Leaving the Shadow of Pain: Responses to Trauma

Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta

State response to emergency events (manmade and natural) looks at the relationship between the citizen and itself as contractual. The focus of the state is located in verification and compensation. Paramount importance is given to the non-tangible and subjective idea of national security surpassing the individual.

The individual pain and suffering are ignored, and individuals get loose in the social body. This leads to creating a specific knowledge controlled by powerful political bodies who ensure a production of history that subsumes the individual within the narrative of the national objective.

Prof Doris Gray locates the importance of individual narrative and needs for personal healing to public and political trauma. Speaking in the context of COVID- 19, she rightfully exclaimed, “One of the few times in my life where the whole world is wishing for the same thing.”

She was speaking at a webinar on Leaving the Shadow of Pain: Responses to Trauma – Healing amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, organized by Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.

Why Do We Do What We Do?

Prof Gray, Honorary Professor, Roskilde University, Denmark, locating a gap that is building in research that is objective and scientific from the everyday life of the individual.

What is political is personal. There is people’s lack of trust in political regimes. It is common globally – Prof Govind Kelkar

There is scholarly and social merit to witness social events and issues from the lens of the individual. Some connections are present in personal fate and larger socio-political questions. Highlighting these connections is the goal of feminist movements that call for right to grieve. They help in healing by sharing experiences and letting one belief of they are not sole victims.

Personal is Political’ is the idea that gives salience to women’s agency and voices in healing their grief. This grief locates within the larger socio political fabric of a country.

There is knowledge production, which is the result of a lack of truth. A deceitful leadership results in a distrusting society. Absence of trust hinders harmonious living in a society.

Prof Gray poignantly spoke stating, “When leaders are deceitful they create a model of democracy where in there comes an atmosphere of acceptance of deceit. It corrodes the ability to harmoniously living together and turns neighbours against each other.” While this distrust is the result of the macro actors, it impacts the individual. Trauma results in secrecy, which results in emotional distancing. This emotional gap makes trauma a multi generational healing process for an individual.

Prof Gray locates the courage to share her trauma of a disciplined childhood. An anomaly of a father who though was a kind man, would ensure his daughters lived through extreme survival training. This was the result of a trauma that the father carried from surviving Nazi Germany. This trauma now transferred into the lives of the daughters who could not locate the roots of the pain but experienced the pain. Secrecy hurts the secret keeper and the secret from whom it’s kept; this prevents them from loving each other freely.

The baggage of trauma holds within it the burden of intersectional identities. The woman who suffers trauma during conflicts develops a strong distrust towards the community, society, and state. In cultures, the family’s honor rests in the sexual virtue of women, which results in hidden sexual trauma that would, if expressed, can heal the community. The researcher/ interviewer or the state should be to begin the process of healing for the individual.

Healing: Not a linear journey

Prof Gray locates the importance of healing for the individual within the larger rubric of the secret’s security. Respecting the victim’s right to hold the secret, she points that not every truth needs all the facts. Truth known in the absence of details is still a truth that needs to be addressed.

A crucial methodological intervention comes from Prof Gray is that the researcher must always locate the embodiment from grief beyond words. The body itself manifests distress, whatever is shared is only tip of the iceberg, that the victim is inviting the researcher into.

Healing is a process that victims must have access to, which can only be in the presence of trust. Reconciliation and healing can only begin once the victim feels safe enough to share. Prof Gray highlights particular modalities that are important for an individual to heal:

  1. There need to be places of trust where the individual feels safe enough to share their truth and reveal a parallel truth to factual history.
  2. The listening of the truth has to be careful, mainly because what truth one is being revealed is only the tip of the iceberg of the secret keeper’s trauma.
  3. The process of careful listening validates the pain of the trauma for the narrator. From her linguistics experience, Prof Rukmini Bhaya Nair intervenes the uniqueness of women sharing their pain, which is more explanatory within group settings. Following this, Prof. Gray points that the narrator can find their language and continue to articulate their trauma and begin healing through sharing.
  4. Authority should express the harm done. The intangible restitution of acknowledging the remorse by the authorities has its importance in healing. It provides the ability for the trauma victim to move past the shrouded pain and secrecy.

Meaning making from Devastation

There is meaning-making that individuals engage in reshaping themselves, their self, community, society, and the state. Dr. Nandini Murali, Author details through the journey of her own grief the nonlinear nature of healing. She voices her concern that the recent focus on medicine has reduced grief to pathological disorders. This has resulted in the grief phobic culture. There is a need to decontextualize grief and place it in a larger political sphere.

Methodologically Prof. Smita Kumar intervenes that heuristics research has the scope to expand scholarly endeavors towards individual grief. There is a unity in the pain and torture that presents within the methodology and provides within it the location for collective healing. There is a need to account for the unique lived experience and grief of women.

Prof Govind Kelkar points out that women’s grief is a response to battling and interacting with four institutionalized systems of family, state, community, and market. None of the institutions give complete support to women; thus they tend to grieve more.

Prof Gray, spoke of the location of meaning-making to ensure that the narrator can own their story. This owning would only be the result of progress from anger, vengeance, revenge to acceptance. There is a necessity to walk from that pain and not let that be your only identity.

Acknowledgment: Sakshi Sharda is a research intern at IMPRI and pursuing M Phil from Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

YouTube Video for Leaving the Shadow of Pain: Responses to Trauma – Healing amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Picture Courtesy: Power of Positivity