Let’s talk about trauma: A healing process

As we continue to commemorate our loved ones killed in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, it is important to talk about Trauma, which is most prevalent during this period of the year, especially among survivors of the Genocide, for many reasons.

The experience of trauma takes a hold on the survivor in different ways. It disrupts the sense of internal continuity in the survivor. Even though it’s difficult, there are many reasons to talk about trauma.

Whether with one heart-to-heart conversation or many ongoing discussions over time, here are some reasons to talk about trauma for recovery of survivors:

1.      To get support

Trauma isolates the survivors; a support group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatizes; support group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group restores her or his humanity.

Such support can come from family, friends, a hotline volunteer or mental health professional.

A group of people who have been through a similar experience can feel like the freshest of air.

2.      To make sense of what happened

To “process” a trauma essentially means to make sense of it. Trauma doesn’t make sense and it’s a mess of emotions and reactions and questions. It’s unspeakable, more of a roar than words. Therefore, turning the unspeakable into language is necessary to make sense of trauma.

Talking to your therapist, trusted friends or family, or, interestingly, your journal, is a great place to start and continue your processing. Sometimes having your pen do the talking is the most powerful way to harness your voice.

3. To realize that you are more than your trauma

Trauma can sometimes seem like the defining point in one’s life. There’s life before the Genocide and then there’s an entirely different life after. The degree to which people define themselves by their trauma is refer to as event centrality.

Centrality of trauma can be both a bad sign and a good sign. It’s a bad sign when the trauma overwhelms your identity.

But centrality can be a good sign when survivors assimilate the event into their identity. It becomes part of who they are. It made them who they are today. The trauma is central to their lives, but they have become a victor rather than a victim.

4. To get a reality check

Trauma turns our understanding of the world upside down. We think it is our fault. We think no one can ever be trusted again.

We think if anyone gets to know the real us, we will be abandoned faster than a beachfront house during hurricane season. But talking about trauma can demystify these mistaken beliefs.

5. To make meaning

Trauma makes us look inside ourselves. Often, trauma sharpens our sense of purpose, reminds us to focus on our family or community, or sets us on a mission to give back, appreciate life, or realize our own strength and resilience. 

So just like any long journey, proceed at your own pace and don’t try to go it alone. It may feel like there are a million reasons to stand still and keep silent, but there are millions more to speak the unspeakable and move forward.

The writer holds a PhD in Mental Health from University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa and Masters of Public Health from University of Nancy, France. His is currently the Director of Psychiatric Care within Rwanda Biomedical Center.