heirlooms and accessories: “the anthem of dissociation” — the memory, the church, and the trauma.
Many of us have experienced lost memories, lost narratives, and lost identities in our lives. Traumatic experiences are the leader in dismembering memories. The tumultuous reality of early trauma developmentally suppresses the brain to recall memories. Simply put, the pain of trauma is just too damn unbearable to hold.
When trauma is too difficult to bear, we often turn to dissociation. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that acts as anesthesia to the pain of trauma. We numb ourselves by suffocating the truth of our pain and not letting it in our lives. Instead, we resist engaging our trauma to the point of cutting off parts of our self in order to survive the dissociation.
The Church plays a major role in inflating dissociation. Jesus is used as a dissociation band aid. For example, when someone comes up to a fellow church-goer friend and reveal a vulnerable and painful experience they are having, the other churchgoer often dismisses the pain and instead speaks the perfect dissociative phrase: “I’ll pray for you.” And then they are on their way, without ever stepping into the trauma, and without considering how the other person is suffering.
Another example of church being dangerously dissociative is when we gather and sing songs of praise to God that completely rob us from the reality of our trauma. Songs with lyrics that dismiss any real trauma of the congregation and instead dissociate by saying, “Jesus is all I need, and nothing else matters”. Our stories, our memories, our skin does not matter because Jesus is the ultimate dissociation band aid and church goers gather to sing loudly and proudly their dissociation anthems. The danger of dissociation resides in the further dismissal of the trauma within us. Our painful memories continue living in the ruins of our souls, undisturbed and aching.
Marginalized individuals experience the deepest kind of trauma and dissociation. I am a white woman, and so I cannot know what my marginalized friends and family experience. However, if I, as a white person, walk around with dissociation, how much more so do the marginalized, who are always having to shift for the dominant white face. African-Americans experience a much deeper and complex form of trauma through intergenerational oppression. Time after time and generation after generation, their pain and trauma have been neglected and dismissed. The scariest form of harm is when you have been traumatized and then are told adamantly that you have NOT been traumatized and that your pain is a fabrication in your mind. African-Americans have been punished over and over again for speaking on behalf of their trauma and their truths. The dominant white person dismisses and dissociates and cannot hold the reality of the marginalized level of trauma. So we engage in a cycle of traumatization and dissociation. We rewrite history, or leave parts of history out, because we cannot hold the truth and reality of trauma.
This week, in our group, we discussed memory from chapter 11 in Bessel Van der Kolk’s book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Marginalized and oppressed humans need to be given their truth back, their trauma, and their reality. The more we dissociate and dismiss the further we will go down a path of cutting ourselves off from fullness and wholeness.
We ended our group in alliance towards stopping the extremely dangerous anthem of dissociation we see in the church, the oppressed, and ourselves. Church is the last place we would send a traumatized person.