TOTW: Anarchy and Trauma

TOTW - Anarchy and Trauma

I know that, before I had ever encountered critical discourse or radical politics, before I'd attended my first protest or meeting, before I had debated anyone on political theories either face to face or on the Internet, my first experiences of disenfranchisement towards the state, capitalism, civilisation, etc., and desires to rebel came from direct personal experiences that were mostly, in some way or another, traumatic. The trauma of childhood poverty, of bullying teachers in school, of family members dependent on drugs and alcohol, these all left me with a feeling of "I hate this shit", long before I had read anything on economics or anarchism.

Many of my friends and comrades are survivors of traumas that have inspired their radicalism. Sharing our experiences has often been excellent as a means of strengthening our relationships.

The ways of healing psychological traumas that seem to me most compatible with anarchist practices are:
Soma therapy
Shinrin Yoku

But I want to explore other options as well.

Please share practices that you have explored or are aware of in theory, which fit anarchist values.

[editor's note: Thanks to anonymous for this guest TOTW submission.]

There are 23 Comments

This is going to sound like a troll post, but I've found that making noise-not-music is incredibly therapeutic to me. There's something about it that feels like it's expressing the stuff in my head through sound, and the roughness is kind of like all the shit that I want to get out or calm down from my brain. It's an aggression that isn't violent and feels like I'm producing something (garbage) that I'm able to keep (record) or throw away at the end.

Making noise not music is basically the child's way of maintaining an "uncluttered consciousness", which allows for the unconditioned elements of social and personal developement precede along a spontaineous creative and anxiety free path.

I found anarchism before the worst patch of my life but I'm no stranger to food banks & cops going out of their way to shit on people. When I was ultimately betrayed and toyed with emotionally by the person I cared about most in this world and idea began forming about "why anarchy." No I can put to words that many people want power for awful reasons and others inadvertantly cause just as much pain. I want a future where people like the one who hurt me will never have power over anyone to hurt them and that I want no system to codify pain, suffering, and disenfranchisement.

I've wanted to put together something on healing for a while..

I like that expression "fighting is healing", yet its unfortunate that q lot of people have trouble trying to heal themselves, and that so often ppl have to worry about money. This is one of those areas that I feel anarchists could better structure and institutionalize, in the sense of putting together frameworks that can be used to heal people instead of using the outdated metrics of stability and order. Also the continued reliance on drug companies is pretty troubling.

Overall stirnerism and nihilism have been pretty helpful to me, yet a lot of ppl see this as a source of trauma so idk, fuck it, I can only really help myself and a few other peeps in the end.

I know nothing about this topic. I have some questions. It’d be interesting if someone made the clear the distinction of what trauma is and what isn’t. I suspect there could be such a thing as Trauma and then trauma, similar to aggression vs micro-aggression. I also understand it to be a concept much more specific than “ violence”.

We are talking of things or events that lead to psychological ails, yet the metaphor is that of a wound and the process is described as on of healing.
Though in many cases this are also bundled up with literal wounds, cases of physical abuse or self-harm are two examples.
What are the useful aspects and the limits of this metaphor?

Trauma covers a wide range of things that happen to people, as different as emotional neglect or sexual abuse. The cause could seem more individuated in some instances and in others more systemic, like famines, wars, genocide, enslavement, forced displacement.

How is trauma and dealing with it distinct from the label of “mental illness”?

Mental illness.

So theres the more literal trauma which is a violent force, like getting your head bashed in. The other trauma is a reference to something in your past you cant "get over". Peter Levine talks about trauma as being a repeating feedback loop you cant escape.

Mental illness is something nobody really understands in the end, its mixed in with a lot of brash generalizations and such, people often assume that others need to be fixed etc., and underestimate the role that things ppl have no control over influence them.

I wouldn't say mental illnesses are all that distinct from trauma. They're not hereditary, but there are genes that apparently can make one more susceptible to developing a mental illness. Environmental factors factor into people developing mental illnesses more so than biological, genetics, or neurological. All the environmental factors can be traumatic and be quite subtle. A lot of mental illness all hold in common is the productiveness of the individual. Then, as someone else mentioned, a lot of generalizations and the desire to fix those people aka make them more productive. The number of mental disorders or illnesses keeps getting larger and larger. It almost like some kind of mystical being where any deviations from the mystical being is considered a mental illness or not traumatic enough.

Micro-aggression seems to be more of an identity politics concept than anything else. so I don't get the comparisons there. There being Trauma and then trauma sounds like it implies that events that society agrees are traumatic are traumatic while others aren't because reasons.

The formation with microaggression is quite complex I think (and idpols also use trauma as a buzzword). Microaggressions are small acts which most people experience as offensive or embarrassing if anything, but idpols experience as violence, erasure, genocide.

