Diana Paulding (she/her) is a PhD student at the University of Exeter. Her research looks at individual and cultural trauma in the book of Job. She worships with the United Reformed Church (URC) and is on the leadership team for your church, a digital congregation. She was also a representative for URC Youth on the 2019 Educational Visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, serves on the URC’s Faith and Order committee, and is a council member for the URC History Society.
Diana Paulding, “The Social Context of Trauma: Post-Trauma Narrative as a Path to Liberation”
Trauma studies as a discipline grew out of European and American research in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the models of trauma that were constructed focused primarily on combat trauma and experiences of sexual assault. As a result, individual trauma has traditionally been seen as a response to a single, catastrophic event and characterised by dissociation and the inability to form a narrative about the event.
Cultural trauma is understood to be sociological rather than psychological, and the experience of cultural trauma is formed by narratives that shape group identity and cohesion. Individual trauma has therefore been described as the ‘failure of narrative’, whilst cultural trauma is the construction of narrative; the biblical scholar David Janzen argues that this means that individual sufferers will always be silenced by social narratives about their trauma.
I argue that the silencing of individuals is not an inevitability. Writers on the decolonisation of trauma studies have recognised that an event-based model of individual trauma does not reflect all experiences and that trauma can be insidious and ongoing, particularly when individuals live under the shadow of colonialism, racism, oppressive regimes, and constant threats of violence.
Narrative is not an impossibility but rather an integral part of the trauma process that plays a vital role in changing the circumstances that cause the ongoing trauma. By recognising that individual trauma is inseparable from its social context, rather than something essentially different, we can construct a model of trauma that allows individuals to speak about their experiences, influence the collective narratives that are formed, and liberate social groups from the causes of trauma.