Small Wars Journal

Engaging Traumatized Communities in Village Stability Operations

Sun, 09/22/2013 - 4:00pm

Engaging Traumatized Communities in Village Stability Operations

Patrick Christian


The practitioners of village stability operations operate nearly entirely in the spaces of communities damaged by combinations of traumatizing violence, loss, displacement, starvation, death and dismemberment. Their organization, equipping and training is focused on the most apparent physical security and developmental needs by those who fund and support their deployments and to a lesser extent on reparation of political dialogue as part of restorative justice and the reparative process. The psychological and sociological damage that these practitioners encounter however, often leads to frustration, overextension of personnel and resources and eventual failure.  This paper explores the existence, nature and depth of psychological and sociological damage to communities traumatized by violent conflict.  The purpose of this research is to establish a baseline of psychosocial-cultural intelligence on conflict societies that can be used to plan, prepare and execute peace operations and humanitarian missions.  This psychosocial-cultural intelligence or understanding of traumatized communities provides peace operations and humanitarian missions with analysis and method to engage and influence traumatized communities to the point that they are able to provide for their self-sustainment without participation in communal violence.  By exposing the pathology of sociological trauma at the micro, exo and macro levels of structure, we can begin to unwind and resolve intractable conflicts in failing and failed societies despite limited time and resource of peace operations donors and practitioners.

Author Photo: Pillaging and Burning of um-Zeifa, Southern Darfur Sudan December 12th, 2004

The Challenge of Stabilizing Villages and Tribes in Conflict

“Learning how to succeed in these missions is one of the greatest challenges of the century” (USIP/USA PKSOI, 2009, p. 1.3)

International humanitarian and military operations in failing, failed, and war-torn states continue to face protracted difficulties despite the past decade’s experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa (Center for Global Development, 2007).  In 2009, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) crafted a supplement to the U.S. Army’s manuals[i] that train field practitioners and planners in peacekeeping, humanitarian and stability operations and counterinsurgency. The USIP/PKSOI Guiding Principles for Stabilization and Reconstruction manual (2009) was developed in order to offer a civilian perspective on reconstruction and stabilization operations.  This combined effort failed to provide the field practitioner much assistance beyond the theoretical understanding of counterinsurgency or stabilization. Neither the military practitioner’s preoccupation with physical security, nor the civilian specialist’s focus on human development, targets the most acute and dangerous symptoms of unstable conflict zones. Together, the current program analysis of US missions in violent conflict zones remains focused on needs assessments, often on physical infrastructure conducted by practitioners whose frame of reference is based on dense, technologically advanced societies (Derleth & Alexander, 2011).  Collectively, military-civilian practitioners of peace operations, counterinsurgency and humanitarian missions[ii] overlay physical security and needs assessments onto populations whose sociological structure has been damaged or even destroyed by severe and extended trauma; with results that have been less than satisfactory and far greater in cost than anticipated.

This paper attempts to illustrate one primary area of programming, training, and execution that Humanitarian, Peacekeeping & Stability Operations misses when operating in violent, unstable conflict zones: the engagement of traumatized communities. There is a great deal of research and literature relating to the political and economic dynamics of civil war (Fearon & Laitin, 2003) (Fukuyama, 2004) (Kaufman, 2006) (Krasner, 2004) (Spears, 2010) (Stewart, 2008) (Weinstein, 2007).  What is missing however, are corresponding “studies on the psychological effects of the civil war on the combatants on both sides” and the participants caught in the middle (Odejide, et al., 1998, p. 378).  The damaged condition of the population in unstable conflict zones normally presents obstacles that limit the interventionists’ ability to match success in the field with the amount of effort and donor dollars processed.  There are many reasons for the tremendous costs incurred for such low levels of success in stabilizing the levels of violence. One reason involves attempts by programmers, planners and executers to project developmental needs based assessments as a primary methodology of reducing instability. In doing so, they fail to identify local sources of instability relevant to the situation confronting them:

Effective stability operations programming requires a methodology focused on identifying and diminishing any local sources of instability, [sic] not addressing the perceived needs of the population. Most developing countries have myriad needs. Extremists/insurgents do not usually build roads, provide health care, or dig wells. Yet they are able to gain support in the population. How? Extremists/insurgents are able to ameliorate the priority grievances of the population because they understand the local community (Derleth & Alexander, 2011, p. 125).

Perhaps the single most immediate priority grievance of populations in the midst of an unstable, violent communal social structure is their inability to manage or ameliorate social trauma and a correlate inability to halt the disintegration of sociological structures that define their existential reality. The military-civilian practitioner’s focus on disarmament and reconstruction of physical infrastructure can be likened to constructing a hospital around a dying patient while never treating their disease or injury.  Is the reconstruction of physical infrastructure an important part of post conflict restoration of damaged communities? Of course, but dead patients have little use for infrastructure; not just the physically dead, but the psychologically dead. The former expire from exsanguinations of their untreated wounds. The latter expire from extended trauma to the sociological structures that harbor the identities, psychological constructions and emotional expressions of their existential reality.  This becomes what military practitioners call a ‘single point of failure’ in operational terminology.  This concept provides that every new layer of physical security and developmental needs that are introduced into the conflict society will fail to restore social order and initiate a reparative process because of the underlying instability of the sociological structure itself; damaged as it is from extended and severe trauma: 

Trauma destroys the primary existential basic conditions: death, loneliness, meaninglessness, and liberty. Based on his observations on survivors from Hiroshima, [Lifton and Olsen] describe these disorders as loss of the capacity to feel and to be engaged in the outside world, and as various expressions of ‘the death imprint,’ the guilt over survival,’ and ‘psychic numbing’ (Elsass, 1997, p. 55).