In part this may well be morality-dependent distress (the distress of, say, being called a name is made worse because they subjectively believe that name-calling leads to genocide).

It's similar to a phobic structure. In true phobias (intense irrational terror triggered by a stimulus - not the same as fear or bigotry), there is a primary anxiety reaction which is prevented by avoidance. The phobic object has terror attached to it because of displaced meanings related to some trauma or existential crisis which may have nothing to do with it. For example, someone's scared of losing control of their "animal nature", their rage or sexuality, and this turns into a fear of some particular species of animal. The fear is proportionate to the original trauma, but not to the displaced object; healing would unpack the two, bring the underlying issue back to consciousness, and thus detach the fear from the phobic object. If a microaggression is a phobic object, then it triggers traumatic reactions without itself being a source of trauma.

It's also similar to a paranoid structure. In Klein's reading, paranoia occurs when a person has internalised a strict superego which operates internal persecution (harsh moral judgements, guilt, feeling worthless, etc). But they don't recognise this internal force and instead project it - meaning they imagine it's coming from outside the body, and fight, flee, etc as if it is. Microaggressions may trigger idpols' self-judgements but these are projected onto the other person, who is assumed to be committing a violence proportionate to the internal suffering.

Of course idpols don't want to think about any of this, they are aggressively certain of the self-presence of their own experiences and the completeness of their narratives, and so they imagine that the supposed microaggressor REALLY IS acting on behalf of some persecutory force such as "whiteness" or "masculinity" which manifests unconsciously through them (and is somehow guilty for not having enough moral self-control to prevent this from happening). It's very similar to how "the devil" is seen as operating in Puritanism and certain paranoiac formations.

for example, i get really fascinated by mental illness, a lot of schizophrenia seems to be that way, where it isn't necessarily caused by any sort of societal factors or traumas but i something innate to that individual. However, i've seen compelling arguments that the way people/society tend to react to schizophrenia makes it worse, that maybe treating it like an "illness" makes it more of a social problem than it really is. The harsher ways that people used to treat mental illnesses up until very recently definitely made them worse, were traumatic in and of themselves...but i would like to hear what people say about the modern treatment of mental illnesses. It definitely relies too much on drug companies, but even though i was part of that loop once i saw modern psychology for what it was i tried to avoid it as much as possible. Especially the characterizations of reality.

I would like to be able to share some of my more personal thoughts and experiences on these subject matters but part of the problem is i don't feel like i fully understand it i don't want to talk about things that are too personal on the internet.

The Broken Teapot
"We all start life with our teapot intact and at some point a little crack starts and slowly grows, or maybe one day we slip and the whole thing just crashes to the floor. Those with intact teapots, they don’t know what its like to try and make tea with all the water leaking out. You can’t do it. "

Alex Gorrion, author listing on t@l

for me, it was a decent amount of violence in my childhood, relative to a largely peaceful social context anyway

a friend once said to me that they processed their trauma most effectively by using it to get stronger/smarter/meaner blah blah blah, you get the idea. something I've come to think of as the exact opposite of a victim mentality.

a passing-through rather than a getting-stuck-in or defined-by. it wasn't easy and it took a very long time. oh, and I caused harm during the process! can't forget that.

^ and I didn't answer the damned question!

so it looks like: learning martial arts, community self defense, morbid fascination with power dynamics, things like that. How to be very assertive and have firm boundaries without causing harm for no good reason, still an open question! probably always should be.

Those manatees are so anarchy, sooo damn cute, just imagine one falling on a racist cop, SPLAT!

People in uncolonised indigenous and especially hunter-gatherer societies live in a lifeworld which is immediately present. They have supportive social networks, autonomy, connection to nature, a meaningful world, and their needs are usually met by the environment. Life is defined in terms of peak experience or experience of communion. Alienation (capitalism, statism, civilisation, colonialism) takes some or all of these away. So right away, there is a traumatic wound. Of course this varies with how much is taken away and how the person or group responds. The dull ennui of boring middle-class consumerism is different from the sharply painful crises of marginality, even though they come from the same traumatic wound. At root the difficulty is that we can't integrate our desires (id) with our survival (ego) and our values (superego), because of blockages in the outer world. Although the root cause is outer, it gets internalised. Alienation involves separation between mind and body. Often we build up muscular blocks to stop feeling certain things, or because of patterns of work or sitting still etc. This can be involuntary and sometimes we can't even feel the blocks are there. Also it's painful to desire, or to morally value, things we can't have. Often people adapt by suppressing the desires or values and fitting into the system. And most people (not some of us I hasten to add) also rely heavily on others or "society" as a source of desires and values.

