Japan and the Effects of Trauma - - Healing by Being Heard!

Several weeks after the catastrophic earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor near-meltdowns along the northeastern coast of Japan, newspapers here and in Japan are still running daily articles about the quality of the Japanese character in the ability of people there to absorb the overwhelming stresses of their overturned lives with “patience, persistence, and acceptance” (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/28/11).

What is less well-known is how well the Japanese directly affected by these disasters are coping emotionally with the huge magnitude of grief and loss they have been experiencing.  Trauma, to paraphrase Freud, is a breach in one’s barriers-- somatic (of the body), psychological, and societal.  The devastating events in Japan recently affected people in all these areas.

Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing™ for healing from trauma using body-based techniques, uses the term “copability” to describe a person’s ability to draw on inner and outer resources to survive, emotionally as well as physically, overwhelming events.  If a huge wave, earthquake, and radioactive leakage have suddenly destroyed your family, home, and livelihood, your ability not only to survive, but heal, may very well depend on your sense of personal power to act to support yourself and others-- combined with feeling heard and supported by safe people in your life and even your society.

One thing I’ve noticed recently are articles highlighting Japanese people speaking out concerning their feelings about what has been happening-- beyond their immediate concerns (whereabouts of family members, food, heat, shelter).  In the New York Times of March 31st, is a poignant photo of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko sitting in an intimate setting, listening to evacuees from the Fukushima area whose grief and fear are etched on their faces.  Though their role is largely ceremonial, the emperor and empress embody the essence of Japanese society.  If they are listening to what their people are feeling, it is a model for a people in a publicly stoic country to follow in helping others who are suffering in Japan to heal.

As a career/life coach and somatic healer, I know from the personal and professional successes of many of my clients that the power to recover from trauma and serious setbacks is entirely possible.  While it will take some time, support-- and is a definite learning curve-- being able to speak and share your feelings in a safe environment is a big step towards becoming empowered after grief and loss.

“Answer, if you hear the words under the words--
otherwise it is just a world with a lot of rough edges,
difficult to get through, and our pockets full of stones”

-- Naomi Shihab Nye