When describing the phenomena of emotional and psychological trauma that is passed down generation to generation, the term Mother Wound is often used. However, this term, mother wound, is a misnomer, a distraction in many ways, and only serves to feed the misogynist message, and therefore exacerbate the traumatization, of our culture. For a period of time, I had been using the term patriarchal wound instead, because it more accurately describes what this phenomena is and how it is actually passed down (through our cultural conditioning and training). However, that name has never quite fully described the phenomenon either because when we are describing the particular type of patriarchy that currently exists in our society, we need to add the clarification adjectives of white supremacist, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, ablist, transphobic, etc. This is because the particular flavor of patriarchy we all live with and in and under is more than simply male rule or male dominance. It is, quite specifically, white, CIS, heterosexual, Christian, upper middle class (or more), fully abled body, male rule.
This phenomena is cultural. We are both traumatized by our culture and our culture shows signs of being traumatized itself. This phenomena comes at us not only from our mothers and or fathers, it comes from our entire socialization within this culture: through media, through mentors and friends, through our definition of success, through our systemic colonization and oppression. We are traumatized by the messages of how we aren’t enough and are too much and all the shame that goes with them; of how we need to keep striving for that carrot of success that is always just out of our reach – all these messages are given to us through multiple channels from our parents to the media to our laws to the lack of convictions (or lenient sentences for) rapists and intimate partner abusers to the glass ceiling to the mommy wars and everything between and beyond. Add to these the messages of how women are not humans worthy of safety or respect (if we were there would not be rape, interpersonal violence, or murder by intimate partners, or at the least there would be a 100% conviction rate and sentences would be serious). People of color are also not worthy of this respect (consider the unprovoked police and citizen racial motivated murders of children, women, and men of color). Gay and transgender and queer people – also not worthy. Poor people – not worthy (consider how culturally the poor are considered unintelligent, lazy, and just don’t try hard enough to get out of their situation). Our culture tells us over and over there is something wrong with us. Additionally, we know from our lived experience there is something very much wrong with our culture. Only a wounded animal spews this amount of hate and vitriol towards others.
This phenomena is relational. Our culture wants to keep us isolated and alone. Our culture wants us clawing and climbing on top of each other instead of supporting each other and building each other up. This messaging, training, and conditioning is passed down generation to generation, over and over. Parent (not only our mothers, also our fathers) to child. We are taught how to act, how to look, how to be so that we will survive, and maybe if we are lucky enough, if we are white enough and straight enough and male enough (or female enough in the proper ways) and have enough money, then we just might thrive too. Maybe. As long as we don’t step out of line. As long as we stay compliant. As long as we don’t question. As long as we remain obedient and keep our leashes on.
This phenomena is a trauma and is traumatic. It produces all the signs and effects of an acute traumatic event:
- Hyper-vigilance (also related to fear and anxiety)
- Extreme irritability
- Emotional dysregulation (mood swings; cannot soothe self easily; once triggered into anger or sadness or fear cannot easily come out of it)
- Disassociated from the body (cannot feel your body or sense your physical boundaries; bumping into walls or furniture, not knowing where bruise or cuts/scrapes have come from)
- Disassociated from the present (stuck in past and future thinking)
- Inability to concentrate and stay focused on one thing for an extended period of time
- Self-isolation (withdrawing from or not connecting to others)
- Feelings of shame and self-blame and claiming responsibility for things that are out of your control
Additionally the following physical health issues are also associated with trauma:
- autoimmune disorders
- gastrointestinal disorders
- insomnia and/or nightmares
- racing heart beat and shortness of breath (panic attacks)
- muscle tension
- sexual dysfunction
Plus we are constantly re-traumatized over and over as we continue to live our lives. This means in order to break away from our cultural conditioning, training and traumatization, we need to be continually processing, finding ways of connection to our bodies, our Self, and to other people, and remaining curious about our Self, our reactions, and our relationships with others.
This phenomena is Cultural Relational Trauma. It affect all of us, even those this phenomena is meant to benefit. It is all the messages we have internalized about ourselves and others. It is all the implicit biases that live in our muscles and sinew. It is the constant re-traumatization of our Self and our communities for even daring to exist.
It won’t just go away because we wish it to.
We must look at it. Unearth it. Examine it. Dismantle it. Dislodge it from our bodies and being and communities and society.
This trauma is personal and political. It is Self and social. It is individual and collective.
Because it is both cultural and relational the way to healing is by doing both our work in the outer world (whatever that may look like to bring about healing and liberation for all) and AT THE SAME TIME doing our own inner work of unearthing and exploring and unraveling and dismantling and dislodging.
Sometimes this Self work will be on our own, other times with one other person or multiple single other people, and other times, and I find this most healing way, in community. Learning to see the cultural leash for what it is: a way to oppress and control a populace that our culture fears. Learning to trust and to be trustworthy; learning compassion for others and ourselves; exposing the myths of the Perfect Person and the Perfect Life and the lies our culture has told us of “If only you do X then you will get Y”. Becoming curious and rebellious and joining others and locking arms and pushing each other up and up and up. Breathing fire, in unison, and burning it all down.
And together, in solidarity, creating a world where self actualization and social liberation are common place and no longer an act of defiance or resistance or disruption to the oppressive status quo.
Let’s do this thing.
Let’s say NO MORE.
Let’s get unleashed.
Together. Always, together.
In rebellious solidarity,