Overview: There is Nothing Post About Current Traumatic
Graciela Villena-Mata, Ph.D.
Does the blind man own his escort?
No, neither do we the story;
rather it is the story that owns us and directs us.
Chinua Achebe, Anthills
of the Savannah (1987)
For many people, trauma is still
part of their lives. It is their main story; their
‘guiding light’. It is not part of their
past or history. It is. Rather, it is their lead story
which for many, govern their perceptions of their
world and of themselves within that world. From those
that follow lives of domestic violence to those who
are ‘recipients’ of hate crimes to those
who are triggered by “isms” in their midst,
they find themselves reacting and creating skills
to help keep themselves safe and to create “islands”
of trust where they can exhale; albeit partially for
The increase of fear, the triggers
or reminders in the news and increase tension between
communities serve to create similar coping skills
and reactions that one would see in people experiencing
post-traumatic stress. Although the symptoms and responses
are similar to those experiencing ptsd, the intervention
and approaches to addressing concurrent stresses may
be different. Considerations such as a person’s
group history, degree and intensity of the triggers
and current traumas, where s/he is on the polyculturation
spectrum, the type of “safety” islands
created; level of support from her/his group(s); grief
and identity formation are but some of the elements
to assess. When dealing with groups, an understanding
of history, social justice perceptions of that group
vis-à-vis the dominant group/society, and the
current attitudes of that group both by that group
and by others will help to tailor clinical and educational
approaches in assisting them with their current traumatic
In addition to clinical interventions
and treatment, educational and narrative psychological
approaches have assisted individuals and groups in
“re-storying” their lives. For group-oriented
individuals and their groups, the use of narrative
psychology is a natural extension of their worldview.
For individual-oriented individuals and their groups,
the narrative provides an avenue for them to explore
what they have and what they need to develop in order
to create a bridge to a safer land of living.
Storytelling methods and techniques
used by indigenous nations such as the Aborigines,
the Maoris, and First Nations, which have been ‘westernized’
by Epston and White and others into Narrative psychology
have made the indigenous approaches accessible to
many as intervention and treatment methods and approaches.
For current traumas, it becomes essential for the
person to re-author their worldview. The use of language,
its positioning, metaphors, externalization of issues
away from the human being, and creating bridges of
usable current dynamics while empowering the client
to seek and create additional tools – are some
of the aspects found in narrative psychology.
In addition to the psychological components
of trauma, as providers it is important to understand
the physiological. While we are well aware of the
“fight and flight” responses activated
by the sympathetic nervous system of the autonomic
system, there are other physiological areas that we
would do well to consider with whatever training we
provide; namely transgenerational transmissions and
the concept of “freeze”. Understanding
the physiological transmissions passed from one generation
to another (see research by Danieli and Yehuda) can
help one to understand the hairline trigger reaction
to trauma for some individuals and a dull reaction
for others. Studies on transgenerational themes (versus
intergenerational themes) by clinicians and researchers,
such as Anne Schuztenberg and Maurice Apprey have
helped many recipients of trauma cut the unconscious
and sometimes physiological ties transmitted from
Peter Levine’s work on “freeze”
and the need for humans to learn to ‘defreeze’
have assisted many in letting go of being in a life-threatening
stance in their lives. The physiological ramifications
of “f,f,f” or “fight, flight, and
freeze” needs to be addressed and turned off
when there is clearly no life threatening situation
in the individual’s lives. Getting that person
to ‘stand down’ from red alert to green
alert becomes then a whole person affair. Getting
that extra energy created by the immune system to
dissipate as well as to tell the sympathetic nervous
system to switch over to the parasympathetic becomes
essential if restoration and healing are to occur.
Work by Peter Levine, John Upledger, and others who
addressed the dissipation of those energies created
by the immune system, have proven to be beneficial
for those individuals with traumatic stories.
But what if there is merit to having
the “fff” on? It then becomes when to
turn it on fully and when to turn it down. When to
hit that ‘dimming’ switch becomes part
of the intervention approach. Having it turned on
fully, as we now know, not only stresses the person
on the psychological level but also stresses that
person’s health. Yet turning it off completely
is foolhardy for individuals and groups still subjected
to present-day “isms” and possible traumatic
Increase discussion of evidence can
be found in today’s journals, talk shows, newspapers
and internet sites that stress is becoming one of
the major factors for autoimmune illnesses, increase
conflicts, sleep disorders, and even the selection
of what we eat.
