Culture Creates the Context for Harm and Healing
Trauma permeates every aspect of our society.
From the personal to the collective, it is such a presence that we can’t completely avoid it. None of us are immune to trauma shaping at least some of our everyday experience.
That doesn’t have to be the whole story.
Trauma thrives on our isolation. But when we have the right support around us we can be stubborn and creative in our pursuit of living a life full of joy, pleasure, and connection.
Because when we share a vision with others we are more powerful than when we go at it alone.
How Relationships Heal Trauma
We live in a culture that teaches us to question our feelings. That, combined with the way that trauma manipulates our memory, creates a perfect Petri dish for self-doubt and shame.
But being witnessed in our suffering can validate our experience. When we’re seen in our suffering by people who love and respect us, we’re less likely to doubt our remembering of what happened.
When we have someone else there with us, it also means the burden doesn’t fall solely on us. There is someone, or others, who can help us pick ourselves up and move forward. We have resources.
Research actually shows that the impact of traumatic stress is significantly influenced by whether we feel connected to others and supported in the aftermath of our experiences. If we have a supportive person in our presence, we are less likely to develop long term symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
Trauma or not, we fare better when we have strong relationships in our lives.
And beyond our one-on-one relationships, we’re also more well when we feel a sense of community. When we know there is a system of people, institutions, or resources available to help us, we can worry less about our survival and wellbeing.
If relationships and community hold this much power in our recovery from trauma, this means that our wellbeing does not exist in a vacuum where only our personal choices have impact.
There is context to our wellbeing.
Culture is what creates the context for harm and healing.
Culture is the container where collective values, beliefs, rituals, and practices are drawn from and archived. It is how we set values and expectations for what community looks like and feels like and makes possible (or impossible).
In our present day context there are Big C cultures, such as the culture that most everyone reading this will recognize as the dominant institutions and ideologies that shape our everyday experiences (e.g. white supremacy, capitalism, anti-Blackness, Indigenous invisibilization, etc.).
And little c cultures meaning the cultures shaped by the micro-communities we cultivate every day amongst friends, family, neighbors, and those who share our identities or interests.
When it comes to the cultures that stem from our heritage, they might feel like a Big C or a little c culture depending on the context and circumstances.
Either way, while we can endeavor to shift the aspects of all cultures that create the context for harm or healing, we have tremendous power to shift our little c cultures towards contexts of healing and liberation.
When the Context Creates Harm
When the culture we’re steeped in creates a context of harm, our bodies are necessarily preoccupied with our protection.
When we are preoccupied with keeping ourselves safe that means we have to sacrifice other aspects of our being.
Oftentimes, that means exiling the parts of us who are most authentically us. Whether we are ashamed of them, pressured by others to tone them down, or simply too busy for them, we know that in order to survive and get our needs met we have to show up in a different way that is more palatable to others.
Because of this loss of self we are unable to connect with ourselves and we are unable to truly connect with others. As a result we are bound to an ideology where we exist in comparison to others: we deem ourselves or others good or bad or better or worse.
When the Context Creates Healing
When our culture creates a context of healing, we can be ourselves and others are free to be themselves, as long as that doesn’t harm anyone else.