In my work as a therapist, I’ve worked quite a bit with people suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It is generally acknowledged that while many people undergo trauma in their lives, not all or even most of them will develop symptoms of PTSD. We have a natural tendency towards healing, given the right conditions.
One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that, in many cases, when we go a little deeper into the story, we see that what prevented natural healing was not the actual event, but what followed it. When the people who underwent the experiences did not get validation, support, and love from their environments, it seems that that is what prevented them from healing.
For example, I had a client, a man whose son-in-law was killed in a terror attack. He had been very attached to this young man, and the unexpected, horrific death made him feel as though he had lost his own son. But the people around him could not understand this, and kept telling him, “But he was not your son!” This lack of legitimization for his grief was what, in my eyes, made his trauma turn into full-blown PTSD.
Another client was sexually molested by a doctor following a breast examination. But the medical administrators whom she told about it right after the experience did not take her seriously, and the response of other staff members was also not empathetic or supportive. Again, this is what sent her into a spiral of PTSD, more than the actual molestation itself.
I could give other examples, but my point today is to describe what is happening to me, to us, today. What the people who were in the actual horrific events on October 7th experienced is beyond words to describe. The killings, torture, rape and kidnapping are things that we modern, Western, educated citizens do not imagine we will ever experience. What those families have been going through is just hell. What this whole country, every single person in it, has been experiencing since then — the sadness, the horror, the fear, survivor’s guilt — is mass trauma. But it all could perhaps heal one day, if only we experienced support, validation of our pain, and legitimization of our anger and outrage, from the world.
But I hear about Russell Rickford, an associate professor of history, who told students during a pro-Palestinian protest, regarding the massacre of October 7: “It was exhilarating, it was energizing.” And about former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who said publicly that he didn’t really know “what actually happened” when Hamas launched their surprise invasion into Israel, and that he wasn’t convinced it wasn’t a “false flag operation,” expressing doubt about the death toll and Hamas’s role in the attack.
When I hear these and many other examples, I feel my pain increased a thousandfold. It is like a painful wound in my heart, being squeezed by an iron hand. It makes everything unbearable. What human beings need when they have experienced a traumatic experience is to be told: “This is so painful. This should not have happened to you. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. You are not alone.”
We listen to President Biden’s words, and to New York City Mayor Eric Adams’s words, over and over again, for they are like balm to our pain. We listen to Broadway singers joining us in our prayer to bring the hostages home. We hear supportive foreign journalists making the Israeli case to the world. We need more of those voices, from leaders all over the world, from universities, from human rights organizations. We need that support in order to heal. Please – open up your hearts and your minds to what has really happened and is happening here.