This article started off with a quote
from Chinua Achebe saying that the story owns us.
Yes, but only if we see ourselves as the actors in
our lives and not the writers. The moment we can truly
experience the power of being the autobiographer of
our stories, then the road to a new land of story
can be created, using what we have and accessing what
we need. Understanding how traumas induced by groups
and societies can affect the whole human being helps
us to better provide training to those who give direct
Traumatic stresses have many faces:
not only that of the past stories that affect our
present, but of the present ones as well. May the
overview of these approaches serve to spark a further
curiosity into the availability of these tools to
help those with current traumatic stories transform
those stories into successful adventures.
Darling G. Villena-Mata is the author
of Walking Between Winds: A Passage Through Societal
Trauma - Discrimination's Impact on Love, Safety,
Health, and Conflict.
She may be reached at email@example.com
Agatucci, C. (1998). Chinua Achebe in his own words:
On the values and functions of literature and storytelling:
Interviews with Chinua Achebe. Retrieved June 12,
2000 from world wide web: http://www.cocc.ed/cagatucci/classes/hum211/achebe2.htm
Apprey, M., Ph.D. (1998). “Reinventing
the Self in the Face of Received Transgenerational
Hatred in the African American Community.” Paper:
Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction,
[e-journal version of hardcopy]
University of Virginia Retrieved on August 18, 2000
from the world wide web: http://hsc.virginia.edu/medicine/inter-dis/csmhi/self.html
Bentzen, M, Jarinaes, E., Levine,
P, (1993). The body self in psychotherapy. A psycho-motoric
approach to developmental psychology. Article. Reno,
NV: Ergos Institute.
Clark, W. R. (1995). At war within:
The double-edged sword of immunity. New York: Oxford
Cloud, D.L. (1998). Control and consolation
in American culture and politics: Rhetorics of therapy.
Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Cross, Jr., W. E. (1998). Black psychological
functioning and the legacy of slavery. In Y. Danieli,
Ed.) International handbook of multigenerational legacies
of trauma (pp. 387-402). New York: Plenum Press.
Cushman, Philip. (1995). Constructing
the self, constructing America: A cultural history
of psychotherapy. New York: Addison-Wesley.
Dalton, H. L. (1995). Racial healing:
Confronting the fear between blacks and whites. New
York: Anchor/DoubleDay Books.
Danieli, Y. (Ed.) (1998). International
handbook of multigenerational legacies of trauma.
New York: Plenum Press.
Deer, P.I. (1999). The body as peace:
Somatic practice for transforming conflict. Unpublished
dissertation. Cincinnati, Ohio: Union Institute.
Duran, E. & Duran, B. (1995).
Native American postcolonial psychology. New York:
State University of New York Press.
Fischman, Y. (1990, January). Group
treatment of exiled survivors of torture. American
Journal Orthopsychiatry, 60 (1), 135-140.
Fischman, Y. (1991, April). Interacting
with trauma: Clinicians' responses to treating psychological
aftereffects of political repression. American Journal
Orthopsychiatry, 61 (2), 179-185.
Levine, P. A. (1996). Waking the tiger:
Healing trauma through the body
Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Schutzenberger, A. A. (1998). The
ancestor syndrome: Transgenerational psychotherapy
and the hidden links in the family tree. (A. Trager,
Trans.). London and New York: Routledge.
Villena-Mata, D.G. (2000, Spring). Traumatic conflicts:
An interdisciplinary approach to conflict resolution.
Nonviolent Change, XIV (3), 18-20.
Villena-Mata, D.G. (2001, January).
Revenge and Conflict Resolution. Nonviolent Change
XV (2), Winter, 17-19.
Villena-Mata, D.G. (2001) Walking
Between Winds: A Passage Through Societal Trauma -
Discrimination's Impact on Love, Safety, Health, and
White, M. and Epston, D. (1990). Narrative
means to therapeutic ends. New York: W.W. Norton and
Yehuda, R., Schmeidler, J., Elkin,
A., Wilson, S., Siever, L, Binder-Brynes, K., Wainberg,
M. & Aferiot, D. (1998). In Y. Danieli (Ed.) International
handbook of multigenerational legacies of trauma (pp.639-656).
New York and London: Plenum Press.