Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Terror and Trauma: What are the effects?

Dear Readers,

I highly recommend reading Why does terrorism fascinate me? Because of the terror in my past. by Jessica Stern in its entirety.

It's an extremely powerful piece, where this expert on terrorism examines the trauma effect of her rape as a child and how that lead to her being emotionally numb enough to examine terrorism. She has an important moment of self-realization, that her childhood experience is something she must examine and understand, otherwise she will suffer from numbness and disconnectedness to the terror part of terrorism.

She also begins to examine the relationship between childhood trauma and adult violence and terrorism. Her rapist had been abused by a priest as a boy, and his own trauma led to a lifetime of destroying the lives of others.

She links that to potential childhood trauma among extremists and wonders at what young experience terrorists or other violent people may have had that lead to their current existence.

I think it is extremely important to examine the human explanations, and to bravely examine our own lives, much like this author. I think we also greatly underestimate the fact that in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc, we're dealing with people who have led traumatized existences, and therefore they will behave in ways we don't expect. Iraqis have lived through 3 wars in their lifetimes. Afghanistan has lived under war and the Taliban. Poverty does not necessarily mean crime, but extreme poverty can lead to a difficulty in developing healthy emotional responses.

Some choice quotes:

"I wasn't aware that I was afraid. After a series of traumas, one can lose the capacity to feel fear appropriately."

"She (the psychologist) suggested that I might have post-traumatic stress disorder. I did not believe it."

"I felt compelled to answer questions I had spent my professional life asking about terrorists: What happened to the boy who grew up to become my rapist? Was there anything in his life story that might explain, at least in part, why he would want or need to hurt us? What happened to him afterward?"

"Is there a link between possible abuse and alienation and vulnerability to terrorist recruitment? Could terrorism sometimes reflect a kind of perverse post-traumatic evolution?"

A very interesting and powerful article. I recommend reading it. I would like to hear your thoughts.



  1. i'm glad you wrote about that article. it struck me too, in that it illuminates connections between different types of terror. of course, she indirectly points out the connection between masculinity and terror as well. "why would he want or need to hurt us?" is a question that has endured through history (and i recognize gender pronouns as significant).

    i have friends who have not taken the time to fully understand their early sexual traumas, and certainly as a nation we do not understand our own traumatic history. therefore we are doomed to continue acting out of paranoia.

  2. From a Reader:

    Fantastic article. I think that as Americans many of us find safety in our denial of violence in the world that we live in and in the denial of our early sexual traumas.

    I think that when we live in denial, we find ourselves stuck in a cycle where we are numb to reality, much like what Jessica Stern explained she experienced.

    We try to live in nice areas, protect our children by sending them to “better” schools, but we do not often take the time to learn more or to have daily safety discussions with our children because in our minds we truly believe we have “removed them” from those unsafe situations. The problem I have found is that 50% of the time, assaults happen in places where we feel most safe, yet we cannot get past our denial to learn more so that we are not as vulnerable in those safe places.

    Once we learn new information it can change the way we perceive and react to the world around us. New information allows us to automatically create a new reality, which can lead to a new reaction.

    Jessica Stern gives us new information. We are the only ones who can choose how we perceive and how we use that information. Hopefully we can use it to create a reality for ourselves where we remove the denial, are willing to ask questions that matter, and where we learn more to add one more tool to our personal safety kit. Thank you to Jessica Stern and to all the men and women who are providing new information to change the way we see and act in the world. You truly make a difference.

  3. From a Reader:

    Thank you, I enjoyed reading the article -- I'm glad the author was able to put the pieces together regarding her own experience and is using this knowledge to broaden our understanding of terror, trauma and the linkages.