A Trauma Therapist’s Take On the Select Committee Hearing

I just spent the past 3 hours watching The Select Committee on January 6. I was surprised by a number of things that occurred during this first session that others may not have noticed, but have an impact on the wider world, so I thought I’d highlight them.

First, a semi-political piece: The Committee was chosen very well. On the Committee, there was a Black chairman, White people, at least one Hispanic person, and at least one Asian woman. There were men and women, and yes, Democrats and Republicans. Each and every one of them was affected by the events of that day. Traumatic events effect everyone. Diverse groups like this show the unity of our humanity, despite the apparent differences of the people in a group. Overwhelming events are overwhelming events. We may cope with them differently as individuals, but we are still overwhelmed by them, and we all need to cope with them,

The thing that most struck me in the testimony of the officers was this: their shame. There was an officer who was slammed in a door, who saved the lives of the Congresspeople, and he acknowledged/apologized for the fact that he spit on the floor trying to clear his lungs. Was anyone else concerned that he spit on the floor? Did anyone even notice it? No. Does it matter in the larger picture, such that he should be ashamed of it? No. Does he care about it? Is he embarrassed by it? Absolutely.

Inordinate shame about things that don’t matter in a situation they had no control over is a hallmark of trauma survivors. Some of them are defensive of those psychic wounds and lash out. Some of them just hurt as the event or events overwhelm their sense of self and they have what Joan Baez called “that haunted, hunted look”. In any case, trauma hurts and it hurts in ways unimaginable by those who have not experienced it.

In addition to that, there seems to be an inverse correlation between how bad the symptoms are and how strongly a person believed in the cause that was offended. In this case, those who had a strong belief in an ideal America, in an ideal Democracy, were the most broken when that ideal failed. They seem to have two choices: either the cause isn’t true or they failed it. This leads to disillusionment or shame, depending on the false choice they make.

In trauma patients, it is the ones who most believe in the ideal of goodness that are the most who are the most hurt by the lack of it in their abusers. Again, they often choose either disillusionment with human beings or feel ashamed of their “failure” in that belief. Neither of course is true, but creative responses are often gone in the shock.

The worst way to treat someone who has been abused is to blame them for what happened, as they are already predisposed to self-hate. Often people will say “you were (morally) weak” to a survivor, “and that’s why it happened”. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The beauty or strength of the person prior to the trauma, because it took such a huge event, that should be assumed.

More truth will be revealed by the hearings as they go forward, but this struck me for today. I hope it adds to your understanding.

Resisting with Peace,

John

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