A necessary and crucial step in healing is to allow
traumatized people to talk about their trauma.
In human culture
expression of trauma in informal settings, such as women gathered around the
stream to wash clothes or men working together to build a structure for the
newlyweds, has always been the release mechanism.
Allowing people to
talk about what has befallen them allows them to connect with their emotion and
process the trauma.
American culture now falls afoul of this ancient
human tradition by telling the victims of trauma that they just need to 'man
"Focusing on children who are not abuse victims let us consider
an ordinary childhood event that developed into trauma, rather than just fright
Take a few moments to view things through the eyes of five-year
old Dylan, who gets off the school bus at the
Dylan started kindergarten on Tuesday.
He is riding the school bus home for the second time in his
He feels a little intimidated by the big ten-year-old sitting
beside him, he misses his mother, and he is not at all sure that he knows how
to be a school bus rider.
Nearly everything during the past day and a
half has been new, and Dylan is worn out, and eager to get back to the homey
sofa in the den, and his Quack Pack videos.
His mother promised that
she would be waiting for him at the bus stop, just like yesterday. He looks
expectantly out the window as the bus travels by places that look dimly
When the bus finally stops, bunches of loud, laughing,
pushing children migrate hastily toward the door.
disembark in an impenetrable tangle of thrashing heads and arms, Dylan among
them, confused but
earnestly striving to be a good bus rider.
There are some adults by the
side of the road.
They greet the children, and in a matter of seconds,
the bus has departed, and everyone has moved away from the bus stop.
Dylan's mother is not there.
And as people walk out of sight,
chattering and swinging each other's hands, no one notices that one
five-year-old boy has been left standing alone.
The boy does not even
think about calling after the people.
He is too stunned, and besides,
he does not know them.
He stands right there, for a long time, hoping
that his mother will appear.
He looks like a tiny statue at the edge of
the road, until a monstrous truck, air horn blaring, zooms by just a few feet
in front of him, causing him to lurch sideways into some trees.
looks around at the wooded area, and decides he had better hide there until his
Dylan sits down under an elm, where he is concealed from
the road by a small embankment.
He puts his legs out in front of him,
and leans back against the tree.
His new backpack, which he still has
on, cushions him a bit.
He stares straight ahead, and begins to tap his
new sneakers together.
He is scared, but he knows his mother will come
He sits that way for about half an hour, the length of one Quack
Pack video, and then he thinks the unthinkable: maybe she is not coming.
As soon as this thought occurs to him, he feels clammy all over; his
stomach feels shaky, and he begins to cry.
Soon, the tears have turned
to desperate sobs.
He cries convulsively for several minutes, until he
is gasping for breath.
Then, he gets an idea.
He inhales as
deeply as he can, stands up, and walks cautiously back to the roadside, where
he looks around briefly.
He calls out, "Mommy!" and then, more
Dylan is about ¾ of a mile from his home,
in a nice, safe suburban neighborhood.
As long as he stays out of the
road, which he knows to do, he is in no physical danger.
middleclass houses sit at the ends of the driveways that join the street on
Really, all that Dylan has to do is go up one of the
driveways and knock on a door, which in all likelihood will be answered by a
sympathetic adult who will quickly contact his mother.
five-year-old Dylan does not know this.
In his so far brief time on
earth, he has never knocked on a strange door.
He has never even gone
all alone to someone else's house.
And in his current panicked state,
he does not even put it together that the silent houses contain people at all.
The houses are only another aspect of the impersonal and frightening
world all around him.
After shouting "Mommy" a few more times, he gives
up and returns to his tree behind the embankment.
His pants are damp in
back, from the ground he sits on.
He feels cold in the warm September
afternoon, and he shivers.
He whispers "Mommy" once, and a few more
tears leak onto his cheeks.
But then he is quiet.
He sits quite
still under the tree, as the enormity of his situation engulfs him.
His mother is gone.
He will never get to talk to her
He is never going home.
In this way, he remains for
about another hour.
He begins to feel that the
world is very far away, and he is just a teeny speck floating somewhere in a
fuzzy gray space.
He wonders, in a
detached sort of way, whether he is going to die now.
does not feel anything, not even cold and shivery.
Still wearing his
backpack, he curls up in a fetal position on the ground, and, in his mind,
completely disappears from himself and his surroundings.
Dylan is brought back to himself when his mother dives to her
knees by the tree, and grabs him up in her arms.
Some other grown-ups
are there, also.
Without emotion, Dylan says, "Mommy?"
mother is sobbing and jubilant at the same time.
She does not notice
that Dylan is neither.
Someone drives Dylan, and his mother home.
They sit in the backseat, where his mother hugs and kisses him over and
over, and tells him that everything is okay.
Dylan does not say
When they get home, his mother places several emotional phone
calls, and then she makes some chicken noodle soup for Dylan.
does not eat it, she tells
him once again that everything is okay.
She assures him that from now
on, she will pick him up at kindergarten herself.
No more school bus.
Then, feeling at a loss, she suggests that they sit on the cozy sofa
together and watch one of his videos.
She holds him close, and he
watches the movie.
He does not keep up a running commentary, or wiggle
away to bounce on the furniture the way he usually does, but she knows that he
must be exhausted, and probably still frightened. She is, too.
video is over, she decides that Dylan looks pale.
She hopes he has not
gotten sick from lying on the damp ground, and she suggests that he go to sleep
right now, though it is still early.
Without protest, Dylan lets his
mother put him to bed, where he resumes his fetal position.
Dylan is much more than tired and very scared.
He is traumatized.
His nascent views of the world and the
people in it have been violated, and his ability to cope has been utterly
age of five, he faced death, and has
experienced the fact that one
can terminate nightmares by dissociating.
All of this without
any objective danger, and though
the story had a happy ending Dylan has still been traumatized."
Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness, Martha
An adult can easily
forget the trauma inflicted on a child.
Adults may never realize a
child has been traumatized.
A child will forget what caused the trauma
but there will always be a set of circumstance that will send that child into
a dissociative state.
is unlikely that an adult will remember what initially caused the trauma while
not in a dissociative
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