To explain the relationship of trauma to peace operations and humanitarian missions, we need to think about social trauma through the descriptive lens of physical trauma from where the term was drawn.  Medical science uses physical trauma as a condition or category of injury that covers a wide range of wounds, fractures, breakages, and decapitations of limbs. Major trauma is defined using an injury severity score greater than 15 and can present secondary complications such as hemorrhaging, circulatory collapse, respiratory failure, and physical death (Søreide, 2009).  Similarly, in psychology, trauma is a category or condition of injury to the psyche or psychological structure of one person or a related community of people (Elsass, 1997). In this category of trauma, the injury or wound occurs in the form of a reaction by the person or community to a penetration, destabilization, or destruction of their protective psychological structures (Herman, 1992). Called defenses, these structures shield, organize, and maintain a community’s psychic integration within and between individual members, their environment, and with those that populate their group identity and reality (Freud, 1936 (1946)). The reaction-traumatic wound for a normal, healthy human community usually arrives in the form of an external event[iii] foisted on its members such as torture, extended famine, large scale violence involving physical trauma and death of loved ones[iv] and related community members (Erikson, 1959) (Herman, 1992).  The psychological sociological trauma that accompanies events of physical damage is the primary danger to the physical survival of the afflicted community. The physical damage only serves as the outward manifestations of inner damage: 

Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. [Traumatic events] undermine belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crises (Herman, 1992, p. 51).

The severity and duration of the external event sufficient to cause psychological trauma is entirely dependent on the individual within the community and the community affected, but the two are not merely linked. Physical damage and loss portends the presence of sociological trauma. To be trauma, the external event must be sufficiently powerful to penetrate or destabilize the psychological stability of the individual or collective of individuals.  The type and potency of the event is necessarily different for people within a culture and different between cultures. The symptoms and pathology of the event-wound can be studied, understood and some level of anticipation can serve to provide diagnostic ability and interaction guidance for military-civilian practitioners as they begin working with traumatized populations.   The villages and tribes that I have worked with in Africa, the Middle East and South America were each involved in extended communal violence replete with physical trauma, loss, dismemberment and death of its inhabitants.  Families and villages presented unique but identifiable symptoms of psychological and sociological trauma as a result of the violence and loss that they participated in as victims and perpetrators (Christian, 2005).  The symptoms of psychological trauma to the individual presented themselves in patterns of psycho-linguistics and behavior dynamics (especially in the children) that were representative of victims, perpetrators, or both. [v]  These behavior dynamics were often self destructive, anti-social and/or representations of intrapsychic conflict involving guilt, shame and the loss of self respect (Klain, 1998). This emotional devolvement is hastened as the victim attempts to relieve the pain and repair the damage by compulsively reliving the event over and over again (Russell, 1998).

…despite the apparent wish to avoid the pain, the cost, the injury of the repetition, one finds oneself repeating nonetheless, as if drawn to some fatal flame, as if governed by some malignant attraction which one does not know and cannot comprehend or control. It has, in other words, all of the external earmarks of a volitional act, and yet the person is unaware of wishing any such thing. In fact, quite the contrary; he or she would wish to avoid it (Russell, 1998, p. 8).

 On a broader scale of the family and the village, direct and transmitted trauma effected “profound changes in the webs of human relationships and collective representations… [with attendant] changes in family dynamics, individual and collective meanings associated with trauma and [the] reparative processes” (Rousseau & Drapeau, 1998, pp. 465 - 466).

Our recognition of these visible and audible patterns of acute and latent trauma helped us to identify them as traumatized social structures and analyze their condition.  This analysis subsequently informed our approaches to mediation, information collection, negotiation of cessation of hostilities and facilitation of basic survival needs (Christian, 2007a).  Most conventional military-civilian practitioners from egocentric societies are less likely to understand the violent communal behavior immediately in front of them without prior training and practical experience. Their probable unfamiliarity with sociocentric communal structures in the first place creates a barrier to communication that is intensely aggravated by the trauma overlaid on the society they are attempting to engage. By understanding the pathology and symptoms of a sociocentric traumatized society, I believe that both military-civilian practitioners will be able to engage broken communities without increasing the harm already done and help its members step back from the edge of sociological anarchy and psychological death.   

