When we reflect on the abuses that we either have inherited or that we have directly experienced, we often enter into a cycle of denial. Tucking the pain back in the deep recesses of our mind we try to forget. Maybe there is a place in the mind where all of our problems will just dissolve into nothingness. Maybe we can wash ourselves of the dirt and stink of our pain so that what colors our world with disgust will have never existed.
The truth is more difficult. Whether we inherit the pain of our families and communities that came before or we are the direct victims of abuse we are colored for life. Trauma tattoos us not just physically in some terrible events, but also spiritually and emotionally. Something in the fabric of the human spirit changes. Woven within the pristine conditions from the moment we were born are moments of joy and pain throughout the life span changing the color of our human tapestry.
We are very much a culture of denial, fixated on our perceived wounds.
Indeed, all of us carry wounds from generation to generation and throughout our personal lives. Slavery in the US, the Holocaust in Europe, apartheid in South Africa, the Rwandan genocide, the religious wars in Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the smoldering tensions in Kashmir … these are just a few historical examples of deep wounds passed from generation to generation, both on the personal and societal level. On a personal level, our wounds can be emotional or those of physical abuse, abandonment, death, poverty, and so much more. On a societal level, they can manifest in war, genocide, authoritarianism, civil injustice, and so on.
How we respond to wounds comes to define us, as individuals and communities. It very much guides the ways in which we respond to future challenges and conflicts in the world (My testimony to Peter King’s hearing on American Muslim radicalization).
The first task is the most difficult. It is to reach deep within the mind and pull out by force and experience a new kind of pain. The memory of trauma we have buried so deeply will resist us with the force of a wild beast. Only when we pull our memories out can we then can we color match those experiences with the fabric of our own being as we are now.
The most important question to ask then is this: Can I accept the color of what I am as I am?
While we can’t remove those threads of pain and trauma without destroying the fabric of who we are, there is always the option of adding new colors. Then we can reinvent the form and function of what we can be instead of what we think we have been.