loss is a closed circuit, regressive and private, whereas creative thought is an open circuit, progressive and communicative.

The research of traumatologists like Bessel van der Kolk has shown that trauma creates speechless terror. In Pet scans of survivors' brains, the left side of their brains, which is responsible for language, was revealed to be mainly inactive. This proves that telling the trauma story is a crucial part of healing, even though therapists have learned that mere talking is not enough.

The task of the survivor of trauma, then, is to evolve new inner forms of life which include the traumatic event. None of the survivors in this film clung to what Robert Lifton called the "death imprint": they acquired a special form of knowledge and inner growth from having been to and returning from the edges. They mastered trauma by establishing their lives on a new basis; creativity helped them find something new in the adversity.


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