My first memory is from when I was three years old. I witnessed a mass shooting at my hometown mall. My mom and I hid behind a bookcase in the bookstore. Later on in my life, I would read the newspaper archives and learn that something like ten people were wounded and three killed, including a two-year-old toddler shot right through the heart. The young woman who opened fire was described as a violent schizophrenic.
* * * * *
I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 Disorder in my early 20s (I’m 33 now). I’ve experienced six instances of what might be called “psychotic episodes” in my life, each lasting from three weeks to several months. These episodes may have been the most meaningful and the most misunderstood times in my life.
These surges from the unconscious, as I prefer to call them, contain mystical elements, biblical themes and eastern spirituality. One time in a few short hours I felt I experienced life through the lens of a deep variety of spiritual, religious and psychological systems, from traditions as ancient as Taoism to modern neurobiology, tapping into knowledge that I normally don’t have access to in an intense and confusing whirlwind. Also included in these episodes is a lot of nightmarish content, including descents into hell that are too painful for me to describe or comprehend now.
In this essay, I will focus on unpacking the content related to my family and my ethnic background and history. I believe that my surges from the unconscious contain an inner wisdom and force that has a tremendous capacity to encourage the healing of intergenerational trauma. This essay explores an energy that is especially potent and accessible during these periods of unconscious spelunking.
I first met the hostile energy and its larger-than-life ability to strike fear into my heart when I was in one of these states. The energy was attached to my father. I couldn’t even be in the same room with him, I was so paralyzed with fear. This bull-like energy was going to kill me, I knew it. My father had been very critical when I was growing up, and he did chase after me and hit and yell, but this energy was so terrifying that in retrospect it seemed beyond him. But at the time, in these states, it was how I perceived him. This would continue every time I had that surge from the unconscious – absolute terror at my father and the archetypal violent force I felt he carried.
Later, in these states, I would wake up in the middle of the night and the whole environment would become this hostile energy. Sometimes it was concentrated in something in my room. Even something as insignificant and inanimate as a cereal box seemed hostile; it was as if the entire environment was out to rape me. And I lived with these states of terror in the middle of the night, although thankfully they would eventually subside after a few hours.
Recently in therapy, my therapist, with my permission, encouraged me to revisit or lightly invoke the hostile environment-as-rapist state, because I had been experiencing it again. I did, and the environment in the therapy room shifted to extremely hostile. We only stayed there for a few minutes. Later in the session, while describing a dream, I found myself getting incredibly angry, like wanting-to-flip-a-table angry. My therapist let me throw a pillow. I seldom get super angry, and this feeling felt super uncomfortable for me.
A few sessions later I was describing being mildly annoyed with someone important to me, and my therapist asked me to repeat the words, “What the fuck, [this person’s name]?” As I did that, I noticed some anger and sadness. And then suddenly I went into a dissociative fugue for almost the rest of the session – totally lost, not knowing who I was or where I was but in tandem, having a light grip on reality.
When I described the session to my psychiatrist, she said it was indicative of suppressed rage, and indeed that night I had tried tapping into the anger around the person I was annoyed with. To my surprise and some horror, my face had started contorting into the most grotesque, angry expressions I had ever seen. My body was contorting too, so much so that I bruised my ribs. I was watching this happen on my computer’s live photo program. I couldn’t shout because I was at home with roommates, but I know if I had it would have been blood-curdling.
And I started talking about rape. When I did this, I felt a deep resonance with the mass rapes of women in Bangladesh during the war of 1971. This was not the first time that I felt I was experiencing, expressing and somatically processing rage, hurt and trauma associated with the war. 1971 was a genocidal time in Bangladesh, a time of mass rapes and murders. Over one million people were slaughtered. The 2011 Time Magazine article, Forty Years After Its Bloody Independence, Bangladesh Looks to Its Past to Redeem Its Future, recounts: “This was a past that could not be buried, at least not in a country where virtually every household can offer tales of parents lost or disappeared, sisters raped and children murdered.” My parents had come of age during this war.