Trauma and the Family’s Sociological Structure

Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together – Eugène Ionesco[vi]

From the viewpoints of the military-civilian practitioners of stability operations, the landscape of communal violence and social breakdown can be unimaginably difficult to make sense of.   This is because the conflict that is driving the violence and the ongoing disintegration of social structures is not external to the population as is the norm in inter-state conflict. It is internally based and often emanating from the most basic unit of social construction; the family.  For intervention in traumatized conflict societies to be cost efficient, personnel and organizations that plan and execute peace operations and humanitarian outreach must operate beyond their normal comfort zones. Part of operating outside this comfort zone requires the practitioner to move beyond the visible structures of political interest groups and into the complex structures of community life that harbor the powerful emotions driving the conflict.  By venturing into the psychological and emotional heart of the conflict, the practitioner avoids entrapment by simplified ideological socio-political-economic explanations generated by the conflict parties. They must venture into the interior spaces of damaged communal life that constitutes an (at times violently) emotional conjugate of sociological structures in violent conflict.  Their ability to understand the nature of the sociological structure that they are looking at determines their ability to engage it. Every sociological structure is constructed along lines of historical origination, geographical proximity, geological and climatologically nuanced environments, and varying levels of political and social sovereignty (Casey & Edgerton, 2005) (Eriksen, 2001) (Geertz, 1975) (Horowitz, 1985) (Stein, 1984). These factors are both a base for and an interdependent variable of, the development of group identity and its creative cultural expression in language, economy, art, music, religion, architecture, and constitute what Ibn Khaldun calls Asabiyya[vii] or tribalism (Durkheim, 1995) (Alatas, 2006).[viii]  Collectively, all of these factors and variables constitute the larger ‘I Am’ (existential identity) of the group and the smaller emanation of the individual who is extracted from and reflected by the whole (Brewer, 2001) (McDougall, 1921) (Pettigrew, 2007).  This sociological structure informs its members how to think about themselves and each other; how they should communicate, love, share, and interrelate on an intimate level of human co-existence (Blumer, 1969) (Brinkerhoff, et al., 2008) (Geertz, 1971). 

Figure 1 gives an idea of sociological structure and the psychological, emotional and physical sustenance it provides.  Beyond showing the exterior functionality of the sociological structure and the interior psychological and emotional processes that are created and sustained, the model tries to reflect the larger purpose of human society as expressed in metaphysical beliefs and human spirituality. Think of the family sociological structure as what the members ‘do’ and the emotional conjugates as the essential products created and sustained. In the middle of the graphic are feelings, emotions and psychological processes of sadness, depression, pride, shame, guilt, self love, respect, elation, fear, terror, identity acceptance, joy, happiness, love of others, anger, rage and hate.  The health of the whole-person (physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually) requires the ability to express the full range of feelings, emotions, and mental cognition listed, even if some are positive and others are negative (Staub, 2004).  Collectively, these emotive functions create human happiness and human drive to survive. We can’t have some without the others. What keeps these emotive functions in balance; what keeps the negative emotive functions from dominating and burning up the hosts is the nature and quality of the structure that houses, creates and sustains the balance.  When the family sociological structure is damaged, emotions, feelings and psychological processes are still generated, but mostly in the negative. For instance, the sociological structure functions of caring, loving, nurturing creates self-love, love-of-others, joy, and happiness, while the loss of those functions creates their opposites of sadness, depression, anger, guilt and so on, depending on the circumstances. If the functions of love, nurture, caring were lost because the security or economic-social functions failed, then shame, guilt, rage and hate may be the result. How these emotive functions work interactively is discussed in greater depth below, but I propose that there is an emotional logic to harmony, happiness and health, as well as to violence, shame and trauma.

The family sociological structure follows a pattern that is replicated in one form or another in all human societies.  In patriarchal, rural, or highly sovereign communities, the organizing function is more likely to be sociocentric in organization rather than egocentric (Lindholm, 2008).  Egocentric structures are characteristically found in developed, interdependent societies where communal sovereignty is widely dispersed (Stein, 1994). To explain, the egocentric family is individual-centric in terms of individual identity, individual agency, and individual responsibility. The egocentric function is necessary to allow its members to participate in the diverse number of social and economic activities that characterize developed interdependent society. The negative of the egocentric is the diminishment of the power of the family; the positive is the depth of the interconnectedness that each family member is part of, if the family structure is damaged.  So while egocentric does not obviate the need for, and importance of, the family structure, it does not bear the same burden of psychological, emotional and identity support that is characteristic of sociocentric societies.  The importance of this point is that military-civilian practitioners must adjust their cultural analysis of family life when they leave their egocentric society and begin working in one that is sociocentric in organization.  

Figure 1: The family social structure ‘calls its members’ into position emotionally, psychologically and physically; if the structure is destroyed, the ‘calls to position’ create cognitive dissonance within the remaining members; their  new reality no longer allows them to express the emotional conjugates of their lost family structure.  

The intimacy of the sociocentric structure is created and governed by a fantasy archetype (Jung, 1981) of communal existence characterized by intense interdependency of its members whose common thought patterns are mirrored in their communication and emotive feelings with one another (Brower, 1971).  As I use the concept here, an archetype can be thought of as an original idea, a base model of something that does not actually exist in human form. It is a Adapted to a sociocentric model of family organization,[ix] this archetype of socio-communal existence offers the individual, family and tribe a shared mental object of love, pride, identity, happiness and the like; it is sovereign unto its own authority in varying degrees of hierarchal patterns from intense patriarchal to one that is more shared in its power relations. While this archetype remains a fantasized ideal, every family follows, or seeks to become, the actual prototypical representation of that ideal in order to reap the perceived psychological and emotional rewards in both the present as well as the possibilities of generational projection of historical memory and identity (Stein, 1994). 

