Thoughts on Trauma

A computer monitor with a fragmented image

I’ve been thinking today about trauma. Here I’m going to explore the topic a little, discuss the case of survivors of war, and think a bit about how in public and institutional context trauma can be precipitated and weaponised.

At my therapist’s the other day the topic of trauma came up, and he described a model of trauma that was arresting in its difference from my naive understanding, but profound in its implications.

Trauma, he said, occurs when our feelings are at odds with what we are told we are feeling. This can happen not only when our suffering is denied by those around us (this is gaslighting), but also when we are told we are suffering but are not.

As an example, he discussed the experience of survivors of war arriving in camps for refugees or internally displaced persons. Under previous practice, the camp workers would assume that people arriving at the camp would be traumatised, and would start their treatment on this basis. They found that rather than decreasing the levels of trauma, this actually increased them. Many of the arrivals didn’t consider themselves victims, and to have victimhood forced on them was itself traumatising.

A new approach was to attempt to understand each camp arrival on their own terms. To be ready to appreciate and value their resilience in escaping a war zone and making it to relative safety. To be ready to treat trauma if it became apparent, but all the more to recognise and celebrate the strength, experience and knowledge that each person brought.

As I look around our social and political discourse, I wonder how often we see the traumatisation of the previously untraumatised. How often do we tell people ‘you are suffering’, ‘you are traumatised’, ‘you deserve pity’, ‘you need help’, without first asking them ‘how do you feel?’, ‘what do you need?’ And by doing so, how often do we propagate traumas not rooted in primary experiences, but rather in our imposed, secondary perception of them?

And how often are these patterns of behaviour part of a self-perpetuating system? How often are these ripples of trauma deliberately propagated? How often are the newly traumatised collateral damage in our toxic political discourse?

SoCraTes BE 2019

Floréal La Roche

I’ve spent the last few days at the SoCraTes BE Unconference. Here is a brief report.

SoCraTes takes place at a holiday camp in a socialist realist château among the sheer wooded slopes of a Belgian Ardennes.

It’s an unconference, which means that rather than having a predetermined schedule, the participants apply the Open Space Principles to create each day’s schedule.

Here are some of the sessions I attended:

A group exercise creating a Wardley Map of a fictional shop. I’ve heard lots of people talking about Wardley Maps, but this was the first time I got to try them out.

A workshop practising a couple of Liberating Structures. I didn’t think I was familiar with Liberating Structures, but it turns out I’ve been using a few of them for a while! I particularly liked the Troika Consulting structure, and the problem we encountered enabled me to talk through a few techniques I’ve recently learnt from Goldratt’s Thinking Processes.

A nice group discussion on What makes a good stand-up? It turns out lots of us have encountered similar problems and found similar solutions. Hurray!

Talk like Sandi. We watched Sandi’s talk, Get a Whiff of This, and then had a group discussion about what makes her such a compelling speaker.

Code Smells quiz show. This was based on an activity I recently ran with my team, and as luck would have it, my friend Pedro, who wrote the source code for the exercise, was also at SoCraTes, so we ran this session together. It was really popular, and definitely worth repeating.

The Transport Tycoon exercise: modelling a delivery network. This gave us a good chance to compare Classic TDD and Domain Modelling techniques to understand this problem.

Making illegal state transitions impossible. A fairly involved look at modelling state machines in functional languages. We spent rather too long struggling with the language, but it was good to discuss the basic concepts.

Powerpoint Karaoke with each other’s presentations. This is always an entertaining evening activity. It’s usually played with random slide decks from the internet, but this time we challenged each other to improvise talks to presentations that other members of the group had once given.

I had a casual discussion with my friend Pedro Santos about how often personal and professional development is accompanied by pain (an idea that goes back to Aristotle: μετὰ λύπης γὰρ ἡ μάθησις), and whether we can find ways to teach and coach that break this dynamic. The use of games seems to be one approach, as they can offer a safe context for failure.

An introduction to Aikido, out by the river under the hornbeams as the sun went down.