The Trauma of Non-Action

A week ago, I posted a one-minute video with a quick takeaway: if one sees painful stuff going down and does not intervene to help, one is likely to live with a particular kind of bystander trauma.

Of course, the person or peeps for whom the painful stuff went down can live with their own particular pains, as can those who intervened to help!

As we all know by now, this isn't about finding the way through life unscathed — but I do think this particular aspect is worth highlighting, for two reasons.

1. We could think of this particular "bystander trauma" as a stuck movement.

As in: the bystander's gut instinct was to do something. That's literally in their body. But for whatever reason they didn't (and maybe good reason! like "oh, they already have help" or something), and that movement is now in the tissue, incomplete, and we call it "tension."

2. It's not a stretch, for many of us at least, to think of this systemically.

And imagine: you see something horrific, and you can't / don't do anything about it ... One very sane response, from a biological perspective, is to "other" the beings to whom the atrocity is happening.

The further they are from your heart, the less pain you'll feel. I want to highlight: this is a very sane response from a certain perspective, and happening mostly if not entirely below the level of conscious thought.

The kicker, of course, is our body knows this is b.s. — that "they" are "us." 

(Thank you to one of my teachers and previous guest on the show, Lauren Christman, for presenting this insight as part of the idea in our class a couple weeks ago. It landed with me deeply and has been churning since.)


ps hello! are you enjoying these writings? getting something out of some of them? want to hear more on a particular idea? please do respond to this, or any email — I’d love to hear from you.