Healing from the trauma of injustice and dehumanization

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It is a unique trauma when it is inflicted upon one human by another, or by another group of humans. It can be particularly devastating when a human being is violated by others of the same species. And we are pretty much singularly unique as a species in terms of perpetrating evil and conducting heinous acts with no other purpose other than dehumanization.

Now, make no mistake, non-human beings kill and maim, they inflict pain and suffering, within and across species boundaries. But they do so almost always because they feel their own survival is at stake. They do so to eat, to protect themselves and their loved ones, to drive away fear and shock at perceived threats, to consolidate space for their ongoing survival.

Only humans perpetrate acts of actual evil.

And the resulting trauma cuts especially deep.

Rape. Murder. Abuse. Humiliation. Torture. Brutality. Heartlessness. Cruel authoritarianism. Misogyny. Mass violence. And countless other forms of anthropocentric evil; countless other types of vile dehumanization; countless other ways humans have learnt to inflict suffering upon each other and upon our non-human family.

The resulting trauma lasts a lifetime.

The pain and hurt is even tougher to deal with if we feel like justice, however we might define it, has not been served. Maybe the criminal justice system failed you (again), maybe the person who traumatized you cannot be brought to justice because they have disappeared, maybe you lost someone to an unresolved murder or disappearance, maybe you moved from one part of the world to another in order to escape said trauma without any hope of justice, maybe your perpetrators have gotten away with heinous violence because of society or politics, maybe an occupying army or police force brutalized you and the structures of power prevented you from getting justice, maybe it’s family abuse and violence from your distant past that you relive again and again, maybe it’s trauma you experienced as a child, or maybe it’s one the innumerable other ways human beings inflict injustice and cruelty upon other humans, without justice or resolution ever coming in this life time of ours.

Considering how few of these incidents of trauma come to light and how most forms of “justice” are in the hands of some of the most unjust, traumatizing institutions this world has ever seen, such as the authoritarian state and its armed mercenaries, it’s safe to say that the overwhelming majority of trauma inflicted by humans upon other humans does not see true justice being served.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot heal. It doesn’t mean we cannot liberate ourselves. And it certainly doesn’t mean that your trauma has defeated you.

This piece is aimed at taking a step towards healing and liberating oneself from such trauma.

You and I.

Together.

In solidarity with one another.

It will take time, this healing. It will take the rest of our lives in fact. It is painful and frustrating, with steps taken forward and backward (just make sure the number of steps taken forward outnumber the ones taken backward and you’ll be fine). None of the points made in this article are meant to be panacea-like, all-encompassing, quick fix solutions. They are merely thoughts and suggestions based on my work as an anti-oppressive therapist, and, more importantly, someone who is deeply invested in the healing and liberation of his loved ones, his friends, his family, and his community. There is a long and ultimately liberating journey ahead of us to heal from the traumas inflicted upon us by other human beings. Please know that I truly do want to embark on this journey with you. And I’m not just saying this as some ethereal platitude. Email me with any questions or thoughts, or even just to vent (sriram.writing@gmail.com), and I promise I will respond with as much support, strength, and solidarity as I can, so you know that you are not alone in this journey and never will be.

In the meantime, here are some thoughts for you to ponder over…

(1) Remember, my friend, your soul is indestructible: Your body might be brutalized. Your heart might be ripped to shreds. Your mind might be messed up beyond belief. But your soul, darlin’, your soul is indestructible. And all the rest will heal as that invincible spirit residing deep in you keeps you going through the most gut-wrenchingly painful times in your life.

This is not a silly cliché. And you don’t need to be particularly spiritual to internalize the idea of your indestructible soul. You just need to believe that there is some part of you, deep down, that no evil, no foul attempt at dehumanization, no form of cruelty can touch. Call it a soul, call it the spirit of the universe, hell, call it a cheese pizza for all I care. It doesn’t matter. But it is crucial to believe, nay, to know that there is a part of you that is invincible to acts of evil. I have no way of proving its existence, but I can prove its power. I know this belief has helped me heal and liberate myself from my own traumas. I know this belief will help me heal and liberate myself from the traumas I am going to face in the years to come.