The first time I got more information on the origins of the violent, hostile force was during one of my states. I had a vision where I saw all my ancestors from what seemed like the beginning of civilization, lining up back to back in rapid succession. Then I saw my mother and father laying in bed before I was conceived, and my father whispered to my mother, “What do I do with the pain that happened in Bangladesh?”
The vision then fast-forwarded to when I was a young child. My father took on that violent energy in the vision, and I stayed in a state of terror, knowing of this force’s impending desire to rape and kill me. My father is one of my role models, and he taught me so much – if not emotionally available all the time, he’s mentor-like and wise. This energy, I realized, was not my father. It did impact him, causing him to have a violent temper towards his two young children, but that energy was coming from the genocide. My father’s family was homeless for a year during that period in Bangladesh. His house was raided, and his family was lined up by a rifle squad but spared. My mother lost her grandfather, an altruistic doctor who she was very close to. He was shot and killed by the West Pakistani army.
I realized that I have the capacity to transmute this energy – to help it become embodied and move through me, so that it’s transformed in small bits. It happened that time with the contorted rageful faces and body postures. It is not easy to transmute this energy. Sometimes I think it takes people over. It is really hard work, with the added difficulty of being labeled crazy and pushed into the mental health system.
Another time that I felt I transmuted the energy was at a cafe called Borderlands (which I also personally associated with Bangladeshi civil war and the genocide, partly because of the name). The vendor outside had gifted me a little orange tourmaline crystal. At the cafe, I had this inexplicable desire to break it. Of course I couldn’t because it’s a hard stone, but I tried, and then I started shaking all over. My friend who was with me advised me to stop. When I got home, I tried it again and an earthquake went through me. It felt like a release of trauma, and afterward I cried and cried. I cried for my mom, who had lost her grandfather, and then I made a photo collage about her and her strength. Powerful forces and emotions coursed through me around this, and I felt calm, refreshed and even invigorated afterward.
Exploring these surges from the unconscious and the meaning of the violent energy, and even inviting it into a therapeutic setting, has allowed me to release trauma that has been stored in my body – and to energetically release trauma that has been stored in my family unit. These processes are akin to the practice of Somatic Experiencing developed by Peter Levine, which facilitates the release of energy and instinctual survival reactions stored in the body by allowing the body to involuntarily shake and tremble (for more about Somatic Experiencing, see: http://www.traumahealing.org/about-se.php).
After going through these processes of exploring and releasing energy, I noticed deep shifts in my family’s interaction patterns. My father and I had been distant for a long time, but connected to these releases and explorations of the violent energy, we started connecting and communicating on a very deep level – at a synchronicity level. I am a believer in animal spirit guides, and I believe that spirit animals come to me to teach me things. My father, an amateur photographer, uncannily started sending me his own photographs of the animals I felt called by, with the exact timing of when the specific animal or insect was calling me, without me ever mentioning any animals or insects to him. I was blown away by the strength of connection we started experiencing – connection on a deep psyche level.
Our connection is continuing to smooth out at multiple levels. And a similar deepening of communication and connection is happening with my mom. My family is entering a deep healing process, and I believe this is partially a result of the therapeutic, self-reflective exploration and holding of the violent energy that had permeated my episodes. By allowing the intense, violent anger to flow first through my father as a larger-than-life, numinous force during my episodes; to the environment as a violent threat; to violence and anger coursing through my body; to the release and realization of the connection with the intergenerational trauma that is present within my personal history; and finally to the telling of the story using self-reflection, mindfulness, and a curious and compassionate therapist and psychiatrist, I believe that historical trauma can be transmuted and lead to incredible healing for the person going through the process, and consequently their family.
