The Consequences of Trauma
Al Tiro: Fear Not
The exact meaning of these two words are not known. The phrase was used by a German Jewish man at the beginning of the Holocaust, at the very end of 1939, at a sparse hidden Jewish wedding that I attended before the very young couple escaped to Sweden. These words creep into my mind whenever a fearful thought envelops me.
Fear is an unwanted but sometimes necessary emotion that can lead us to action or can prevent us from living a happy peaceful life. For those of us who escaped from the terrors that we experienced as half grown children it is one of the plagues that are remnants of those blood curdling atrocities. It places the erstwhile child - now grown up older parent - into the position of waves of helplessness and dependency, a loss of independence that threatens his very being. The slightest insinuation that his freedom will be curtailed brings on anger, resentment and alienation. A good example is a child who wants to stop a parent from driving, which alienates the survivor into unbelievable stress, reduces the feeling of adequacy in him and makes him want to abandon the relationship, which can never be totally whole again. The survivor cannot tolerate overseers or denigration in any form, be it ever so hidden.
Fear is sometimes dressed in the form of titles and accomplishments. The survivor needs to use his titles to show these to himself and his inner world: “You see, behold me important. If I have this label people will behold me worthwhile, untouchable, useful and necessary. They will therefore not reject me and will respect me. Therefore it follows that they better not come too close to me as they will find out who I really am and all of the things I am not and am incapable and worthless because I am who I am”. These situations bring on more problems and less closeness. Therefore the enormous inner feelings of rejection do not leave the victim. Nothing ever seems enough, no accomplishment is positive for any length of time, and more and more energy is utilized to prove herself or himself, thus exhausting the victimized survivor. She or he never feels accepted nor fits into any situation which challenges her fears and beliefs of herself and damaged self concept. She can never reach the proverbial apple in the Garden of Eden nor the love that she needs to survive the trauma that was hers. This condition can also be likened to the rich man, once poor, who can never get enough and who is afraid to spend money on himself or others since he will regain his former status of poverty.
Under normal conditions fear can be useful and warns us of a real situation where we must avoid danger and react accordingly, avoiding harm. Overwhelming fear is damaging and leaves indelible marks on the individual thus plagued.
As Jews and human beings we must be cognizant and insightful with regard to the person with whom we are dealing, where that other person is from, give some understanding, love and acceptance to the human being who has experienced the unimaginable, and remain aware of the inner child now among us.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).