But where this belief has really manifested itself, where it has truly been healing and liberating has been when I consider the mind-numbing thought of trauma, any kind of trauma, happening to my loved ones. Just thinking about it knots my stomach and sends a shudder down my spine. It instils a cold-blooded fear far more crippling than any thought of pain inflicted upon me. I would happily endure suffering so my loved ones don’t have to. And there’s no hyperbole in that statement. But life doesn’t present itself with such easy choices. I have to accept that, just as likely as I am going to face trauma as I live my life, my loved ones will too, and try as I might with every part of my being, there will be times when I’m unable to stop it.

I also know they will heal and liberate themselves with me by their side, in this world or the next. This healing and liberation will be slow, painful, frustrating, but it will also be true. I know this because I know there is a soul, some element of the spirit of the universe, in each of them that is indestructible. Just as there is in me. Just as there is in you. And as you find that spirit in you, know this…

(2) It’s the perpetrators of trauma who are dehumanized and not the victims: Just as racism ultimately only dehumanizes white people and sexism only dehumanizes men, i.e. just as any structure of oppression ultimately only dehumanizes the person who temporarily benefits from it, so too does trauma  inflicted upon one human by another ultimately only dehumanize the perpetrator. Indeed, the more vile and brutal the trauma, the more irredeemably dehumanizing it is to those who inflict it.

It is important to understand this not just from the standpoint of resistance to oppression, but also to heal from the various manmade traumas we have faced in the past and will face in the future. For starters, it helps us gain a certain cosmic strength over the perpetrators of our trauma, regardless of whether they have been made to face justice or not. That strength will be crucial as you journey forward to heal and liberate yourself because one of the primary motivations for trauma inflicted upon one human by another is, in fact, to establish power over you, to hurt you, to destroy your strength and resiliency, indeed, to dehumanize you. By establishing the inviolable truth that it is not you but the perpetrators of your trauma who are dehumanizing themselves, you are not allowing any of that to happen.

Knowing this and establishing that truth in your soul also prevents you from internalizing any dehumanization that those who traumatized you would want you to believe. It also helps one realize that those who perpetrate trauma are often deeply traumatized themselves and have lost their souls somewhere over the course of their lives (hopefully only to regain it before they die). By seeing their very real dehumanization for what it is, you prevent them from having any hold over your soul, and you will find great strength in that. It isn’t easy. You will find it hard to accept at first because the pain is so deep. But over time, as you break the shackles of your life link by bloody link, you will realize that the dehumanization attempted upon you by members of your own species only dehumanizes them and, equally importantly, strengthens your own soul.

Yes, it will strengthen your soul. You see, one of the things we sometimes fail to recognize with trauma is that…

(3) Post traumatic stress can be converted to post-traumatic growth (and you find strength you wouldn’t have found otherwise): There is a well known fact among those who have managed to heal and liberate themselves from their trauma with great resiliency. A common thread is that they all converted post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth. It’s now a vital part of trauma-informed therapy and healing. Many psychotherapy and psychiatry institutions, despite being mired in a pathologizing cesspool of callousness and capitalism, have finally come round to devoting space and time to this singular idea that one’s trauma can actually be a source of strength and resiliency, rather than just pain and suffering. It also happens to be something that humanity has practiced for as long as it has existed.

It’s a life practice that is not very easy to digest at first in a society where we expect life to be pristine and perfect. But once acknowledged, it can provide measures of strength and resiliency that you never thought you had and (this is the hard part) might never have found had you not faced the trauma you faced. When you face the fiery gates of hell that your trauma has led you to, no doubt you burn with pain and suffering, but in that raging heat, the inner steel in you cures and toughens. It becomes far stronger than it ever would have been had you not gone through that experience.

I emphasize the uniqueness of the strength you will find due to your trauma, because one of the most common and crippling lines of thought that repeat in our heads is wondering how our life might have been (imaginably more positive) had we not gone through the traumatic experiences of our past. I mentioned in a previous article about the importance of getting a grip on our sense of time. You cannot change the past. You experienced that trauma and nothing – no amount of wishful thinking, no magic wand, no drugs, prescribed or otherwise – nothing is going to take that experience away. It is going to remain with you for the rest of your life. It will always be a source of pain and hurt for the rest of your existence. It will also provide you with strength and resiliency that you might not have found otherwise. Why not actively derive that strength and resiliency from those painful experiences? They’re not going away. You have nothing, literally nothing, to lose by using the burning pain of your trauma to forge and further strengthen your inner steel.

People might wonder if this means minimizing one’s pain and suffering, and it’s the exact opposite. Converting post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth not only acknowledges but honors your pain and suffering. Because, make no mistake…

(4) Your pain is real, but your defeat is merely a temporary illusion: Your pain is real. Your suffering is deep. Your trauma is going to remain with you for the rest of your life.

