The Ukrainian Crisis- A Case of Collective Trauma?
With the world becoming increasingly smaller through technology and other scientific inroads, one can hardly be content to say “what is happening in another neck of the woods does not affect me”. By all accounts, global occurrences are now affecting us, even if we are thousands of miles away, maybe not physically but certainly for many people, our psyche and psychological health are impacted. The COVID-19 pandemic has been described by the experts as collective trauma, and scarcely have we begun to learn to live with COVID-19 when the war in Ukraine and its fallouts began. Mass casualties, and horrendous images being displayed on news screens internationally, have catapulted us into yet another situation where we are said to be experiencing collective trauma. It would not even be surprising that someone reading this article in some distant part of the world, has a personal connection to the Ukrainian situation.
But what exactly is collective trauma and how does it impact us? First, it may be helpful to look at a simple definition of trauma “a powerful psychological shock that has damaging effects” (Colman, 2006). Trauma which occurs on an individual level can be brought about by violent and nonviolent events and is largely described as the individual’s response to the event, versus the event itself. It can be typified by an extreme sense of fear, terror and or hopelessness and often leaves the victim experiencing (even reliving) those emotions long after the event has passed. When trauma occurs collectively, it implies that the above responses are being experienced by millions of people simultaneously in different communities, societies and countries. Collective trauma which can be caused by wars, genocides, natural disasters, terrorism, mass shootings etc. impacts, affects and involves entire groups of people, communities and societies, it can either be experienced first-hand or witnessed (Render Turmaud, 2020; Trauma Treatment Collective, 2019). It is not surprising then that the war in Ukraine is described by Hübl (2022), as a resurgence of collective trauma.
So how exactly do we experience collective trauma? And could we be experiencing it? Perhaps answering some questions below could bring some illumination.
● Do we find that looking at the news and images becomes unbearable and gut wrenching?
● Do we have a sense that even though we are not in Ukraine or near to Ukraine, the reality of life feels like it has been turned upside down?
● Do we find ourselves experiencing psychological distress, great fear, anxiety, anger, rage?
● Do we feel a sense of hopelessness when we hear about, or see, the destroyed buildings, the rubble, and refugees trying to find safety? Or even just by the mention of certain words and names connected to the situation?
What can we do about collective trauma? Below are some simple, but definitely not exhaustive options.
Give ourselves permission to validate our experiences.
One of the first lines of defence to be able to cope and deal with traumatic experiences is to find our centre by engaging in meditation.
Engage in other forms of self-care (could involve reaching out to a therapist, psychologist or counsellor).
Another way through which we cope is searching for opportunities to lend a helping hand-being able to reach out and help others in need is a very powerful way of healing even for us and a great way to fight feelings of powerlessness.
Create positive shared spaces and shared meanings, where individuals can come together, acknowledge what happened and even create memorials around the event- may not be possible in the early stages of the event.
Yvette Boucher is an Associate Counselling Psychologist and member of the Executive Committee of the Jamaican Psychological Society. She specializes in grief and trauma counselling and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Colman, A.M. (2006). Trauma In Oxford Dictionary of Psychology,2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, New York
Hübl Thomas (2022). The Ukraine crisis, Activating our collective trauma response. Retrieved from https://www.scienceandnonduality.com/video/the-ukraine-crisis-activating-our-collective-immune-system#:~:text=Trauma%20The%20war%20in%20Uk
Kaiser Permanente (2021). Healing from collective trauma. Healing From Collective Trauma | Kaiser Permanente
Render Turmaud D. (2020). What is collective trauma: how it could be impacting us. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifting-the-veil-trauma/202005/what-is-collective-trauma
Trauma Treatment Collective. (2019). What is collective trauma? https://traumatreatmentcollective.com/what-is-collective-trauma/
Willams, S. (2020). Healing as one: What is collective trauma and how do we heal from it? Healing as One: What is Collective Trauma and How Do We Heal from it? (naturalhealthscam.com)