As a cultural archetype, the fantasized image involves a primary role (often of the male-father figure) that involves intimate interaction with the members of family in all aspects of physical, psychological, and emotional survival and growth. The family-village-tribal archetype may be based in a discrete role such as hunter-gatherer, herder-trader, pastoral herder, agricultural-farming, warrior, landlord, or mountaineer or cross several roles over a number of competing generations.  Such a fantasized archetype of family is often inherited from earlier generations and serves as a fundamental guide for the continued constructions of family historical narrative and the transmission of existential group identity across generational time and space. The exterior functions of family roles or activity mirrors the integration of their internal cognition, emotion and memory (Rousseau & Drapeau, 1998).  This constructed external reality in turn protects and sustains the interior production of positive feelings, emotion and belief systems. The family sociological structure, guided by the archetypal image imbedded in its historical narrative, informs the members’ cognition and mental processes such as:

  • What internal emotions and ideations go with what external stimuli and to what depths should one feel;
  • How family emotions and identity are shared, passed between and among generations and what mental objects correspond to their correlates in the physical world;
  • How the shared picture of current reality and past history identify heroic thoughts and actions;
  • How ideas of saving, giving, building or creating are expressed into physical reality as archetypal fantasies of males and females through their physical and emotional lifecycle.

The sociocentric family’s sociological structure is the basis for psychological and physical reality in one small, neat package – small that is by comparison to its power and the energy it contains.  Its sociological structure populates each person’s existential reality, serves as their central point of reference and contains a compulsory quality to the family narrative that it maintains, safeguards, and continues to write with each successive generation (Stein, 1994).  The family members of the sociological structure understand their existence from the comparison and contrast of themselves to the many levels of organization and members of the immediate and larger society they are part of.  So while each member of that community may be physically separate from the body whole, their psychological body is an unbroken part of all those they are connected to for many degrees of separation.  The cohesion of the society and the lesser delineation of individual identities in sociocentric societies require us to consider trauma from a cross-cultural perspective. Consider for instance the archetype that members of every sociological structure (micro, exo, macro)[x] use to organize, illustrate and motivate their active existence and existential historical narrative.  Slight overlaps of cognitive dissonance can create profound conflict between two exo or macro sociological structures and yet the subtleness of their differentiation can leave the peace operations or humanitarian practitioner at a loss for understanding the roots of the violence. For example, the Sudanese Arab Rizeigat tribe is involved in an intractable conflict with the Sudanese African Zaghawa tribe. At the heart of their refusal to compromise over issues of land use, water sharing, and road construction is a dispute over a central archetype of Bedouin, Arab, Muslim, and African identity (Christian, 2012).  The practitioners ability to listen to the conflict stories allows them to learn their historical narrative and perceive the outlines of its imbedded archetypal fantasy that guides communal thought and energizes communal action, whether creative or destructive. Most mediation success of inter-tribal violence involves mediating archetypes and the identities they shape and influence (Volkan, 2003).

When all efforts by mediators, facilitators or negotiators fail to resolve the grievances, practitioners must look to the deeper, psychological issues, of the disputant conflict parties in order to uncover unresolved conflict (Burton, 1979).  Often, this unresolved conflict involves the failing boundaries of group identity (Tajfel, 1982), resulting in the loss of necessary distinction of groups’ identity from each other (Brewer, 2001) (Volkan, 1986), and the necessary affirmation of identity by those who bound each other’s physical, psychological and emotional spaces (Horowitz, 1985). Overlaid onto the existing conflict that involves constructions of identity, sharing of archetypes, or the requirements of optimal identity distinction or affirmation are the debilitating effects of severe, prolonged trauma. This is the combination that creates the essence of intractable conflict (Burton, 1987).  

Village Stability, Trauma and the Sociocentric Family

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with family” - Anthony Brandt[xi]

The military focus in intra-state peacekeeping, stability and humanitarian operations is on human terrain, as contrasted with conventional inter-state conflicts in which physical terrain predominates (USIP/USA PKSOI, 2009).  The term human terrain however is a bit misleading. The real focus of intra-state peace and stability operations is on systems of human relationships in the conflict setting.  And the most important human relationships in intra-state conflicts are those within and between the family structures.  It is this relationship setting that harbors the power of violent communal conflict.  For the practitioner of peace and stability operations then, understanding the family structure of intra-state conflict societies and the pathology of trauma sequelae should be a precondition for engaging these populations.  Nearly all violent intra-state communal conflicts involve sociological structures that are sociocentric in structure and function.  Sociocentric communities possess a discreet logic of group psychological identity reflective of its geography, climate, socio-economics, physical security, religion, culture and historical narrative.  This logic of group identity in turn determines their individual motivation and locus of member control (shame based culture) (Kaufman, 1996) and their structure of family communications and meaning (high context culture) (Chua & Gudykunst, 1987).  The psychological sociological story of the traumatized sociocentric community provides insight into the complex inner workings of families, villages, clans, and tribes involved in violent civil conflict in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.

