We live in violent times. Depending on the time of day that you read this you may agree with me. If you are like me, living and growing up in middle-class upwardly-mobile American circumstances, there are times where you might wonder where all the violence is. During such moods of gratitude the world in your neighborhood doesn’t seem so violent. On TV, yes, in the newspapers, yes, in the movies, yes, in video games, certainly so. But in your daily life you may notice a lot of concern about violence but not a lot of it. Then again, at other times of the day, you may realize that our world everywhere is an incredibly violent one, where a lot of the violence hides in the cracks, lives in memories. Walking down the street may seem like a peaceful enterprise for the most part but if you could look into the minds of most people, even those of first-world countries like the US, you would see the scars of violence. All too many everyday, ordinary, otherwise well-off, successful people have experienced traumatizing violent events in their lives at some point.
Someone might argue that having been exposed to only one or two violent experiences in life is pretty good, pretty lucky and nothing really to complain about. But that person might not be aware of the effects of violence, the effects of the trauma caused by experiencing or witnessing violence. Violent experiences not only live on in memory but, without proper healing, leave scars that run deep. Without a proper healing or release, violent experiences seriously reduce our ability to be happy and make others happy. And that doesn’t fade in time. Trauma undergoes changes in its appearance but remains beneath the surface in way too many people, hampering their abilities to feel loved and express love.
As a professional astrologer I know how hidden and prevalent trauma is in people’s lives. After giving hundreds of readings I know that a huge percentage of the people who have come to me for help have told stories of violence in their lives and have complained of the lasting damage that those experiences continue to cause. It is, in fact, more common than not to hear about violence that happened during childhood. These are experiences that cause the eyes to fill with tears upon recounting or hearing them, even when 30-50 years has passed since the incident occurred. When violence happens to a child and it involves members of his or her own family the wounds go deep and are difficult to heal.
In the debate over whether God exists or not a single question ends up stopping the discussion. If there is a God then how could He or She allow children to be hurt by the very people that are supposed to be protecting them and supporting them? How could God have created a world in which innocent children are abused? You have probably heard this question before. In Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov,” which is one of the greatest novels to ever be written about religious issues (in my humble opinion), this very question is highlighted as the most important one. What you may not have considered is how relevant this question is to our times. From my experience and from other reports that I have read, experiencing violence as a child is one of the major causes of social destruction in the world today. This is mainly because it causes such deep seated scars that go on to subconsciously affect every aspect of life. Someone who experiences violence as a child is more likely to develop negative views on life itself that then go on to justify all kinds of nefarious behavior. With a negative view on life one is less likely to be interested in anything but one’s own survival and comfort. The basis for doing good is effectively undermined by an ongoing pain that this person undergoes for the rest of his or her life, all due to a violent episode experienced as a child for which no healing was ever given.
Violent experiences are not limited to ones experienced as a child, of course. Despite the wealth of the US, it has been involved in almost continuous warfare since its birth in the 1700’s! The history of the US is a history of wars, taking place mostly in various other parts of the world. These wars have created a class of veterans who have survived them but have had to deal with residual trauma.
Socially, we are given a very superficial picture of the world that is immediately destroyed by anyone who experiences violence. Society tells us all that the modern world is built on reason and justice; in other words, compromise and diplomacy. Those that go off to war quickly learn something quite different, however. The effect of witnessing, much less being a target of, violence is jarring unlike what movies and video games try to tell us. The effect of real violence on most people is shock. It is a shock that runs to the very core of what life is all about. Violence creates trauma because it forces us to look at the deepest questions in life. Violence shakes us out of the comfortable stance of accepting the superficial view of life that society gives us; that it is a fair, balanced, just affair; by confronting us with the irrationality of anger and loss.
We all experience the loss of loved ones. At the time that a loved one dies we are shocked, even if that person was sick and older. Death delivers a loss that most of us are not trained to deal with. In fact, society, if anything, un-trains us to deal with loss. Society teaches us how to live without really considering such things. So when someone close to us dies our mental system goes into shock and we feel emotional pain. But most of us just wait this period out without confronting the deeper questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. One who first hand witnesses or is a target for violence is not able to shake off the shock of such loss as easily, however. We can accept that people die from disease or other natural causes but to see someone attacked and/or killed by another human being, or killed when young, is not so easy to accept.
Of course, trauma victims aren’t usually aware of the tremendous battle that begins once they experience an act of violence. The emotional pain can often shut down the thinking center of the brain but even if it doesn’t, we haven’t been taught how to think about violence. Society doesn’t prepare us for dealing with violence, so when we are hit with it we don’t have the tools to deal with it.