According to current mainstream trauma theories, people get traumatised when they suffer fight-flight(-freeze-appease) responses, particularly if these aren't expressed or resolved in the moment. They get trapped in the body, whereas animals just "shake it off" (literally shake their bodies) after a freeze-up. I think there might also be deeper aspects around attachment and belief the world is safe, and building up blockages to feeling which block pleasure as well as pain. The system needs a certain level of trauma to function. Authoritarianism requires psychological repression because people rebel against unequal arrangements. Humiliation, violence, unmet needs produce anger. The anger is meant to be directed at the source of frustration or threat - bosses, pigs, teachers, parents, etc. But in authoritarian systems, upward-directed anger is banned and there's overwhelming power directed against its expression. This causes trapped fight-flight energies which are either displaced in violence elsewhere or turned inwards as depression, self-flagellation, etc. Many people internalise the authoritarian or even identify with them. They build up a superego - an internal moral compass - which works as a cop in the head. However, too much trauma, or the wrong kind, makes people dysfunctional for the system. Hence why trauma is a "disorder" and various other things rooted in trauma are also "disorders". Mainstream therapy is based on maintaining a certain level of trauma while also developing "resilience" techniques so people cope well enough to keep functioning.

I think the concept of trauma is overused today. It's used as a catch-all for psychological problems and suffering, and a bridge between big general abstractions and personal experiences. Everything previously considered "mental illness", "neurosis/psychosis", "madness" etc is reclassified as trauma. At this point it becomes so imprecise as to be unhelpful for practical purposes. And it's quite similar to the idea of "mental health" in that trauma is considered to be a kind of ill-health which is to be treated in specified ways which mainly work to restore normal functioning. The main difference, then, is political: trauma theory focuses on sociogenesis rather than internal deficit. Personally I prefer bioenergetic and psychoanalytic models which think in terms of complex interactions of internal forces (and not necessarily their health and illness).

There are different psychological types, formed by different matrixes of tra

There are different psychological types, formed by different matrixes of trauma or different ways of surviving trauma. For instance, with Theweleit's fascist soldier-males, we're dealing with a particular kind of trauma which suppresses the capacity for pleasure, and instead forms a sense of self around the experience of pain. With so-called psychopaths, we're often dealing with people who had a supportive parent who was unable to protect them from a second, authoritarian and abusive parent. They arrive at the idea that the only way to be safe is to fight and dominate harder than others. With depression, the source of life-meaning is cut off because of blockages between the upper and lower body. Obsessives can remember, but block feeling and are persecuted by their own superego. Whereas what used to be called hysterics, can feel but not remember; it's as if the body tells the story. Different wounds may require different healing practices. And also, there's a whole bunch of stuff that's unconscious and that we can't see. That's what's too easy about the idea of trauma: it's something we can usually specify, remember, and narrate (at least after a bit of therapy). The deeper dynamics which form personality-structures are a lot harder to excavate.

Anarchists, rebels and radicals aren't a homogeneous group in terms of psychological type. I've come across psychopathic and hysterical anarchists. But I think a lot of us belong to the schizoid cluster as defined by Klein (which encompasses things like autism, bipolar, schizophrenia and SPD, in the mainstream typologies, as well as various subclinical equivalents). This involves a persistence of flow-states but also stronger than usual bodily blockages. We've retained a lot of the emotional structure of very early childhood. We've generally grown-up in a world which feels hostile and un-nurturing; this experience probably goes back into early childhood. When we're empowered and effective, this corresponds to Klein's manic mechanisms; when we're burnt-out, this corresponds to depressive mechanisms; and we can also slip over into paranoia. We haven't formed strong master-signifiers like other people. We're prone to depersonalise because the body becomes too painful. We might struggle to develop spontaneous bodily movements, or develop these only as an effect of conscious practice. We generally can't cope with high-pressure competitive culture and so tend to drop out. Lowen talks about hippy drop-out culture as a mainly schizoid phenomenon. Then we try to rebuild situations modelled on the creation of a "good" world providing fulfilment, while fighting the "bad" world. We can only function socially through what Lowen calls a "barricade" - a subjective stance of holding strongly to particular positions so as to keep a self-world unity in place. If we lose this, we either retreat into a self-isolation response or suffer full psychotic breaks.

There might also be a trauma structure involved at the level of relationships to authority. Just as there's an "authoritarian personality" type, there's an "anti-authoritarian personality" which experiences authority, command, demands for compliance as intolerably threatening and responds with fight or withdrawal. And this may well involve authority-trauma which is re-experienced in each situation of authority, but also a real incompatibility of one's psyche with rigid social structures. I don't think this should be dismissed as "anarchists have daddy issues"; it's real contact with the real problems of authoritarianism that brings about the trauma (whether this is fathers or pigs or teachers etc).