Communities that are sociocentric versus egocentric present unique variations in how victimization and trauma is felt and the psychological, sociological, and economic damage it wreaks on the families and the individuals’ within.  The significance of sociocentric social expressions of individual, family, village and ethno-cultural organization lies in the disparity between practitioner interventionist and those needing that intervention assistance; they are often from different structures of social organization.  Most military-civilian practitioners of humanitarian, peacekeeping and stability operations will be from egocentric family-social structures and most (but not all) of those they are helping stabilize are sociocentric.   Generally, sociocentric structures of sociological organization thrive in rural areas dependent on agrarian or animal herding, and/or where the responsibility for physical security and social sovereignty belong primarily to the individual family and village (Wood, 2003).[xii] This is normally seen in regions of states that have limited ability to access or control these areas, so the responsibility devolves to the inhabitants and their organizational structures (Scott, 1985).  Such areas are most often centrally involved in intra-state conflicts for which counterinsurgency and peace operations are planned and conducted (Fearon & Laitin, 2003).  On the contrary, egocentric sociological structures are found in populated, urban areas where community members exist and identify themselves in an array of groups rather than the primary family.  There are of course, sociocentric families, clans and cultural groups that also live in the middle of major metropolitan cities, but this simply demonstrates that the two models possess utility, vitality and an ability to coexist without overt conflict. 

Internal Identities and External Locus of Control in Sociocentric Families

This difference in the social construction background of military-civilian practitioners of peace operations and humanitarian relief suggests that they cannot expect the same outcomes or reactions from those societies they are supporting, as lessons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa have amply demonstrated.  This section illustrates how a sociocentric society processes victimization and the attendant trauma sequelae[xiii], a process with subtle differences from its egocentric counterpart.  I suggest that central to the difference between egocentric and sociocentric societies overall is a difference of individual control and motivation with implications for the uniqueness in communication, interpersonal relationships, psychological identity and existential memory (Geertz, 1973) (Lindholm, 2008) (Attias-Donfur & Wolff, 2003) (Morăraşu, 2007).  You may have heard the phrase shame based cultures, a concept that tends to be applied to sociocentric communities, as opposed to egocentric communities that are labeled as guilt based societies (Begley & Tan, 2001) (Baroni, 2007) (Elsass, 1997) (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  While there is an element of truth[xiv] to this generalization, it can cause more confusion than clarity (Elsass, 1992). In actuality, sociocentric communities are characterized by a locus of member control that is external to the individual whereas egocentric communities are characterized by a locus of control that is internal to the individual (Rotter, 1990).  In traumatized sociocentric communities, this external locus of control creates additional problems during the reparative process to a degree that inhibits conflict resolution.  This is best explained in a comparison with the egocentric structure that most peace operations and humanitarian practitioners are familiar with.

These comparisons are generalized and meant to illustrate their differences, not categorize all society into only one type or the other; think of them as polar opposites on a sliding scale of differentiation with many possible variations. In developed, egocentric societies, the locus of control for the family is internal to each member (Lindholm, 2008). This is a learned activity that is part of the development of a child’s independent conscience.  It is this independent conscience that allows for independent punishment and independent responsibility. Egocentric children are inculcated with internal mechanisms of self control based on individual responsibility sustained by systems of personal identity and agency with emotional conjugates of guilt and innocence (Leyendecker, et al., 2002 ).[xv] Egocentric children see themselves as individual actors and agents of thought and action (Enright, et al., 1980). The learning of personal responsibility, action, and conscience occurs with the child being tasked with specific responsibilities separate from siblings and punished or rewarded separately for his/her performance (Baumeister, 1997).  This independent sense of responsibility and conscience supports the need for individual agency necessary to succeed in a highly diversified community where one person may belong to a number of different groups with their own rules and rewards or consequences (Lindholm, 2008). 

In such multi-group environments, the parents couldn’t hope to be with the children everywhere to guide them and coach them into right action for each different group.[xvi]  Instead, they are required to instill an ability to act independently, choose between conflicting positive desires, and possess a willingness to accept rebuke or reward for their efforts, all in the absence of parental control.  This is accomplished by the augmented development of the egocentric child’s id-superego-ego. A poor choice on the part of the child between the competing demands of the id-superego creates psychic pain in/on/of the ego; this we refer to as feelings of guilt which have a powerful effect on people’s actions (Hartmann, 1952).  In the presence of the pain of guilt, the child is taught to balance their desires for pure pleasure (id) against their desire for higher levels of recognition, belonging, and acceptance (super-ego) won from their peers and superiors as they embrace and emulate archetypal behavior that establishes the norms of each particular group (Sandler, 1960).  What differentiates guilt from shame is that guilt is sharp psychological pain that the mind produces within its own estimation of itself (Baumeister, 1997) (Elsass, 1997).  Shame is sharp psychological pain that the mind produces from its estimation of its role or placement with other human beings (Gilligan, 1996) (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  

In contrast to the egocentric, the sociocentric child remains a deeply integral part of the family structure of operation and identity (Lindholm, 2008). Where egocentric communities promote individuation of its members’ personal identity, sociocentric communities promote collectivization of their members’ personal identity at the family unit.  It is not the child that flexes outside the family to achieve development and growth, but rather the family as a whole that seeks to grow and develop emotionally and intellectually. Sociocentric children see themselves as corporate members of an inner circle where how to think and what to think are collective, group activities.  Sociocentric children are inculcated with external mechanisms of group control based on collective responsibility sustained by systems of alienation and inclusion with emotional conjugates of shame and pride (Leyendecker, et al., 2002 ) (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  Each sociocentric person’s sense of self is not only sustained, but formed by the struggle over alienation and inclusion.  “Answers to the questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where do I belong?’ are forged in the crucible of shame and pride” (Kaufman, 2006, p. 5). With the family unit remaining a discrete whole, there is little need for the parents to assiduously arm their child with those individual judgment and choice skills so necessary in an egocentric society.  Immediately, one can see the positive aspects inherent in sociocentric societies that (can) provide deeper nurturing environments for their children and protect them from having to face ethical dilemmas, especially at so early an age. Without this need for heightened individual agency in order to survive, the identity, or existential I Am of the child is left in a state of enhanced identification with their siblings and parents[xvii]

