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129 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A political and very necessary book., October 17, 2004
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This review is from: Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (Paperback)
This is not your usual trauma recovery book. Most books on healing explain symptoms, offer exercises, and provide illuminating case histories. Judith Herman does all this, but she goes beyond just focusing on healing oneself in isolation. We are social animals, and must live within our culture. Thus, how our culture regards trauma and traumatized people is very important to those trying to become reintegrated into society after massive psychic shock. Dr. Herman explains our modern Western culture's attitudes toward trauma and the traumatized, gives a fascinating and pertinent history of how those attitudes have changed throughout the past century, and shows how those attitudes affect how survivors recover.

Dr. Herman sets forth most of this broader cultural history in Part 1, Chapter 1, "A Forgotten History." She begins with the female hysteria patients of 19th Century Europe, and ends up with the Vietnam veterans' movement to demand treatment for battle induced post-traumatic stress. The veterans' work bore fruit. In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association included "post-traumatic stress disorder" in its official manual of mental disorders. This paved the way in the 1980s for victims of rape, childhood abuse, and domestic violence to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Part of the history Herman sets forth explores why people tend to shun and try to silence trauma survivors. She writes, "It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering."

I would guess that most people recovering from trauma have experienced the dynamic of those around them "taking the side of the perpetrator." Without understanding why they are doing so only compounds the suffering the survivor experiences, and intensifies the feeling that one is tainted, bad, or defective for having been traumatized in the first place. In exploring the cultural dynamics of collective repression and denial, Herman does a great service to those who must heal and re-enter a culture which can sometimes be seen to be in league with the perpetrators in our world.

The remainder of Part 1 deals with the types of abuse and the symptoms which follow. This information can be found in other books, but here it is set in a larger cultural context which helps the reader to make more sense out of the symptoms.

Part 2 describes the stages of recovery. This information is very concrete, very helpful, and hopeful as well. Dr. Herman outlines three main stages: establishing safety, remembering and integrating one's story, and re-integrating oneself back into the social world.

This book is probably the most helpful book I have read on trauma recovery in 20 years. Dr. Herman's idea of exploring the social matrix in which healing occurs is brilliant. After all, we are all connected. We cannot heal ourselves without making some sort of peace with the culture around us. We cannot always change the attitudes of those around us, but we can learn to understand, and thus approach those who cannot comprehend our reality with at least some measure of forgiveness and compassion.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 4, 2008 3:55:13 PM PST
Ani7 says:
A beautifullly written, professional review. I always learn something new when I pick this book up--thanks for reminding me.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 3, 2011 1:33:55 AM PDT
Grandma Mac says:
Yes I would agree it's taken me 20 years to realize this in my life as a survivor of trauma from childhood on. Now the task is to teach those that work in a system of gaps, that are re victimizing the victims of abuse because they can. Thank you for both of your feedback, Dr. Herman book has helped me go beyond the pain and suffering to compassion for others.
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Location: Duluth, Minnesota USA

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