I thank my ancestors and the sacred feminine creative source for aiding me along this journey. And I thank my friends and family. Sylvia, the woman who opened fire at the mall, I learned had been sexually molested by her grandfather. She was dealing with a hostile force too. One that had attacked her when she was a vulnerable child.
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I’m glad you’ve been able to work through the pure evil associated with war and rape. I, too, was misdiagnosed as “bipolar,” just after my country was attacked on 9.11.2001, and based upon lies from alleged child molesters, and their pastor friend, who’d denied my other child a baptism on the morning of 9.11. Then psychiatrists created “psychosis,” via something known as anticholinergic toxidrome. This drug induced “psychosis” resulted in my having the “voices” of the alleged child abusers in my head, bragging about the child abuse, and the fact they’d gotten away with murdering their own first born son. The pure evil of the child molester “voice” was so intense, it literally made me physically ill when that psychotomimetic “voice” appeared, so I can relate to your experience.
I was eventually weaned off the toxic drug cocktails, resulting in a drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychosis.” This so called “psychosis” was quite the opposite of the drug induced one, however. It was filled with love and a “connecting and communicating on a very deep level – at a synchronicity level,” seemingly with many people. I would drive around, trying to mentally come to grips with the medical and religious betrayal with which I’d experienced, and music lyrics on the radio reminded me of friends and teachers from my youth who wanted to help me heal. Even the vanity plates on perfect stranger’s cars seemed to coordinate with my thoughts and the music. It was as if the subconscious and conscious worlds were meshing together in perfect harmony, and all I encountered wanted to help me heal.
It is a tremendous shame psychiatrists defame and drug people for disgust at war and rape, since such disgust is warranted, and not “bipolar.” It is a tremendous shame psychiatrists drug people for belief in God and the Holy Spirit, since I now believe it is within the Spirit that we are all connected. And many online now do seem to feel 9.11 was the beginning of a spiritual awakening, a move towards a collective oneness of humanity. Let’s hope and pray such a spiritual awakening can help to end the wars and violence.
Thanks for sharing your story, Naas, and I’m sorry you and your family experienced such evil.
Hi Someone Else,
Thank you for sharing some of your story. I too was affected by 9.11.2001. I was involuntarily hospitalized for the first time, for a pretty intense depression that arrived around that time. I’m sorry about the pain caused by the child molesters and the pastor as well and the damage caused by drugging. Your healing experience with the synchronicity, love, and harmony sounds beautiful.
Thank you again, so much.
With much gratitude,
I am very grateful for and moved by your experiences and insights into the roles of ‘transgenerational trauma”.
It took me more than twenty years, of diverse therapies that would just not work, so that I found myself driven by necessity to explore family HIStory. Not my experiences of interpersonal aggressions, punishments, rejections (lost in a maze of hostile energies scenarios), but to reject all the ‘disordered personality’ figures that psych modern sciences offered to characterize ‘the perpetrator/s’ and the ‘victim/s’ (in my family).
None of any of the psycho-diagnostic ‘disordered/disturbed selfs’ made any sense with regards to
a/ my family members as personalities, who were else, more, deeper than any of their potential psychological ‘vignette’- disorder characters;
and to b/ what had been fuelling so uncontrollably and aggressively, but consistently, the mistreatments and misperceptions that disrupted ‘everything’ within my family and the wider social reality – any possibility of shared meaning making.
I turned, driven by a need to understand that something human must have happened in the ‘traumatisations’ (aggressions, rejections, negations of mental and emotional lived experience) where all got undermined and blown to pieces…
After more than 20 years of ‘failed therapeis and psychiatrisations’ to the never to be spoken about earlier lives of my parent(s): lives and social realities I had never known. T
he lives of ‘Kriegskinder’, the children of WW2. It was a historical journey through photographs and some historical documentaries, as my parents are dead for many years. I visited and reimagined the historical world and experiences of a child in the war, within the bombings of German cities. Of a child sent away to strangers on the countryside, where it was to survive, but haunted by fears of mum and dad, sibling or friends being killed in the terrible city bombings of WW2. Of a child who would go to primary school between the ruins, the invisible shadows of the dead ones buried in the huge piles of ruins where up to 70%, 80% of houses in some big cities had been bombed away, and the ghosts of the bodies in the ruins.
