Over the past several days, Americans have watched in horror as the cities of the country have turned to war zones.
Monuments have been defaced, buildings have been reduced to ash, and private businesses have been pillaged by those ostensibly demanding some kind of advancement in “justice.” Yet these riots — sparked by the horrific killing of George Floyd while being detained by police — came despite a nationwide outpouring of sympathy and indignation over the case. They began despite the fact President Donald Trump and political leaders of both major parties called for justice in the case.
The rage persists despite local and federal government having taken steps to turn the wheels of justice and despite round condemnation from law enforcement officers of the actions of Derek Chauvin. These were not enough, and “justice” has been wrongly sought through indiscriminate injustice against many. What is going on here? Why can’t we come together and seek justice as one nation?
As a therapist, I can tell you the answer is simple: collective trauma manipulated for political gain.
I have seen similar situations play out on an individual scale over and over again. Numbed-out clients suddenly explode when a memory is triggered or when they find themselves in a situation that feels eerily similar to a traumatic situation they have been through before. Many lash out with anger toward others — especially others who are part of the same group as their aggressor or aggressors.
When this happens to clients, I help them process their pain. There are several different clinical techniques I use in such a situation, but it ultimately boils down to us “talking about it.” Clients begin to experience healing through catharsis. Similarly, by now, you have probably heard that protesting is a healing process for many in the African-American community because they are able to speak up about their pain. This is absolutely true. (RELATED: ‘1619 Project’ Author Defends Looting As A ‘Symbolic Taking’)
Another important part of healing the emotional wounds of trauma is reestablishing appropriate trust in others, however. Trauma survivors (often unconsciously) view members of certain groups to be dangerous as a result of what they’ve been through. I have encountered traumatized clients who don’t believe that I or other caring people in their lives actually want to help them. For example, a client who was raped by a male relative may not trust any men. Several clients I have worked with don’t trust others of certain ethnic groups based on past experiences of racism (this goes for both people of color and caucasians, by the way).
This loss of trust based on past trauma is completely understandable, but is maintaining this generalized fear in the best interest of the trauma survivor? For example, the female rape victim mentioned above may refuse emotional support from a man who has shown that he genuinely cares about her. An acutely ill client may refuse necessary medical treatment from someone of a racial group that triggers him or her.
This coping strategy further alienates a trauma survivor from support — sadly, often compounding his or her traumatic experiences. It also often keeps a person in a constant state of “fight-or-flight,” which is exhausting and very damaging to the nervous system.
But the typical scheming politician, opportunistic political movement or Molotov-wielding anarchist doesn’t actually care about healing trauma reactions. In fact, it is politically advantageous for them to stoke the anger and exploit the fear that stems from trauma to exacerbate distrust and widen the chasm between Americans.
Keep members of what you consider to be your base scared. Keep them angry. Shut down any conversation political opponents attempt to have with members of your base, and tell your base that these “others” don’t actually care about them. Highlight any negative behaviors from members of the other group and ignore or downplay any positive behaviors. Overgeneralize by implying (or outright saying) that all cops are racist and anyone who questions the tactics of rioting or looting does not care about the trauma the African-American community has been through. (Never mind that rioting and looting disproportionately harms the African-American community — but that’s another matter.) (RELATED: The Violent End Of Law And Order)
Simply put, make sure that the wounds of trauma never heal.
The president and people across the conservative spectrum have called out for justice in the Floyd case. But that doesn’t matter to the manipulators. What matters is the effigy that they’ve created in order to drive people into a destructive frenzy to advance their narrative and agenda.
We cannot hide from the history that created this trauma. And we cannot act like the wounds of the past have fully healed with time. They clearly have not, partially because of those who continue to rip them back open. We must as a republic, as a culture, come together and actively ask how we can stitch the wounds of past injustices, not with the broken tools of cultural Marxism, but with a purpose driven by our founding promise that “all men are created equal.” But until we as one people reject the manipulation of those who would keep the wounds open, we cannot even hope to begin.
Virginia Madden is a mental health counselor who has served members of disadvantaged communities in the Washington, D.C., and in Norfolk, Virginia, areas. She works as a therapist in suburban Maryland. Follow her @vadmadden on Twitter.
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