The significance of this developmental difference in sociocentric structure is that each member’s activities are expected to be guided and controlled by the family membership; that there is an inherent duty amongst members to care for and safeguard each other even from their own actions.  When an egocentric child commits a fault, the parents look to that child and ask why did you do that? When a sociocentric child commits a fault, the parents look to the siblings and ask why did you let him/her do that?  An external locus of control places the burden of choice and action between right and wrong in the hands of the family or higher social organization. This serves to further bind the society together and make it harder to fail. The sociocentric person isn’t asked to decide what is right or wrong; ethical choice is a group process more than an individual struggle.  He/she is informed, guided, and directed to make that right decision by the group they are part of. They participate in decisions, but responsibility is diffused amongst an intimate set of relationships (Lindholm, 2008). This creates a placement or differential of esteem between members. The disciplining pain of shame arises when one’s actions are called into question by those of the affected relationship set, whether that is family, clan, village or tribe. 

These two models (egocentric and sociocentric) reflect differences in how the members of each perceive themselves in relation to those around them; independent versus integrated.  This is a simplification of a complex relationship that I make only to illustrate the nature of sociocentric victimization sequelae. For both models, relationships are important, but where the egocentric form understands that relationships are creations that they construct, the sociocentric inherits their relations from birth, from blood, from family.  The egocentric person learns to construct society where the sociocentric person learns that their reality is ascribed, inherited, vulnerable, but irreplaceable (Eisenbruch, 1991). Once broken, it is more difficult to replicate, especially the contexts of communication and meaning.

Communication and Meaning in the Sociocentric Family

Another aspect of sociocentric societies is the development and use of high levels of context in communication and meaning (Martin & Nakayama, 2000).  Earlier in this section, we reviewed the concept of shame based culture, a byproduct of sociocentric sociological structure. Another such element of sociocentric organization involves what researchers refer to as high context communication (Chua & Gudykunst, 1987).  Communication in high contexts is the ability of a closely relational set of participants to use a common knowledge of meaning and intimately shared experience to reduce the volume of verbal and non-verbal language while still achieving a level of understanding higher than that of an egocentric (and therefore low context) community. As part of their sociological structure, sociocentric family members and community members tend towards the use of collective action for as many creative activities as possible.  Whether cleaning, cooking, repairing, gardening, or nearly any pleasant or unpleasant form of labor or activity, the egocentric visitor will be surprised at how many family or community members seek to collectively participate in chores that seemingly can be done by only one industrious person.  The sociocentric person is not lazy; collective action is how they build and maintain high levels of communal context out of which flows an ethos of communal psychological and emotional relationships (Munif, 1988). 

The context gained from this propensity towards collectivization of nearly all physical activity allows for a form of communication unlike any the egocentric person is prepared for (Bamyeh, 1999).  Single words and phrases carry tremendous meaning as they are intimately associated with past collective experience.  Sociocentric families and communities transform their spatial sociological structure into vast machinations of complex communication that fulfill their psychological and emotional needs to a very high degree (Stein, 1984) (Stein, 1994).  Where the egocentric visitor to their community perceives a minimalist life existence void of the trappings of individual modes of engagement, the sociocentric member perceives superhighways of communication and meaning imbedded in the existing sociological infrastructure all around them (Lindholm, 2008).  This high context establishes commonality of meaning and thought, allowing for far less (unnecessary) verbalization of feelings, attitudes and the formulation of ideas (Chua & Gudykunst, 1987).  The sociocentric and egocentric forms of sociological structure present clear and clinical differences between how they process loss, victimization, anger, shame, and damage to their society by man-made and natural disasters (Bhugra & Becker, 2005). Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses yet each has the potential to respond to external trauma in complex and nuanced expressions that the humanitarian, peacekeeping and stability operations must be able to make sense of.

The intimacy of the sociocentric family’s high context communication and meaning making leaves them with extraordinarily complex and subtle relationships that are not as prevalent in the fast paced urban environments of the egocentric family (Martin & Nakayama, 2000). We can think of their relationships as evolving from the whole to a nearly individual basis as opposed to egocentric communities that evolve from independence towards interdependence.  This gradual development of the individual from the sociocentric whole allows for a softer expression of the id-ego-superego characteristic of sociocentric societies that encourages fainter delineations in the separate identities of its members (Leyendecker, et al., 2002 ).  They achieve self-realization to a greater degree within the intimate network of family relationships that emphasizes esteem of the collective versus esteem of the individual; inter-human ethos of loyalty and connectivity rather than intra-human individuality and agency (Elsass, 1992) (Elsass, 1997) (Lindholm, 2008).  A sociocentric father who loses his son can suffer a more complex degree of trauma sequelae than his egocentric counterpart. Besides possibilities of guilt arising from perceived failure to protect and safeguard, additional complications might arise from personality disorganization due to the imbedded nature of the father-son identity dyad. A strongly sociocentric father might vest increasing amounts of his personal identity into his ongoing relationship with his son. Thus a subsequent loss may have a disproportionate effect on the psychological well-being of the father[xviii].  

