Trauma and Time:
Returning to what was never left
By Richard Raubolt
Epigraph: “The wound that never heals meets the fire that never goes out. It’s a lifelong process of recovery”
I will begin this article with just a few but still awful questions that will quickly take us to the heart of what I want to consider today.
What cultures of trauma lead children to murder? What are some of the conditions that make such killing normal even applauded? What binds victims and murderers in separate yet shared dances of hell?
These questions are useful because they disrupt our moral balance and drop our veneers of civility and us into jagged holes of blindness. From here, this pale place, we again feel our tragic humanity—our capacity to harm as well as heal.
Trauma's Timeless Shadow
Trauma is always with us. We were born in it, through it, no matter how gentle or antiseptic the setting. Trauma is our first experience in the world, it is in our tissues, lungs and wrapped around our skin. Trauma is a felt experience jolting us into life; we cry out, scream and announce our presence, hopefully to a receptive audience.
If all goes well enough we survive our Kleinian fantasies and receive support for both our aloneness and attachments. We grow in-between the two; sliding into one side, then the other and back. We suffer our losses, grow independent or rather interdependent and develop some mastery and resilience. We come to know, over time, our shifting but familiar “selves“ as they, congeal into a recognizable “I.” In another context Alberto Manguel has poetically described this process, suggesting:
“So it is with our myriad identities. They change and dissolve in our eye and the eyes of others, until the moment when we are suddenly able to pronounce the word 'I'. Then they cease to be illusions, hallucinations, guesswork, and become, with astonishing conviction, an epiphany.”
With traumatic suffering of neglect, harm and soulful murderousness, a grossly distorted self- portrait and culture develops, where language further separates self from experience. The victim becomes the “other” as defined by those imposing their will and their stories of “truth”. These stories cause a corrosive hole in the psyche. The scream of life that both Winnicott and Eigen describe dies out and victims of trauma become animated ghosts in the service of wounded, terrified, indifferent or cruel figures known ironically as “care-takers”. These are adults who can insist on self-immolating love while meting out hatred through elusive attachments.
Deceit, Hatred and Killing
Sometimes it is not what traumatizing adults actually do, but rather what is inferred—a crude drama, a play of mime infuses the spirit. Accompanied by unnamed helplessness and living in a shadow world, with or without words, the traumatized become what is expected, sculpted or programmed.
To return now to one of my opening questions: How can children kill? … They are taught to by implication, experience or instruction. Some kill for survival, some because they are so shattered by life collapsing that even death loses meaning, some for a prize, a trinket, even a moment of praise (as in Five Minutes of Heaven) to fill the gnawing psychic deadness and come to be different than whom they are. Such children are soldiers for demagogues, zealots, tyrants or political psychopaths. No society, no country is immune.
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