Aboriginal Healing, Historical Trauma
"Essentially, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of ‘psychological baggage... continuously being acted out and recreated in contemporary Aboriginal culture’."
Social Justice Report, 2008, Australian Human Rights Commission
Psychological trauma represents an emotional state of discomfort and stress resulting from memories of an extraordinary, catastrophic experience which shattered the survivor’s sense of invulnerability to harm.
"People subjected to prolonged, repeated trauma develop an insidious progressive form of post-traumatic stress disorder that invades and erodes the personality. While the victim of a single acute trauma may feel after the event that she is ‘not herself’, the victim of chronic trauma may feel herself changed irrevocably, or she may lose the sense that she has any self at all." Judith Herman
"Trauma is qualitatively different from other negative life stressors as it fundamentally shifts perceptions of reality. Negative stressors:
leave an individual feeling ‘put out’, inconvenienced and stressed. These experiences are eventually relieved with the resolution of the stressor. In contrast, trauma represents destruction of the basic organising principles by which we come to know self, others and the environment; traumas wound deeply in a way that challenges the meaning of life. Healing from the wounds of such an experience requires a restitution of order and meaning in one’s life.
Gregory Phillips talks about three areas of trauma experienced by Indigenous peoples:
Research has shown that the impacts of trauma are even more pronounced when the trauma has been deliberately inflicted rather than a result of natural circumstances... deliberately inflicted trauma creates victimisation as well as all the associated emotional, psychological, cultural and spiritual harm. Deliberately inflicted trauma is much harder to recover from as it undermines the cohesion and strengths of individuals and communities." Social Justice Report, 2008
Dr. Joe Solanto, from Canada, discusses different types of trauma, as well as the nature of inter-generational, or historical, trauma. Part 3 can be found here.
Historical or intergenerational trauma
"Individual trauma reverberates across communities but also across the generations. The concept of historic trauma was initially developed in the 1980s by First Nations and Aboriginal peoples in Canada to explain the seeming unending cycle of trauma and despair in their communities. Essentially, the devastating trauma of genocide, loss of culture, and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of ‘psychological baggage... continuously being acted out and recreated in contemporary Aboriginal culture’.
In Australia, Indigenous researchers have also demonstrated the connections between the historical experiences of colonisation and the forcible removal of children to the disadvantage of today’s Indigenous peoples and communities. Professor Judy Atkinson has worked on the intergenerational and transgenerational transmission of trauma arguing that many of the problems in Indigenous communities, be it alcohol abuse, mental health problems, family violence or criminal behaviour, are symptomatic of the effects of this unresolved trauma reaching into the present day.
Gregory Phillips also speaks of trauma that is handed down spiritually. Using Canadian elder, Vera Martin’s, reference to it as ‘blood memory’, he explains: ‘It is a collective memory of what has happened and what has not happened’.
This unresolved trauma is not limited to the forcible removal of children from their families. Trauma can occur in response to exposure to family violence, sexual assault, child abuse and neglect, substance misuse and other forms of experience that can harm an individual’s sense of self and wellbeing. These traumas also find their way to influence subsequent generations to come.
Professor Helen Milroy, an Indigenous psychiatrist specialising in child psychiatry, describes how trauma flows through to Indigenous children:
The transgenerational effects of trauma occur via a variety of mechanisms including the impact of attachment relationship with care givers; the impact on parenting and family functioning; the association with parental physical and mental illness; disconnection and alienation from the extended family, culture and society.
These effects are exacerbated by exposure to continuing high levels of stress and trauma including multiple bereavements and other losses, the process of vicarious traumatisation where children witness the on-going effects of the original trauma which a parent or care giver has experienced.
Even where children are protected from the traumatic stories of their ancestors, the effects of past traumas still impact on children in the form of ill health, family dysfunction, community violence, psychological morbidity and early mortality....
... the transgenerational impacts of trauma also challenges us to shift our thinking on the distinctions drawn between perpetrators and victims as we understand how offenders are often victims of trauma or transgenerational trauma themselves...
... Professor Judy Atkinson argues that trauma becomes expressed as anger, violence and criminal behaviour, where ‘rage turns inwards, but cascades down the generations, growing more complex over time’. Anger, hopelessness, worthlessness and lack of genuine opportunities and disconnection run like a common thread through the experiences of both victims and perpetrators of violence." Social Justice Report, 2008
> Development of Historical Trauma and its Impact