Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Judith Herman: quote 2

Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.

The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.


The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event. The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness, which George Orwell, one of the committed truth-tellers of our century, called “doublethink,” and which mental health professionals, searching for a calm, precise language, call “dissociation.”


Herman, Judith, M.D. Trauma and Recovery. New York: Basic, 1992, 1997: 1.

8 Comments:

Blogger Professor Zero said...

Gotcha. Am linking this one too.

a. I've had some (minor) dealings with torture victims. They, of course, have lots of reasons to be somewhat reticent, but one thing I have noticed is that they are sometimes embarrassed how they have reacted, and so on. They seem to want to assimilate the whole thing piece by piece, not all at once.

b. It amazes me, how poorly trained health professionals are, to recognize distress signs of non-physical abuse. They seem to be willing to consider virtually everything else first.

c. On (b), I only started to figure
it out myself by observing a range of different people, over time. I'll admit, it's difficult. But then, I'm not supposed to be a trained person. So, I still find (b) odd.

d. My student, who got violence against women therapy in Spain (because of being a victim--women
who have been victims there, get state supported, specialized classes on what it is, how it works, etc.),
says the therapist told her that one aspect of the phenomenon is that people claim not to recognize what is going on, although they actually do.

e. (b), (c), and (d), I suppose, must have something to do with capitalism and patriarchy. It is, I suppose, much easier to say that an individual has an attitude problem, than that the entire society needs an overhaul.

Tue Aug 08, 02:58:00 PM  
Blogger Schroeder said...

I can verify these symptoms from personal experience. Very true. I'm glad you posted this.

Tue Aug 08, 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

Professor:

a) is understandable. No matter what a victim is told, most assaults feel embarrassing, shameful. Recovery of who Herman calls "the survivors of small, hidden concentration camps created by tyrants who rule their homes" involves a lot of guilt, guilt that is parallel to but harder to get by the throat than something (abuse or torture) more "public" and "not one's fault." Trauma causes a splintering. Collage at times is the only way to represent it.

b) Though I do not agree with everything she proposes, I do think Alice Miller is right in saying some mental health professionals cannot see things b/c they are still locked in their own denial, their own repression and "hidden" trauma. Esp. childhood trauma. There's a lot of denial on the individual and social level.

d) That's called denial. It is visible and present and in your face but you cannot see it, cannot feel it, cannot perceive it enough to have agency over it.

e) Herman covers Freud's change in theory about his patients: listening to their stories, he heard how often women and girls are abused, especially sexually, and how traumatic it was and remained to them. But after a certain point, it jeopardized his views of men of means that he so respected and his views of the world--"To hold fast to his theory [that sexual abuse was the usual source of hysteria] would have been to recognize the depths of sexual oppression of women and children. The only potential source of intellectual validation and support for this position was the nascent feminist movement, which threatened Freud's cherished patriarchal values."

Abuse/torture is always top-down which requires a hierarchy. A patriarchal one does just fine. But the hierarchy of parent-child works, too.

Tue Aug 08, 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger Professor Zero said...

You know, I used to find Alice Miller's work thin, particularly the idea that, once you could see what had happened, you could free yourself. 'Just seeing, didn't free me, more must be done,' was my attitude. Now I think it was that I hadn't seen fully.

On denial (your comments in/on [b] and [d], yes. I really like your description of it, in [d].
It is visible and present and in your face but you cannot see it, cannot feel it, cannot perceive it enough to have agency over it.

Part of what has fueled my own denial in the past is embarrassment, as in [a], although I'm kind of reticent to compare myself with any of these ex-political prisoners I've met.

On Freud's change in theory, yes,
isn't it chilling? And just think, a whole psychotherapy industry grew up, based on misdiagnosis and keeping the patriarchy in place.

[Gossip: My parents both like to cite Freudian derived stuff (the later Freud, of course, after he changed his theory) to argue that I 'just imagined' everything the did. My mother is emotionally abusive, yes, but my father also is of her. She has been classified as mentally ill, but really, all of her symptoms are symptoms of abuse victims, nothing more, really. She prefers the mental illness classification, however, since that justifies her choice in staying with my father. All of this is, of course, l.o.v.e.l.y. ! ;-)]

Wed Aug 09, 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

I hear ya, Professor. Smother tells me I have a Mommie Dearest complex. My latest retort: No, I have a Mommie Dearest.

There are layers of sight, I have found. No matter how much I see, there is more. The mist has yet to fully clear.

Wed Aug 09, 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for sharing the Judith Herman quotes. I haven't read her work for a while, but learning about trauma certainly started me down a more productive path on the healing journey. BTW--I am the blogger who maintains the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse. I put up a post in response to your remarks about the damage of verbal and emotional abuse (which I totally agree with by the way). It's here: http://survivorscanthrive.blogspot.com/2006/07/many-faces-of-abuse.html. I also have a dialogue going about silencing the shame of secrecy. It's up on my blog now, if you're interested. I'd be interested in your take on it. Thanks.

Wed Aug 09, 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger G Bitch said...

Marj, I'll check it out. Once I get through Herman (and some of the issues the book's brought up), I'll have a few things to say, I think. Right now, I am processing.

Thu Aug 10, 08:01:00 AM  
Blogger credo said...

Your insight and writing is so powerful, so real, so raw.I am bashful about responding, but I am waiting on your third quote.

Thu Aug 10, 01:09:00 PM  

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