It took me 25 years, after my so called ‘first psychotic break’ in my early twenties, to empathically imagine the horrors of a war-bombing child, and to be able to hold out my tortured souls hand to a fellow haunted boy that my father may have once been. If anything, it was the totalitarian horrors and brutalities of WW2 and the empathic resurrection of the child I had never known in my father, that created a REAL socio-historical and ‘contextualised’ meaning behind his aggressive, punishing, rejecting, negating ‘decision making’ behaviours.
The child’s untold experiences of WW2 was something that no psychological scenarios of distorted persons/ psychologically faulty character structures and dynamics had never touched upon.
The near a century old psycho-diagnostic theatre of obsessed, defective, driven by latent paranoia or overt hateful, self-defensive narcissism… mad or bad ‘disordered’ individuals – now seems like the nightmare of misguided psych sciences in the service of manipulation of ‘selfs’ to me. Psych sciences as technology and white middle classes manipulative games with ‘historical and social victims’ using movie-like fabrication of mad and bad characters.
This modern scientism has totally illegimitised what had been seen as constitutive of human civilisations over eons: historical totalities, socio-historical values and contentious meaning-structures that people inherit, enact, are educated by as socially-positioned adult person (not a self!) with ancestral and social responsibilities in. What has happened over the 20th century, in particular, in addition to ever more horrifying war slaughters for trans-national economic, imperialist classes interests to declare history dead, and make an understanding of ‘man’ as a psychological actor (and victim) a scientific and popular reality?!
Important questions arise from an ongoing learning quest through the mazes of historical realities with their wars, imperialisms, celebrations and silencing, negating of the victims (his/stories and realities) on a historical scale.
I am deeply moved and immensely grateful to your account of socio-historical atrocities people survived before they became adults/parents … and that in my view opens, like my work, the door to the re-acknowledgement of the socio-historical powers that shape historical-cultural experience, and the expansive, circular, dialectic mental and psychic realities we experience.
These, in my opinion, need be ”re-settled” into the socio-historical and structurally situated forces of cultural meaning making, not as individual endeavour of self-determination in an a-historical market-world; but as a trans-historical and collective task of making us historical subjects, aware of their collective practices and their socio-historical ‘power, privilege and oppression’ transformed in the present; to become fully humanised in the sense of per example Paolo Freire, or historico-politically Hannah Arendt (also her ‘banality of evil’).
Looking forward to reading more from you, Naas, and from like minded socio-historically engaged, critical social psychologists, and in particular, from survivors of socio-historical oppressions reaching into the present.
With kind regards
Apologies, I meant to type, dear Naas,
Thank you. That is really brilliant. The amount of thoughtfulness, dedication, and work that you put into understanding the sociohistorical context, especially when clinicians totally missed the boat, is really admirable. Thank you for sharing about the Kriegskinder. These stories need to be told.
I appreciated your article. It makes me think about how experiences that seem terrifying and destructive, such as some of the blind rage you felt, can actually be healing if we touch on them but don’t let them totally take us over. If we just suppress such experiences or see them as sick we can never make the kind of deep progress that you document.
Thanks Ron, for your support and understanding. It does feel the deep progress to me, thank you for using those words.
Thank you Naas for sharing your story. I found it very moving and thought -provoking.
Many thanks for reading, and posting your reaction. 🙂
Synchronistically, this article, addressing the mass shooting I witnessed in Springfield, PA (funny, right- the name is like “Anytown, PA”) was published on the date (Oct 30), exactly 30 years after the shooting.
