Periodically, I return to Judith Herman’s widely acclaimed work on human trauma, in order to glean a better understanding of the “big picture;” the magnitude of human trauma.
Titled Trauma and Recovery- The Aftermath of violence—from domestic abuse to political terror, the book contains some of the most helpful insights into the actual study of trauma. While the book was published in 1997, its message is as timely as ever. In the Introduction, Herman writes:
“The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable.
Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims. The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.
People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy.
When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative, but as a symptom.”
Here are some notes from the book flap:
“This book will surely become a landmark work on the social impact of psychological trauma and its treatments …. A magnificent gift to survivors.”
–Miriam Lewin, Women’s Review of Books
“A stunning achievement … a classic for our generation.”
–Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. Harvard Medical School
“Astute, accessible and beautifully documented. Bridging the worlds of war veterans, prisoners of war, battered women and incest victims. Herman presents a compelling analysis of trauma and the process of healing. A triumph.”
–Laura Davis, coauthor of The Courage to Heal