From Daniel Mackler: “When I first became a therapist, I thought a small minority of people were traumatized — maybe 5%, maybe 10% of the population . . . And I listened to people who said they were traumatized, I listened to people who my supervisors said were traumatized, and I read a lot of books on trauma. I read books like Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery, when she talked about Vietnam combat vets [and] rape victims [and] people who were victims of severe domestic violence, and she wrote about the whole syndrome of post-traumatic stress disorder. And I listened to it and I learned from it, and I realized she was brilliant and she was right on… Except over time, I realized there is an exception to what she was writing about. And the exception was that I started realizing that everybody that I was listening to in therapy was traumatized. Everybody had experienced overwhelming and painful things.
Now some people didn’t know that, and part of the reason they didn’t know it is because they were so traumatized — and a big part of this was that trauma can make people split off from whole parts of themselves, [from] their memories and their feelings around their memory. And what I realized is a lot of people came to therapy and they wanted to talk about problems, and they had no conscious awareness or acknowledgement that they had been traumatized or they had gone through horrible things in their childhood . . . And sometimes people would even describe horrible things that happened to them in childhood and say, ‘Eh, but it didn’t really affect me, it really wasn’t that bad,’ ‘Yeah, it looks horrible on the surface, but it didn’t really bother me,’ ‘I was pretty tough, I could handle it,’ etc. Or ‘I got over it,’ or ‘I moved beyond it.’ But the more I listened to them, the more I realized they were just saying this because they were so traumatized.
And as time went on I started looking at people outside of therapy. I started looking at myself, [at] all the people that I knew in my life, my childhood friends, my family members, people I saw in the world, people I talked to, fellow therapists… and I started realizing everybody’s traumatized . . . I think this is normal in our society . . . that very little children are not acknowledged in certain ways, are emotionally abandoned in certain ways, are rejected in certain ways, are not loved unconditionally in certain ways. And for the little child, [the] little baby, [the] little infant, this is overwhelming. The problem is in society it’s considered normal. So people don’t really emotionally identify with the feelings of the child.
I mean, just look at circumcision. This was something — it’s changing now a little bit in American society — but when I was a kid, everybody was circumcised. I was circumcised. The foreskin of the penis of boys was cut off. It happened to every boy I knew as a kid. And when I was little, when I was a baby, they didn’t even use anesthesia. This is torture of a child. And yet it was normal; in many ways it’s still considered normal. People don’t seem to think it’s a horrible thing. And when I was a kid growing up I had no idea that this had even happened to me, because it was so normal. I didn’t even know that circumcision was a thing, it was just considered a social norm. And even when I figured out that I was circumcised, and that it had happened to every boy that I knew, I didn’t know emotionally what had happened to me; I didn’t know the torture that I had gone through. But this is just one example. And it happened to, well, pretty much . . . 50% of American babies for a long time, all boys.
Now what would allow people to say that this is okay? What would allow parents to let doctors do this to their children? What would allow doctors to actually be able to do this?
It’s that they themselves were traumatized. They themselves were disconnected from their own feelings. They had been so traumatized and split off in their childhoods that they considered this okay, healthy, normal. They were able to listen to all these medical rationalizations, all these things that society says, ‘Well, it’s okay, it’s good for the health of a child,’ and that justified torturing children.
. . . I use this as an example of just one thing that happens to children in our society. And people grow up and say, ‘Oh, I’m not traumatized,’ but they are, and I see the evidence for it all over the place. Look at how split-off people are in our world. Look at the wars that we have. Look at the ways that people take advantage of each other. Look at how unhappy people are, [how] depressed people are. Look at how many people feel so purposeless in their lives. Look at the divorce rates, [the] rates of break-up, [domestic] violence. Look at how people abuse their kids . . . abandon their kids, [don’t] meet their children’s needs. Look at economic disparities. These come out of trauma. Look at the way that we’re abusing our planet, abuse animals. These come from trauma. Traumatized people do these things. People who weren’t traumatized, people who don’t split off their feelings in some ways, people who aren’t disconnected from the whole range of their feelings couldn’t do these things. They couldn’t harm others, couldn’t harm the world, couldn’t harm animals, couldn’t harm their children in these ways. It wouldn’t be psychologically or emotionally possible.”
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