Few people pass from birth to death without intimate knowledge of trauma’s capacity to alter the landscape of the psyche. So many experiences are traumatizing: war, rape, death, car accidents, hurricanes, earthquakes, bullying, scapegoating, incest, family violence, racism, homophobia—and this, a cursory list at best. Even if you are fortunate enough to dodge trauma, its vicariousness insures we all share an intuition of how its fearsome power can forever change a life.
When something traumatic happens, and what occurred remains unsynthesized with the rest of the life story, the unarticulated bits of memory haunt the survivor, much the way a phantom limb recalls the injury as well as life before the tragedy. Trauma births its own world, one that exists beside the regular, expressed order of things where life stories are normalized, validated, even valorized. In trauma’s otherworldly realm—the imaginal landscape of our minds—travel the fragmented narratives of what transpired, but also of what failed to come about: escape from harm, facing down abusers, regaining a sense of safety. Here we find the birthplace of grief, but also creativity, the origins of trauma stories, yet also their erasure, all vying for connection with what can no longer be—or become—now that trauma has claimed its space.
The imaginal worlds opened by trauma are not necessarily pathological, devouring an otherwise healthy mind. Rather, they can be adaptive responses to social worlds marred by unpredictability, danger, cruelty, loneliness, and an awareness of death (as most societies are). In healthy, thriving environments, trauma’s imaginal worlds can lead to creative self-expression as well as unimagined solutions to threats, changing both the survivor of trauma and her community.