Sylvia Seegrist, the person who committed the shootings, in prison, commented in the past, “Every time Oct. 30 rolls around, I have a hard time that day. I have a hard time not crying. . . . The idea that I hurt people . . . it’s hard to describe,” said Seegrist. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/…/1991079187_1_seegrist-pa…
“For the first few years of Seegrist’s life, such violence would have seemed unimaginable. She had been a bright, happy child until about age 13, when something went terribly wrong. Her mother said the decline started after the girl said her grandfather had molested her.” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/justice-story/ms-rambo-kill-spree-article-1.1211691
let’s please look at the impacts of childhood sexual abuse and other forms of adversity on children’s psychological health (see Professor John Read’s work on Childhood Adversity and psychosis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6do5bkUEys), and ways to help these children, before we start force medicating people in their homes to prevent mass shootings.
please contact your congresspeople to oppose the Murphy Bill HR 2646.
i apologize for the broken link.
here is the proper link
Thanks for sharing such important work. Your story is a testament to how health/care can once again embrace real learning and thought through the study of mind and soul. You give me hope for the future.
Thank you, Tim! I wanted to share that my current therapist and psychiatrist have both been invaluable in my healing process. My therapist is trained in processwork, and my psychiatrist practices integrative medicine- she’s transpersonal, jungian, and has training in chinese medicine. It took me 14 years, and switching coasts, to finally find the right psychiatrist, but i found her.
Glad to hear it. Yes, certain professionals have been keys to my healing as well.
i wanted to clarify something. i think and feel that the help my therapist gave me in getting in touch with my anger- an emotion that had been shut down for years because of a difficult childhood environment and because of the hurtful way i had been treated by mental health institutions and higher education (my alma mater, Yale University), because of my diagnosis- it helped me get in touch with the larger anger of the collective suffering of my people of Bangladesh, my larger family.
i believe trauma, including intergenerational trauma, can also be transmuted through art.
Please send your blessings, support, and good vibes to Spiritual Emergence and Other Extraordinary Experiences’ theater performance project, Holding the Shadow: Experiences of Spiritual Emergency, funded by MHSA and debuting in April at CIIS and in May at Stagewerx in the Mission District, San Francisco.
Many thanks for writing this article!
What you are calling “intergenerational trauma,” to me, seems to be the correct offset to “genetic propensities” towards mental illness.
Are you familiar with the work of Gabor Mate? He has the same idea but calls it “cultural transmission.”
I believe that my “paranoid schizophrenia” came this way, too. My dad was too busy working to attend to me while a youth, accept for severe discipline. His father was the same for him. I don’t know how many generations back this goes, but would not be surprised to find it going way back.
One of the ways I was able to break a series of relapses and hospitalizations was to finally obtain a great therapist. After a couple of family sessions, she told me that my family was diseased and that I was the family member displaying the symptoms. This made me feel better.
Hi Don. Hope you are doing well- and apologies for such a late late reply!
Yes, I was lucky to attend one of Gabor Mate’s talks and have read some parts of his books. I will have to learn more about his theory of cultural transmission. I’m glad you found a clinician who validated your experience- and I am sorry you and the previous generations of your family suffered this way and passed on the suffering to you in an unhealthy way. People go through so much in life in every generation! It’s awful that we don’t have the care and community we all need!
Hi everyone! Thank you for reading my essay. I’m attaching a link to my piece from my collaborative theatre production ‘Holding the Shadow: Experiences of Spiritual Emergency’. My skit is an extension of this essay. Unfortunately the camera died partway through my piece- but you can view the first part! You can see some of the other vignettes from Holding the Shadow on YouTube as well.
Parallel’s naas’s story
To find out more about the San Francisco New Moon in Taurus, May 6 production visit http://www.spiritualemergenceciis.weebly.com/holding-the-shadow
I hope to continue with the Holding the Shadow Theatre Project in Philadelphia with new stories. Looking for funding! 😉