Trauma can take place because of a single experience, or enduring repeated or multiple experiences, that can overwhelm the person’s ability to cope. Regardless of its source, trauma is always unexpected, the person unprepared and there was nothing the person could do to stop it. The experiences and reactions of the person determine the trauma and not the event itself necessarily.
The past remains present if we do not deal effectively with the atrocities thereof.
The lack of processing of trauma means that it is ever present, as if it happened today though the incident may have been many years ago. The impact of these events does not simply go away when or because they are over. Traumatic experiences can change the way we see ourselves and the world. Sometimes the impact of the trauma is not felt until weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event.
Trauma happen to all people at all ages and across all socio-economic strata in our society. However, the gendering in our socialization of our community has a direct impact on how we deal with trauma. We tell men to be strong and not show weakness, we tell our women to continue business as usual. Children are seen not heard not spoken to only instructed.
Historical trauma and our legacies of pain Historical trauma has been defined as “The cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma” (Yellow Horse Brave Heart, 2003).
The impacts of trauma as we celebrate days such us Cassinga, Day of the African Child, Independence need to become normalized in our national dialogues otherwise we pass on unresolved issues to the next generation.
Intergenerational – passed on from generation to generation.
People who were forced out of their homes, whom fled, others who were sexually assaulted suffered devastating effects of trauma.
The suffering was further compounded by a curriculum that stripped us of our native languages and culture casing point “Afrikaans my Moeder Taal”. This caused additional feelings of alienation, shame and anger that were passed down to the children and grandchildren.
The impacts thereof are further seen in our societies today. Loss of connectedness with languages, traditions and cultural history. Lack of control over land and resources hence the housing crises.
Lack of communal raising of children due to urban migration. Lack of initiative and innovation leading to apathy as a nation.
Dependency on others and normalization of violence to name a few Substance abuse is very common because it is a quick way to numb feelings.
The two issues cannot be separated because they are so closely interwoven. If the person was not dealing with trauma, they would not feel the need to use substances to cope.
One issue triggers the other. This toxic relationship further destroys the support systems that can be a positive influence further isolating the abuser whom consumes more to deal with the isolation.
Substance abuse is not only a behavioral issue we need to interrogate the drivers of the abuse to unpack the underlining feelings and possible traumas that make us vulnerable.
Catharsis refers to the purging of heavy emotion. Catharsis happens when we experience the repressed emotions and feelings to address them adequately.
The national trauma we faced in the birthing a new nation needs to be spoken about, addressed and embraced.
Memorials can serve as spaces of healing. However, they should not only be politicized that is removed from the lived experiences of the people. We need to address not only the structural inequalities that were a result of our past but explore softer issues that are nuanced in perception and experiences.
We further need to have conversations about the perceived inequalities between the people that stayed and fought versus those who fled to exile to continue the work.
There is still hope, even though we spend time focusing on the impact of trauma, we must spend equal time on how people survived the experience, what are the strengths they have developed? and unpack how that resiliency has or will help in our national recovery.
The language we use when speaking with or about people who have experienced trauma should also reflect resilience.
We cannot pretend that the national violence we suffered is over because we deny it. We need to provide safe spaces for true reconciliation.
Healing can be painful, it is sometimes messy and illogical but that should not scare us from confronting the demons in our national house. The absence of war does not necessarily mean peace.