I've not read enough on this yet, but healing practices for schizoids differ from those for neurotics. Lowen talks about body blocks especially diaphragm breathing, and expressing aggression. The trick is to keep oneself in an active rather than passive formation, to form nodes of meaning which knot things back together, to keep some of the aspects of mania without the denial of pain which accompanies it. Of course, a lot of the practices of autonomous spaces historically worked to faciliate this process, whereas both statist repression and idpol control culture work strongly against it. I think there's a lot to Fanon's view that people can't overcome trauma without standing up and venting anger at the right targets. This requires the kind of empowerment which only happens in successful revolt. Though, exodus practices seem to have some effects as well. The Buddhist/yoga practice cluster fits well with schizoid personality-structures, but the denial of the body and desire worry me.

There's not many anarchist psychologists/therapists. Exception: Paul Goodman was involved in Gestalt therapy and was also an anarchist. Most of the anarchist therapies I've heard of are derived from the work of Wilhelm Reich, who combined Freudian psychoanalysis with libertarian Marxism in the 1930s. Theweleit is a Reichean, Guattari (schizoanalysis) fuses Reich with the less authoritarian aspects of Lacan, Situationism is Reichean-inspired, Somatherapy is directly Reichean and there are also clear connections with Boal's theatrical work and Summerhill school. Another later Reichean is Alexander Lowen, whose work I'm finding very useful (though he isn't an anarchist). Lowen used a mixture of Reichean psychoanalysis and body-work similar to yoga (but with a materialist underpinning). Also quick mentions here of anti-psychiatry; Holzkamp; ecotherapy; SPK; Battaglia; Bruce Levine; Chamberlin's "On Our Own"; feminist consciousness-raising; and links between existentialist psychology and anarchism. Also quick mention that hunter-gatherers generally use body therapy or group therapies based on ideas of spirit-possession or hostile magic.

there are self-organized therapeutic models like the Icarus Project, but they tend to be a little too unspecialized for my taste. maybe if they had some rituals against hostile magic...

"the less authoritarian aspects of Lacan" mwuhahaha

@: @critic And yes, a lot of theories are post reichian. Theleweit etc. might be interesting, but its also a fact that the guy has no term of anarchism, which unites the individualistic and the streaming... And nowadays Theleweit is a democrat.
Anyways all the postmodernist stuff is a bit strange and i think leads often to a decomposition of the mind that is quiet well managable for modern technological power.
Anyways: Otto Gross is the mostly forgotten, pre-reichian anarchist freud scholar, more anarchist than Reich. He should be known to anybody interested in this TOTW - Check it out.
Ah and: Marie Louiese Bernery was a scholar of Wilhelm Reich, and Reich was influental in the War Commentary/Freedom Group, especially for John Olday.

Yes, but to not be determinist is to not really know for sure, the human mind and consciousness should never be understood, because that's an invasion of prìvacy and the destruction of mystery, and without that, life becomes like living in a box. I could have studied behavioral science, but I dropped out, because I was not a fascistic thinker, I was a free thinker, foraging through the wilderness of my own jungle, discovering things by chance, not walking a manicured path predetermined by psychiatrists and sociologists. I DON'T WANT TO UNDERSTAND. I just want to break through the impenetrable forest or burst through oceanic storms to discover mysterious behavioral tendencies within my own anarch heart, and not be imprisoned or deleted by society!

For me was important:
Otto Gross (Check it out!)
Max Stirner
and also
Wilhelm Reich in parts.
Also Sandor Ferenczi is in some of his writings interesting.
And then for sure you can take and find everywhere a bit.
The theory of Bernd A. Laska: "Super ego esse delendum" also influenced me and seems to be super compatible with anarchy...
Than i think anarchist theory, especially Wolfi, but not only, always was also busy with psychological liberation.
And yes, best TOTW i saw till now.
@: @critic And yes, a lot of theories are post reichian. Theleweit etc. might be interesting, but its also a fact that the guy has no term of anarchism, which unites the individualistic and the streaming... And nowadays Theleweit is a democrat.
Anyways all the postmodernist stuff is a bit strange and i think leads often to a decomposition of the mind that is quiet well managable for modern technological power.
Anyways: Otto Gross is the mostly forgotten, pre-reichian anarchist freud scholar, more anarchist than Reich. He should be known to anybody interested in this TOTW - Check it out.
Ah and: Marie Louiese Bernery was a scholar of Wilhelm Reich, and Reich was influental in the War Commentary/Freedom Group, especially for John Olday.

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