But don’t you ever believe the myth of your defeat.

Because, while the pain, suffering, and hurt you have undergone is as real as the air you breath, remember this – your defeat is nothing more than a temporary illusion.

I’ve lost count how many times I hear people in my life who have faced past trauma inflicted upon them by other human beings state, in various ways, that the sense of defeat, humiliation, hopelessness, indeed the feeling of dehumanization, is often much tougher to deal with than any physical pain or hurt that they might have faced as a result of their trauma.

This is a common thing. It pertains to the fact that, at the cost of repeating myself, trauma intentionally inflicted upon a human being by other members of the same species seeks to dehumanize that person. We have already established that it’s the perpetrators who lose their souls and are the ones who end up dehumanized. It is equally important to prevent the trauma survivor from believing the dehumanization that was attempted upon them.

Initially it will be difficult to do that, as the intensity of the dehumanization attempted by those who traumatized you is particularly harsh. Keep at it. It will take time, but eventually you will stop believing in the myth of your dehumanization and you will stop being controlled by the illusion of your defeat.

Your unconquerable soul will prevail.

Remember, my friend, you are a warrior of healing and liberation and…

(5) The battle scars of your trauma are a reminder of your victorious and righteous struggle: Remember how I said that we can never change what happened to us, and the sooner we accept that, the better? I kinda repeated it a few times so it was probably hard to miss. Well, even if you aren’t too keen on doing that just yet, there will always be scars – physical scars, mental scars, and emotional scars – that will keep reminding you about your trauma. They will always be there, ready to tell you: It happened, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Here’s a thought.

The next time you take a look at those scars?

Remind yourself of that unconquerable soul, and remember that those scars are battle scars, that only the most formidable warriors of healing and liberation can withstand. Those scars are a reminder of your victorious and righteous struggle.

Tell that to yourself again, and again, and again.

Keep telling yourself that those scars are the mark of your indomitable body, heart, and mind. This is not a platitude. It is merely the truth, and the best forms of resiliency-building affirmations are those that are true. Do it as many times as you need to until those scars become a source of strength, healing, and ultimately liberation from your trauma.

So far, so good.

But there is one issue we haven’t yet talked about yet.

What about the cold cut of injustice?

How can we deal with that indisputable fact that the perpetrators of trauma, dehumanized and soulless though many of them may tragically be, are likely never going to face justice in this life?

Well, I make this suggestion…

(6) A belief in cosmic justice and balance can work wonders: This might well be the most controversial point made in this article (and simultaneously the least controversial as well). How the hell can we believe in something that’s as ephemeral and ethereal as cosmic justice when the pain of our trauma is so real in this life? How can we conceive of such a non-existential, non-material idea as cosmic balance when the overwhelming majority of perpetrators the world over walk around scot free?

Because it has the power to heal and liberate.

Because the life we lead in a world surrounded by systems of oppression and exploitation often requires us to find strength in places that no oppressor can touch.

Because we need to believe that evil will ultimately find its match in order to prevent that same evil from defeating us.

Across space and time, communities who have faced mind-boggling levels of oppression, slavery, genocide, colonialism, mass misogyny, and more, have survived and thrived merely because they held onto this awe-inspiring notion of cosmic justice. They held onto an idea of universal balance to undo the oppression they faced. They held on to a brilliant notion of spiritual righteousness when everything in their lived, material life suggested they let go of hope itself.

Tell me now, who among you will deny their place in the sun?

You see, it’s not about whether cosmic justice exists or not. That’s actually besides the point.

It’s about the fact that we will not let the forces of evil to ever defeat us, no matter how powerful or hegemonic that evil might be. Even if just in our hearts, our minds, and, of course, our souls. That’s more than enough.

It’s often all we have

It’s also what we need to heal and liberate ourselves from our trauma.

But make no mistake, this belief in cosmic justice and balance cannot be an excuse to shirk from the good fight to heal and liberate ourselves and our fellow human and non-human beings in this life. We must never, ever allow our trauma to severe ourselves from the world we live in, which is why it might be a good thing to…

(7) Treat each traumatic episode as a rebirth and not just a death:  I’ve often heard of trauma being described in deathly terms, feeling like one’s life has ended after the traumatic experience. No doubt, the pain and hurt of trauma and, equally importantly, the deep-rooted changes it forces upon one’s life is immense. Lives can fall apart in a myriad different ways such that it feels like a death of sorts.

