Trauma and the “Resilience” of Those Who Survive It


Beginning today, my next few posts will contain entries from my philosophical journal occasioned by my reading, last summer, of the essays in recent collection,  The Unbroken Soul (see the following entry for further bibliographical information).  As usual, the entry bears the date I originally wrote it.


Friady, July 18, 2008

Started a new book, The Unbroken Soul:  Tragedy, Trauma, and Resilience (Lanham, MD:  Jason Aronson, 2008), ed. by Henri Parens, Harold P. Blum, and Salman Akhtar.  Psychiatrists/psychoanalysts focused on questions of “resilience”  –why some rebound so “well” from trauma, while others don’t.  The problem, overall, with such a focus is the same as with [Terrence] Des Pres’s [focus] in The Survivor:  An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps (Oxford University Press, 1976):  [such an approach] risks blaming the victims for not being “strong” enough to do what, for example (used in the first, introductory essay), Stephen Hawking, Christopher Reeve, or Michael J. Fox, have been able  to do in the face of trauma.

So far, however, there’s been some useful stuff.  For instance:  2nd essay, “Children in War and Their Resilience,” by Boris Cyrulnik, p. 23 (first page of the essay):  “The main challenge for a child is that a traumatizing event is embedded in his or her development personally.  Specific to human beings is that a mere representation is enough to traumatize a child:  a word of course will do it, but also an image,a gesture, a mimic, and, more particularly, a rhetoric.  The way a story is structured by the language (body and words) may convey a traumatizing effect.” So, for example, were some French children traumatized by the images of 9/11.  But, as he is very good to go on to point out, it was not the mere images as such that traumatized.  Rather:  “What traumatized these children was the emotional reactions and the degree of authenticity attributed to the images stemming from their attachment figure.”  He soon goes on:  “The starting point is in someone else’s mind, and the effect goes into the inner world of a child.  Someone’s expression of emotions is imprinted in someone else’s mind.”  What’s more, he adds:  “The child traumatized by the Manhattan attack is not empathic with victims, but he or she feels an anxiety response consistent with emotional responses of his or her surroundings.”  Then, early on the next page (24), he adds this crucial observation:  “The meaning [and therefore the trauma] is not in the fact.  It is in the affective [!!!] context of history and in the child’s relationship with significant figures.”


He draws (p. 24) a potentially useful distinction between what he calls “trauma,” which is, for example, “a broken leg, starvation”–in effect, an “event”in the ordinary sense of a datable occurrence of something “bad”–and “traumatism,” which is what one comes to  “suffer in the  representation of what happened . . . –the internal representation of a traumatizing experience–which depends on a script, like a movie without words, and a narrative, the way this event is translated into words.”

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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