There’s this thing in trauma recovery called “vicarious trauma,” the trauma the healer feels from working in the trauma dream of abuse to recover the person. You saw that in the Major Winters scene at the beginning, Bull kneeling down trying to process his vicarious trauma, and then again at the end, the soldier with that look… the vicarious trauma.
That’s been a near constant for me working with you and your families. Your grief and loss is so great. I’ve worked serious stuff, cancer and birth defects, child abuse and trauma. I know how to keep a handle on my empathy to modulate my own vicarious trauma.
But I tell ya… I have to keep a near constant check on the extent of my empathy for your situations. That’s been one of the most remarkable aspects of this situation – the phenomenal absence of empathy for you – for you the parents.
I’m trying to avoid vicarious trauma from just being with you, and yet these other people… what’s wrong with them? I don’t understand. The absence of empathy leads to the capacity for human cruelty, and you have been the recipients of much cruelty and suffering.
My vicarious trauma doesn’t come from working with you, when I working I’m in a zone so to speak – my psychologist is on. It’s those other times.
I’ll be working with someone, a parent, on some project or advocacy thing. And we’ll start talking, people stuff. How’s your world, how’s your kids, normal stuff. But it’s the how’s your kids part…
I admire you. All of you. Boy, what you have been through.
These people I work with from time to time, you, parents, I like you. You’re nice people. Ordinary normal people. So when I talk with you as we do other stuff, I’m interested in you, hi, how ya doin’. It’s your stories. I admire you for what you’ve been through, and for what your doing. You’re impressive.
But then, unbeknownst to me, I’ve taken a bit of your trauma into me… because I care. I don’t notice it, because all my normal psychologist defenses against vicarious stuff are working away – clinkity-clonkity-clonk, keeping me protected from my client’s stuff, from their trauma and pain.
But then… sometimes, when I’m out doing something else, all the little pieces of your trauma that I’ve collected rise and sit in my heart. I like that, and then I also don’t. I don’t like it because your pain hurts so much. I like it because it’s real. It’s yours. I like that I’m there in that. I can’t make your hurt go away, but at least I can pull up a chair.
When people hurt, I like sitting in that chair. That’s why I’m a clinical psychologist. That’s why I’m a PsyD rather than a PhD. I want to be in that chair, sitting there with people in their authenticity. I like that place, even when it hurts. And kinda funny, especially when it hurts.
In the past, in my practice, I’ve told people I’m a connoisseur of sad. I don’t mind sad. It’s real. It hurts, because it’s supposed to. Something bad happened.
With my kiddos, the angry-grumpy 12 to 16 year old getting in trouble at school, at home, and elsewhere… they’re sad. Nobody knows it because they believe the angry that the child presents. But that’s a lie.
My kid, my angry-grumpy teenager who’s getting in trouble all the time – is actually very sad. Something bad happened, or is happening to them. We need to find out what that is, and when we fix that, they stop being so angry and grumpy – because they were a good kid all along.
They told you a lie. They told you this was about the child. Of course we all love the child. That’s a given. They used your love to manipulate you. They used your love for the child to take away your power to defend yourself.
They manipulated the child. If we have an authentic child, then absolutely… but not if they’re manipulating and controlling the child. You got caught. They used your love for your child to manipulate you.
I know you love your child. They can’t manipulate me. This isn’t about the child, it’s about you. It’s about how they are abusing and traumatizing you. I know. I can’t get vicarious trauma unless you’ve got trauma. You’ve got lots and lots… your sad is so deep, and your grief is so large…
So the thing about sad is… it makes us strong. People think strength comes from angry because violence is more visible. They’re wrong. Strength comes from compassion, from being sad.
But the strength of compassion isn’t always seen right away, and the apparent strength of violence is more visible. But compassion is relentless in its force.
I want to thank for your gifts of sadness and grief… sort of. You know what I mean. Let’s see what we can do about getting your children back. Even, and especially your now grown kids.
Grandparents, I hear you. South Africa, Romania, Netherlands, England, you too.
The world for you has been crazy, and painful, very painful. First, we start by returning to sanity. You, your trauma and your grief, are important. We love the child, we all do. That’s a given.
You don’t have to prove anything. I know you love your child, we know you love your child. The whole idea that you had to “prove” you were “worthy” was all part of the trauma dream – the abusive and brutal nightmare of the trauma dream.
It’s time to tell of your pain, to lift the lie that has held you in silence. Wendy speaks with your voice, and each of you has your voice too, your authenticity and the truth of your pain and loss.
Victims is not a correct way of framing it. The psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived the Holocaust, and his book, Man’s Search for Meaning is considered a pinnacle achievement in existential psychotherapy. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, says we are never victims, we always have choice. He is a persuasive voice for the dignity of the human spirit.
I don’t see you as victims, as much as heroes. What you have been made to endure, your grief and loss, is unendurable, and yet… you do… and you prosper in spite of your suffering.
So as we enter a new phase – a grounding in actual reality – it’s my pleasure and honor to stand with you. I couldn’t ask for a better company of people to stand with on this battlefield.
Craig Childress, Psy.D.
Clinical Psychologist, PSY 18857