Over and above the expected effects of grief, guilt, loss of relationship might be the father’s requirement to reorganize his identity with the loss of such an important element.  In these relationships, so much of what a father might anticipate doing in his future life would revolve around his role of being a father to his son.  This role would not be an obligation, but rather an essential element of his raison d'être, his sole or ultimate purpose in life.  With his son’s loss, personality disorganization might threaten identity destabilization and ultimately, collapse of the family unit.  At the least however, the military or civilian practitioners should expect to see a higher degree of victimization and shame than would be normal for egocentric societies. The father would not be able to ‘get over it’ and move on with his life. The father’s psychological state of personality disorganization and threatened identity destabilization would be accompanied by a mental object of shame.  This shame would necessarily be debilitating and immediate to the father’s identity as head of family.  While there would still be remaining members of the family, the loss of the son would create overwhelming alienation of himself from his fellow heads of family, especially if he and his wife were beyond child-bearing years. This alienation would arise from the father’s feeling of perceived loss of group placement, group acceptance, group affirmation, group love and esteem, both within his own family and his larger extended clan. The shame that is created is a direct result of this alienation and loss.  Czechoslovakian writer Milan Kundera (1990) reminds us that basis of the father’s shame is not some personal mistake of his, but the humiliation of his inability to choose, or safeguard his family. That this humiliation is public and open, is the essence of the alienation and overwhelming shame. 

In sociocentric families and communities, a loss of family members creates instability in the sociological structure due to the high context of communication and meaning.  Further destabilization occurs because of internal alienation of the interconnected identities of brothers, fathers, mothers and sisters, as well as other extended family physically and or emotionally resident within the family.  The loss of psychologically interconnected family members threatens their connection to the larger sociological structure because unlike egocentric structures, each member does not have an independent, stand-alone space in the family. They are suspended in a dense web of relationships where the loss of too many members can impair the psychological orientation of their former pre-event reality.  This former reality that informed and sustained their psychological identity included mental representations of archetypes, prototypes, heroes, villains, social goals, memorializing, and dreams.  The expulsion or alienation need not be real, only perceived in the mind and emotions of the shamed survivors of traumatized societies. Their response to overwhelming shame is either attempts to regain lost placement and love, attacking the person or group that expelled them into alienation, or finally, surrender to a place of being outside the psychological walls of a shared human connection.  They are in a state of trauma from which they do not have the self capacity to leave or fix.

The Emotional Logic of Violence, Shame, and Trauma

“The emotion of shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence, whether toward others or toward the self” (Gilligan, 1996, p. 110)

The intra-state warzones of Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia or Afghanistan have an incomprehensible kaleidoscope of violence. Commentators and journalists speculate on the violence around them using terms like ethnicity, race, religion, history, hatred, or warlords in their attempt to make sense of what they are witnessing. But their descriptions of overt symptoms never uncover the pathology or causality that drives the violence they are witnessing. The military-civilian practitioners meanwhile, are often as vexed at the reactions of the people who seem to contribute to their own injury, suffering and death.  The conflict participants may seem vacant, numb and unfeeling even as they direct or participate in the slaughter of those around them using machete’s, swords, guns, whips, and fire (Christian, 2005).  The same victims of violence and abuse at other times are found to be protecting their tormentors, all the while, children and adults wander in an anesthetized state of “helplessness” punctuated by rage and paranoia or “primal depression” (Elsass, 1997, p. 52).  This is a fragmented version of what military-civilian practitioners in humanitarian, peacekeeping and stability operations faced in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq, Darfur, and Afghanistan.  Nothing those practitioners have trained for or experienced prepared them for the chaos of violent intercultural communal conflict characterized by battlefields overlaid on top of towns, villages, and cultures; where the terrain was human rather than geographic and the wounds of psychological trauma were as debilitating as those that were physical.

Social psychological trauma can be thought of as a state of being with two interrelated components; emotional and cognitive (Herman, 1992).  Together, they constitute a wounded sociological structure where member expectations of love, compassion, sympathy, esteem, pride and belonging are unfulfilled because the human organizational structures that contained, stored and generated these critical ingredients of sociological health have been destroyed (Elsass, 1992).  The surviving members of the wounded sociological structure experience “a numbing of self-reflective functions, followed by a paralysis of all cognitive and self-reserving mental functions” (Krystal, 1978, p. 113). Cognitively, the organized collective is no longer a stable structure that the remaining members can depend on to sustain life and sanity.  The family historical narrative that bound the survivor to his sociological structure is “replaced by the only reality he has been forced to know - the trauma story” (Mollica, 1988, p. 307).  The sociological linkages of love and nurturing embedded in primary relationships that are essential to maintaining reason and reality are either dead or worse; suffering in distant refugee camps. Those members of the wounded structure who survive cannot easily replace what has been destroyed because the mechanisms of demonstrating love, offering compassion, and instilling belonging are gone (Ochberg, 1988). These mechanisms constituted the formal and informal rules and expectations of society; they constituted the context by which the society communicated in a high-context society.  The context that burned up in their houses and lost physical infrastructure constituted the meaning within their high-context communication.  The acts of killing, rape, looting, and rage serve to withdraw the agreed upon meaning of the social structures that orders their multi-family, multi-cultural society.  Everything from bodily non-verbal communication to the value of status and possessions to the intent now hidden behind each person’s eyes is open to dark suspicion of betrayal (Elsass, 1997). 

