May 16th was the International Day of Living Together in Peace and I thought this would be a timely topic to reflect on. I do not think that commenting on the state of the world is off limits for trauma researchers and therapists. I would actually reach out and make the statement that it is, in part, our responsibility to assist in researching the effects of not living together in peace, spreading the information that we have learned, and use this knowledge and wisdom to effect policy.
The ISSTD has had an interesting past. We are the world’s oldest organization dedicated to working with those traumatized individuals who, historically, have been most isolated and silenced. What we know is not something that gets discussed openly. In reality, what we witness, research and assist with is that which most ails the current human condition: interpersonal violence and relational injury. The ISSTD has been witness to the horrors of human to human harm. We have worked tirelessly in learning and examining what hurts people, what this injury does to the person and what needs to be done in order to properly heal the injury. I don’t think it is random that our Society has been attacked several times by various groups that have a vested interest in our silence. Over the last 36 years we have continued to treat individuals, couples and groups of people who have been through every type of violence one could possibly imagine and, perhaps violence many cannot imagine. We have researched what violence does to humans. We have questioned almost every possible variation of human psychological injury. Our researchers have examined the impact of violence on individuals, families and communities.
Researchers have established the reliability and validity of complex trauma and dissociation. We have consistently found the prevalence of dissociation and dissociative disorders in clinical and general populations. Our researchers have been able to help us to have a better understanding of the neurobiological impact on humans when they are hurt and not living in peace. Indeed, researchers have detected that physical and sexual violence and neglect, a passive form of violence, are the lead cause of many of the ills in society. Our researchers have discovered, with very little doubt, that being yelled at, hit, kicked, ignored, isolated, impoverished, sexually assaulted, enslaved, belittled, gaslighted, tortured, bullied, controlled or neglected create an enormous amount of damage.
Researchers have discovered that these types of interpersonal violence can lead to all sorts of physical ailments, mental illness, drug addiction and even more violence. Interpersonal violence can also cause people to become abusively greedy, to be paralyzed in life, to be harmful towards oneself, or to neglect one’s own children. Our researchers have shown how much interpersonal violence costs each individual, couple, family or community. The cost to society is enormous, not only in monetary terms, but also in lost human ingenuity, work force, community vibrance and collective vitality. Our researchers have found that when a human is fighting to stay alive it will not, at the same time, freely live.
A human being, when fighting to stay alive and/or when experiencing constant violence will naturally dedicate all of its resources to not dying. Researchers have also shown that this type of stress is very toxic and corrosive to the human. Humans fighting to not die cannot fully thrive and be alive. The human defence system cannot both defend death and foster life. Our research has shown that when a human is safe and secure they work very differently than a human who is not. Humans who are provided with fundamental basic human needs thrive in very non-selfish, non-destructive ways.
Our clinicians in turn have worked directly with the most challenging aspects of human existence. They have learned what it takes to help someone go from a life filled with terror, panic, anger and violence to a life filled with hope, joy, and self love. Our clinicians have shown that a traumatised person, when given proper care, can become someone who is resilient and vibrant. Our clinicians can teach others what it takes to heal. I would venture that most of our clinicians would say that healing is the most difficult thing a human can do. It may actually be easier to get to the moon than it would be to heal our collective wounds. But they would also be the first ones to tell you that even though it is hard, it is not impossible. They would eagerly tell you that bearing witness to a human who is healing is one of the most painful and beautiful things one can see.
Our clinicians can explain that change is very hard, but so very worth the effort. Our clinicians can also attest that when an individual, couple, or community learns the skill of regulation and healing their internal wounds, then they can thrive in ways that were not even remotely imagined. We, as a group, are leaders in the field of interpersonal violence, but we are also much more than that. We could be leaders in healing the collective injury that we all carry. We can lead in influencing policies that educate others in what we have learned. We can teach about the power of safe and secure childhoods and relationships. We can inform others of how valuable and necessary peaceful human relationships are. We can encourage donors to put money towards research projects that shine more light on what human to human harm and neglect really does to people. We can encourage others to support the ISSTD so that we can use our collective experience to continue to help change the realties of those who have been hurt.
The ISSTD has amazing knowledge about what can be done to help others change, why they should change and what makes humans happy. We know that there is an unwritten human-to-human contract of compassion, dignity and presence. These three items are so very needed in creating change. These three items are what every human thrives on. My dream is that this finally becomes implemented policy in every facet of human experiences. I am a very proud member of the ISSTD and I thank all of you for your time, energy, and tireless effort in helping make the world a more peaceful place. Keep going, keeping doing what you are doing.