Treating Trauma Together (part 2)
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: “a condition of persistent mental and emotional stress occurring as a result of injury or severe psychological shock, typically involving disturbance of sleep and constant vivid recall of the experience, with dulled responses to others and to the outside world.” -- Oxford Dictionary.
So now what?
In my experience, the treatment of traumatic stress at any point remains incomplete until one critical event takes place. The plan to prevent it from ever happening again, which by necessity requires a review and accountability process to follow. All of the initial safety plans, relaxation techniques, and corrective self-talk and completed story-telling is fine so far as it goes. It just doesn’t go far enough. At some point what we need if we experience the condition of PTSD is a means of prevention. There must never be another “next time” for ourselves OR others.
While on the phone yesterday with my 21 year old granddaughter who lives just across the Potomac a ways from the Capitol in Washington, DC, what I felt most concerned about is that the next generation of Americans must know that another trauma like 1/6/2021 is preventable. It doesn’t have to be like that.
Among the traumas I’ve treated as a therapist over the last 4 decades professionally, I would have to say the most common is still that of domestic violence in the family. Child and/or spousal abuse is still the most frequently presented problem by those suffering from PTSD among my own clients. For victims of domestic violence, “domestic terrorism” can be an every day threat if not actual event.
Domestic violence and domestic terrorism, then, may be a very apt way of examining the event of last week’s attack by mostly white militants upon our nation’s Capitol. Families of domestic violence can be broken into roles and functions by individual members. Granted, one may at some point deduce that all in the family are victims. But doing so is most unhelpful and is almost guaranteed to result in further violence. So first, let’s apply some "second thoughts" to the question of whose role is which in this family. And let’s name the different roles required for this domestic violence to have occurred and re-occur in the future.
First comes the obvious role of primary "perpetrator." Then come the "enablers." Then come the "loyalists." And then the "scapegoats," who are the primary victims in the whole mess. I find it often useful to accept that a perpetrator cannot happen without enablers, who can’t happen without loyalists, who can’t happen without scapegoats.
For purposes of treating this trauma of 1/6/2021 together, it’s time to fill in the blanks.
Donald Trump was the primary perpetrator. No matter what his loyalists want to tell the therapist to the contrary, he is it. He has abused the family traumatically!!!! No President Trump could have happened without enablers.
The primary enabler, in my opinion, was not the Republican Party itself. They were secondary enablers. Primary goes to the American media across its total spectrum. Everything from social media to network news. Within our system of capitalist economics, Trump was good for ratings. People watched, listened, read for the same reason people watch for ambulance stretchers to remove a body from a car accident along the roadside. Traffic halts so everyone can get a look. Those who paid attention to Trump boosted ratings that boosted profits that boosted executive bonuses and stockholder dividends. Enough said. The media enabled Trump.
The secondary enabler, in my opinion, was the Republican Party. But this one gets a bit tricky. As in domestic violence within the home, this enabler is often beaten and threatened by the perpetrator and so identifies with another family member for the sake of survival. Who would that be? The loyalist(s). The one(s) not being beaten or threatened. By the same token, they must join in opposition to the scapegoat(s) who then receives the actual beating and threat.
The loyalists in relation to Donald Trump are those who voted for him because he was only beating or threatening their own sibling rivals and/or his less loyal enablers. They were the safe ones. The untouchables. The “fair haired child” of this dysfunctional family. Or the “light skinned child” if you are a PTSD victim from an African American family.
The scapegoat in relation to Donald Trump is the Democrat Party. Those who voted with them are all guilty by association. They are abusively labeled baby-killlers and socialists/communists. They are the ones to be blamed, as victims are nearly always blamed. It goes without saying that in any family of domestic violence, the scapegoat(s) and loyalist(s) will form the story or narrative of "division." Whether a divided family or a divided nation, look for the media attention to be directed to the scapegoats and loyalists, not the perpetrator and enablers. Even as they act out the parental divide, their function in the dysfunctional family is to distract and detract and protect. They draw fire and supply a kind of pseudo target.
So what to do? How to prevent the domestic violence from ever happening again?
One is often tempted to start with the primarily enabler in such a family, nation, or other traumatized social system. But remember that the enablers are most inclined to identify with the loyalists, not the scapegoats, if they are to avoid the beatings and threats.
Instead, one must start with the scapegoats, who must be empowered to 1. Think twice and see that they are no longer going to be victims but instead survivors, and then 2. to tell their own story in new ways with a happy ending. These non-loyalists and non-enablers must form a coalition of resistance that essentially dares the perpetrator to even lift a single finger of further aggression. Together they must stand up to the bully. They must become their own rescuers for the sake of their own survival.
An interesting thing happens when scapegoats refuse to ever be victims again. Enablers become afraid of becoming scapegoats and victims themselves. What the media and the Republican Party are now going through post 1/6/2021 is a race to escape the perpetrator’s beatings should they wear the new target on their own backs. This is what brings them into coalition with the former scapegoats / victims and out of coalition with the loyalists. The loyalists, the fair-haired kids, may choose to go live with the perpetrator after the divorce, but only until they then become what every perpetrator must have for his own survival: a new scapegoat inside the family.
In the most practical of terms, here’s what needs to happen among the members of America’s current dysfunctional family in crisis.
The scapegoated Democratic Party needs to concern itself with one objective only: preventing Donald Trump from ever again perpetrating abuse upon this family. Nothing more and nothing less.
Here is where therapy gets tough.
The Democrats must reach out to form a working coalition not with adversarial language but rather with the reframing of this current crisis as a problem of "public safety." To achieve a "safety plan" for this American nation (family) free from any further domestic violence by this perpetrator, they will need to form an initial coalition with not the primary but rather secondary enablers, the Republican Party. This will have the same effect as abused children going to mother and saying either you divorce Dad and keep him away from us or we will go to Child Protective Service and seek Foster care and Adoption. Take your choice.
In effect, only the Republicans can prevent Trump from being a Republican ever again. If forced to start his own third Party, he will do so with a group of loyalists most of whom are incapable of supplying adequate funding for such a populist endeavor. When Theodore Roosevelt left the Republicans to start the Bull Moose Party as a populist back in 1912, money did not drive American politics. Today there’s little chance that a populist 3rd party could advance beyond that of, say, Roosevelt in 1912 or Ross Perot in 1992. Especially if the Democratic and Republican Parties in coalition expanded forces by then going to the primary enablers, the media companies. No more campaign ads unless there is no more free publicity for Donald Trump and his loyalists. The threat of lost revenue from Party campaign ads and the media outlets far and wide would cry Uncle. Not a doubt in my mind.
The shut down of media for Donald Trump would mark the end of enabling, which would mark the end of his abuse. Never again! There must never be another “next time” for ourselves OR others.
That, my friends, is how our nation's story itself can be retold, realized, and the American nightmare of 1/6/21 replaced with an American dream come true.