A message for my FaceBook friends, all 11 of you:
As I learn of the thousands of families being torn apart at our borders – babies, toddlers and young children being ripped from the arms (and the breasts) of their parents, sent thousands of miles away or put in wire cages and warehouses – my rage and nausea are growing. As a mother, I find the horror of it beyond my capacity to express in words. As a psychotherapist, I would like to try to find words to speak about it and share with you.
I have read the accurate, powerful yet measured words of some of my professional community as they speak out against these atrocities. They speak of the lifelong psychological harm suffered by children who undergo forced separation. What do they mean by this? One way to understand it is to understand the human attachment system – the capacity that our nervous systems have, from the moment of birth, to keep us connected and cared for by our parents. It is a SURVIVAL system – without it, we would not survive, as individuals or as a species. Humans are wired to respond powerfully to attachment signals – think of how a parent responds to an infant’s cry, or a baby’s smile. As babies, we depend on our parent for protection, to mediate and explain contact with the world and with other people. We come to know ourselves, our feelings and emotions, most powerfully by how we see and feel them reflected back to us from the adults that know us and love us. Again, this is a SURVIVAL need.
Every day in my office, I work with courageous clients who are trying to live better lives – to feel better, to connect more deeply and reliably with the important people in their lives, to love and care for their children in ways that they themselves were not loved and cared for. So many of them are working to heal the traumas of their early lives – separation, loss or abandonment by a parent, abuse, all sorts of traumas. Often in our work, we find ourselves in the realm of multi-generational trauma: clients learn how their own parents’ (and grandparents’) traumatic experiences still echo in their lives: think, Holocaust, combat in wars, pervasive racism, the dislocation of immigration.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Picture a young child, having made the harrowing trip with his or her parent, finally arriving at the US border, only to be torn physically from their parent (or to have the parent unexpectedly disappear, when the parent is led off for a “photograph” or the child is taken “for a bath”). This child is experiencing a fear of ANNIHILATION. Nothing less. And who is there to comfort this child? A stranger, who may not even speak her language, who doesn’t know anything of the child’s history. A trauma of this magnitude, even if righted in a matter of days or weeks, may affect that child for his or her entire life, and beyond that, reverberate into the next – and next and next – generations.
As a country, we’ve done this before – think slavery, think Indian Schools. That it is going on, in my name, paid for by my tax dollars, is beyond intolerable. I’m writing this as a first response – I don’t have any idea where this will lead. I have never posted a personal message to FaceBook before. I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Maybe I will share it also with my larger professional community. If you think it offers any new perspective that you would like to share, please feel free to do so. And of course, let us continue to protest and advocate in any way we can, so this atrocity does not continue in our names.