All that is true. As someone who suffers from moderate PTSD, those feelings and experiences are real, let me tell you. It can indeed feel like life has ended.

But why not then also treat it as a rebirth?

The idea of birth and rebirth, the idea of the cyclical life, is central in many spiritual philosophies rooted in South Asia, East and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas, but is often misunderstood as being only about actual physical death in this life. It then becomes easier to fall prey to insularity and unhealthy superstition.

However, what people often fail to realize is that the idea of birth and rebirth can offer even greater and more immediate liberatory benefits when seen as happening in this life, the one we’re currently living in this world. You are not the same person you were five years ago, and that person wasn’t the same person five years before then, and so on. We’re constantly birthing and rebirthing ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

(Frankly, if I were somehow able to meet myself when I was a teenager, I would literally want to kick the ever-loving shit out of my bratty, younger self. But then again, I think that could result in some kind of time paradox which would then result in my being traumatized by my own elder self. It would be a giant, angst-ridden, quantum mess.

In any case…)

All I’m saying is that when we view our traumas as, often justifiably, life-ending events, let us also view them as rebirths.

By doing this we will always emerge triumphant, or at the very least open to moving triumphantly onward, from our past and future traumas.

But never, ever do this alone. For there is one sure fire way to heal and liberate yourself from your trauma, beyond any platitude or hokey advice. All you need to do (and it’s a lot harder than it sounds in this oppressive society of ours, which is bloody tragic, but nevertheless…)

(8) Surround yourself with loved ones and joy: This is so self-evident that it feels a little ridiculous having to even write a few sentences about it. But it never fails to amaze me just how few people take this shit seriously.

You have everything if you have love and joy. You need nothing but love and joy to get it. And there is no replacement for the real thing.

I’ve already touched upon this in previous articles. Take active steps to surround yourself with those people who are good to you, who are healthy for you, who actually love you. If you don’t have many, ensure you’re spending more frequent time with the few you do have. Do whatever it takes to spend as much time as possible with healthy, supportive loved ones. And you don’t have to be in the same physical space for crying out loud, we live in a golden age of communication technology – let’s use it to build liberated global communities while it lasts. Try and build your community of loved ones in joyful, liberatory, and healthy ways. Make sure you’re laughing a lot and having fun, even just quiet, non-descript joy. It doesn’t have to be overt, nor does it have to cost money. You just have to feel good inside.

The trauma and injustice you faced and will face, no matter how harsh, do not stand a chance against true love and joy.

(A somewhat graphic analogy would be to picture a bloodthirsty army of evildoers being smothered to death by a hailstorm of dangerously cute puppies and kittens. Don’t worry, nothing happens to the little furry ones. They take over the world after clearing away the corpses of the evildoers, and rule with a really cuddly fist.)

And finally, in that same spirit of love and joy, you will always heal and liberate yourself from your trauma when you…

(9) Fight for the healing and liberation of others: Nothing heals like participating in the healing of others. No force on earth can defeat that glorious struggle for liberation when we see our liberation to be true only when it is incontrovertibly tied up with others, all others, human and non-human. As you heal and liberate yourself from the trauma and injustice you faced, you will realize that it’s better doing it as part of a collectivity, as part of a larger humanity seeking that same freedom and happiness, in communion with the earth.

When we’re at this stage in our fight for healing and liberation, you will know no defeat at the hands of those who seek to dehumanize you, you will laugh in their faces because your soul is free and in spiritual union with a whole load of other free souls, and nothing can break a soul that has found freedom and love.

As we do this, we emerge stronger, healthier, happier, and more free.

With a greater understanding of our invincible souls.

Knowing we have not been dehumanized.

Converting our post traumatic stress to post traumatic growth.

Honoring our pain but never believing the myth of our defeat.

Viewing the battle scars of our victorious and righteous struggle with raging pride.

Believing in the balance and harmony offered by cosmic justice.

Rebirthing ourselves with greater freedom.

Doing so with loved ones and joy surrounding us.

And knowing our liberation is inextricably linked with the liberation of all others, human and non-human.

Above all, remember this my friend – no trauma, no injustice, no cruelty imparted upon you by members of your own species will ever defeat your invincible soul.

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One thought on “Healing from the trauma of injustice and dehumanization

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