The most recent psychological research is showing that trauma is a much bigger and longer lasting problem in our modern world than we previously admitted. Trauma not only diminishes individual capacity to feel loved and to love others but it passes on wholesale to the next generations. So even if you don’t experience violence directly in your life you most likely have to heal the trauma that was passed on to you from your family if you want to realize some sense of inner peace and contentment in life. This means the issue is relevant to a huge number of people and that number is growing exponentially everyday since there is little awareness of how to heal it.
According to Sarah Stillman’s August 2014 report for THE NEW YORKER entitled “Hiroshima and the Inheritance of Trauma” experiencing violence leaves a devastating impact on many generations: “In recent years, a growing body of scholarship has sought to better understand accounts [of violence] through the framework of ‘trans-generational trauma,’ which traces experiences of catastrophic loss across the span of a family or a community. A wide range of studies have examined evidence of ‘secondary trauma’ in the children of Holocaust survivors, the wives of Vietnam veterans, and, more informally, in the families of U.S. veterans who’ve faced P.T.S.D. after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007, a study on the wives of fifty-six traumatized war veterans in Croatia found that more than a third of the veterans’ wives met the criteria for secondary traumatic stress; often, this meant symptoms ‘similar to those present in directly traumatized persons: nightmares about the person who was directly traumatized, insomnia, loss of interest, irritability, chronic fatigue, and changes in self-perception, perception of one’s own life, and of other people.’ More recently, speaking to Mac McClelland for an article on trauma in the families of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the clinical psychologist Robert Motta said, ‘Trauma is really not something that happens to an individual.’ Instead, he proposed, ‘Trauma is a contagious disease; it affects everyone that has close contact with a traumatized person.'” http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/hiroshima-inheritance-trauma?utm_source=tny&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailyemail&mbid=nl_081314_Daily&CUST_ID=30791733&spMailingID=6906899&spUserID=NzA5MDgxNTIxNTcS1&spJobID=501354630&spReportId=NTAxMzU0NjMwS0
What is very apparent to me is that in dealing with trauma only an approach that deals with fundamental questions can truly heal. The traumatized person has been forced on an existential journey that can’t be ignored if he or she is to recover. The traumatized person must be accepted as a spiritual seeker and must be taught what that means. This means that a traumatized person will not be able to regain the old levels of peace and happiness without finding answers to the deeper questions about the meaning of life and the existence of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean that therapy for trauma victims has to have a religious format. I think that the simple acknowledging of their frustration and anger goes a long way.
Modern society offers its citizens an existential pass and most people are taking it up on that offer; that is, they are choosing not to think deeply about the meaning of life and the existence of God. They are given superficial pat answers instead of a deep inquiry that serve to cover up those deeper questions in life. But when a person is traumatized by violence a very important part of their mind wakes up and realizes that it has accepted a lie. The traumatized person can no longer pretend that life is as simple as they had previously been lulled to believe. That part of the brain begins to start problems in their life because it is unwilling to accept the old picture of things. When a traumatized person tries to go back to their old life, that irritated part of the mind resists. That inner psycho-emotional resistance to accepting normal life (to being content with life) IS trauma and produces the recognizable conditions of irritability, insomnia, restlessness, chronic fatigue, depression, etc.
A traumatized person must come into contact with their anger, frustration and confusion directly, in relation to not only those who instigated the violence but, more importantly, to God or the overarching Universe itself. If a traumatized person recognizes the need to express that anger and then is encouraged to talk about it and then to pursue the issue by studying what spiritual leaders have said about the issue then true healing can begin. Eventually the traumatized person could accept that he or she has been forcibly put on the spiritual path. With an acceptance of that fact, the traumatized person can enter “rehab.”
In this case, “rehab” is not about lifting weights and doing repetitive motion exercises but rather involves taking up the exercises that have been recognized for thousands of years to help with spiritual issues. Those spiritual practices, called “sadhana” in India, are designed to soothe the soul and bring answers to those deepest questions in life. The questions about the existence of God and the question about “why do bad things happen to good people” are the questions that the traumatized person must ask and seek answers for, if only because a part of their mind has awoken that will not be happy until they are. Those questions can not be answered for them (despite what some religious people believe). Each person must undertake the journey to those answers on their own and must also decide on their own which type of “rehab” they are going to rely on to get there. The counselor can only give support, encouragement and an explanation of the different types of spiritual “rehab” that are available. Knowing that they have contracted a disease, one that, if untreated, will infect many others, will hopefully add motivation to engage the spiritual journey and the path to healing and release.