I've had to confront evil again. In my every day life, I see it all the time. 60% of my clients have been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by the adults, mostly their parents, who were in charge of them. As a consultant I hear therapists' most horrific cases. I read the newspapers.This political election is particularly ugly and full of disingenuous lies and distortions. African paramilitary continue to rape, murder, and hack off limbs. The wikileaks site has sent out another torrent of how people in power misused it to torture and murder. Members of our local Stryker Brigade are on trial for having tortured, then murdered Afghanis, for fun. And greed continues overpower humanity everywhere we look.
But it gets worse. I attended two conferences in three weeks, EMDR International Association (EMDRIA) in Minneapolis and International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) in Atlanta. The ISSTD conference is smaller and often more scholarly than EMDRIA, 400 people, many of them researchers. Most of the EMDRIA presentations were upbeat: How to use EMDR to cure schizophrenia, depression (mine), shame, dissociation, etc. At ISSTD, some of the research-based presentations were about dysfunction with no talk of cure. Dr. Martin Teicher presented research on how different kinds of child abuse affect brain structures and which developmental windows impact brain structures and function the most. He didn't discuss neuroplasticity and how we fix these things. Then Ellen Lacter presented "Torture-Based Mind Control: Psychological Mechanisms of Installation and Continued Control" with Alison Miller and Ada Sachs throwing in their awareness of torture in ritual abuse. The single most distressing thought that stuck with me is that the worse the torture, the more the victim becomes attached to the perpetrator.
M. Scott Peck defines "evil" as something possible only when one human doesn't see another human as a human being. I'd like to add that for evil to occur, one human has to have power over another and see that other as an object, a means to an end. Evil isn't a new idea for me. My step-father, Peter, was a survivor of the German Holocaust. I was beat up by neighbor kids for being Jewish. I work with the effects of abuse every day. And I spent 20 years clearing the trauma and dissociation of one ritual abuse client. But learning about the number of organized groups that are "breaking people", intentionally causing dissociation through torture, set me back and left the conference stunned and hunkered down.
How did I get through it this week?
- I reminded myself to feel it. When I connected inside, I felt my fear, grief, and anger about what we humans are capable of doing to each other. Focusing on the affect, and allowing it to move through.
- I moved my body, feeling the aliveness in it as I walked.
- I noticed the beauty in fall leaves and incoming clouds.
- I connected with other people: my sweet husband, my mom, my friends.
- I went to my consult group and spoke about my distress.
- I joined the ISSTD Special Interest Group that deals with Ritual Abuse and Mind Control.
- I reminded myself of the good works in the world.
- I gave money to some politicians I see as helpful and good.
- I'm going to the local Rally for Sanity (based on John Stewart's DC rally), with the sign "Therapists for Sanity". (Irony is very helpful to me.)
- I played sad music and inspirational music. Aaron Neville was helpful. So was "One Love, One Heart: Let's get together and feel all right."
- And I reminded myself of my limitations. I can help a limited number of clients, write books slowly, and consult to a limited number of people. I can't stop the abuses of the world. I can continue to respond to them.
It's worked well. I've been back for 6 days and I'm breathing fully, feeling more hope than despair, and about to have a book party for the my newest trauma book: Trauma Treatment Handbook, my contribution to healing trauma and making people whole.
Very powerful, post Robin, thanks for sharing it.
Thank you Robin for modelling self care. And also for your continued contributions to healing.
Thanks, Robin, for speaking up about your distress as well as your remedies for it. I find it so comforting to know that I’m not alone in feeling close to despair sometimes and needing to consciously take measures to keep my soul alive. I especially like #11.
Thanks, everyone, for your kind words.
Dear Dr. Shapiro,
I´m a (very slow) complex trauma survivor and I´d like to comment this post. (sorry about my language, not my mother tongue).
I´ve been troubled by the evilness of the mankind, both in a personal level and as a reader of newspapers. I used to have a cynical, pessimistic view of people, the future and life in general. I found this whole “world thing” a tragedy, or some kind of a sick joke.
Then, slowly, something changed. The most obvious change was psychotherapy that I started to attend. But the real changes were more subtle. Today I would call it some kind of a (re)connection to humanity. It was guided by love and affection. First I was a recipient, then started to show some myself. I think it could be called a rebirth.
Having experienced this kind of a reconnection and rebirth I can´t have that cynicism anymore. Having received all the true love and sincere compassion I would be blind and deaf if I continued to see people the way I did. Of course I still read my newspapers and hear unbelievably horrifying stories of the evilness people are capable of doing. But I think the things that the media tells us about the “achievements” of mankind are (at least in the cynical Europe) biased towards bad things. The goodness of people, it seems to me, tends to happen in a smaller scale. Not reached by the news. Love and true caring happen, as a rule, between individual people. And so does the healing of wounds. It might not be newsworthy, but that doesn´t make it less significant or rare.
I think it was the reformer Martin Luther who said that the line separating goodness from evilness isn´t found between people but within them. That I believe. And that also means that as human beings we will always be troubled by the evil inside us. But we will have the goodness as well. And sharing that goodness with a fellow human being can indeed result in remarkable things. As I´m sure you have witnessed.
I guess what I´m trying to say is: the things you undoubtedly do and cause (as a therapist and as a human being), reuniting people with the world, themselves and the mankind is a powerful proof of the goodness and hope we have in this world. After all, the humanity consists of single people – their distress and welfare. If single people didn´t matter, then wouldn´t the masses matter either. So, let´s not ignore “the everyday goodness” and its humble proofs. They, after all, save lives.
Thanks for your thoughtful post. It lifts my heart to read about your journey. (And by the way, your English is perfect.)
I attended two of your lectures at ISSTD and thought about how powerful they were. Then I came back and saw you were the same person that I had been reading on the UCLA conference blog…skipped a groove! I had a very fracturing experience too at ISSTD, so clinical and not a lot of heart. As a person with uncleared trauma it was tough. Really I am writing to say I absolutely love your site and have learned so much from it. Thank you for your generosity in sharing all your wisdom and experience..you are doing a lot of good in the world just by this.I wish I lived near you for professional work but am in SC for now. Considering a move to CA.
Thanks Wendy. Ill check them out.
Thank you for all of your valuable information. I plan to check out your book if its available. for sale