In place of their sociological reality and the safety, nurture, and the love it provided, the military-civilian practitioner finds these survivors in states of shock over repeated loss; they are “stunned and bewildered” rather than panicked (Allerton, 1964, p. 206). They are shamed by victimization and suffer from overwhelming guilt because they survived when those they loved and where responsible for, died while they watched (Elsass, 1997). The trauma story is imprinted on their memory, becoming “a personal narrative in the mind that is retold daily as it is searched for new meanings and clues” (Mollica, 1988, p. 305). Their inability to relate to the military-civilian interventionists in a recognizable manner suggests that their ability to care for themselves physically is being undermined by far greater threats than mere physical death:

…people feel incomparably more alarmed by a threat to the psyche or the soul or the self than they are by a threat to the body. The death of the self is of far greater concern than the death of the body. People will willingly sacrifice their bodies if they perceive it as the only way to avoid losing their souls,’ ‘losing their minds,’ or losing face’ (Gilligan, 1996, p. 96).

In conflict zones of sociological trauma, the survivors possess egos[xix] that are overwhelmed; emotions of guilt, fear, loss, abandonment, rage, pain, or shame that are un-reconciled, unintegrated (Horowitz, 2001) and in cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957). They are overpowered by mental objects of terror (or memory thereof) that results in their sustained mental and emotional efforts at repression and avoidance. These efforts are part of a “stimulus barrier” (Elsass, 1997, p. 49) or protective shield (Freud, (1929) 2002) (Erikson, 1959) that the mind (ego) uses to block the flow of inward terror, horror, and pain of loss.[xx]  The mind’s inability to adapt, filter, process or reject the overwhelming feelings violates the protective shield and overwhelms the ego, creating the “core of the trauma: the unbearable helplessness” (Elsass, 1997, p. 48). Their inability to emerge from the protective anesthetization of trauma induced depression vastly complicates any attempt at mediation, facilitation, and negotiation of the conflict and subsequent reconstruction. Such people are unable to relate to either the un-traumatized military-civilian practitioners, or even their own former neighbors with any semblance of independent agency capable of complex understanding.  What former rules and context that these traumatized survivors had for use in communicating communal ideations and needs are now destroyed and require time and effort to repair and rebuild. This process of rebuilding must allow the psychological to precede the physical.

The Rage of Shame in Sociocentric Community

The emotional logic of shame trends towards a particularly virulent pathology in sociocentric communities that is not common in egocentric communities that possess a guilt-focused locus of individual control. The virulence of this pathology untreated, can terminate in overwhelming “destructive aggression: shame is first evoked, which leads to rage and then to violence” (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991, p. 3).  Further, the pathology of shame differs fundamentally from the pathology of guilt in that the “target of guilt is conceived to be the self’s behavior whereas the target of shame is presumed to be the whole self” (Kaufman, 1996, p. 6).  My experience is that the more remote the community; the greater the sovereignty of security and survival that the community possesses; the more debilitating and dangerous are the effects of shame. It is in this correlation between remoteness, sovereignty of security and survival that the emotional logic of shame emerges.  Shame is a primal emotion[xxi] that cannot be shared because it is produced by a singular condition of psychological alienation (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991). The condition of alienation produces a family of shaming emotions that include “disgrace, degradation, dishonor, and debasement” (Nathanson, 1987, p. 3).  The condition of guilt occurs within the mind of the individual when it judges (or believes) that his or her actions have violated accepted community standards[xxii]. The condition of shame occurs within the mind of the individual when it judges (or believes) that his or her self-identity is unworthy of itself and in violation of the archetype of what that community seeks as its highest expression of human goodness (Wurmser, 1981). We feel guilt for what we do or fail to do, whereas we feel shame for what we are.  The distinction is in the severity and in the possibilities of recovering our place in the group.  Guilt can be as easy as saying ‘I am sorry’, but apologizing does not work for shame because the quality of the self has become known to be unworthy of continued participation in the life sustaining relationships of family and community; the self has become alienated.

This is a bit less of a catastrophic event for the egocentric person because they are often linked to so many different groups with differing normative standards of behavior and being.  For the sociocentric person whose family and immediate community bound his worldview and serve as the basis for his or her identity, this is a big problem.  Because the shamed person believes themselves to be separated from his or her primary group membership they face an existential crisis of identity if the situation remains unresolved.  The group that the shamed person feels unworthy of is the same group (family, clan, village, and tribe) that harbors their individual identity or self (or I Am). Because the shamed individual has transgressed against everyone, the community as a whole, this transgression cannot be shared, assuaged, or mitigated by forgiving others who have also transgressed (Nathanson, 1987) (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  Because the quality, nature, and subsequent alienation of the shamed person from their primary human membership occur in their own mind and not in the physical reality of community justice, external redemption or forgiveness is not possible.  It must come from within the damaged superego or it has no meaning for the shamed person. Redemption to communal membership is possible and all cultures possess mythical instructions on how a shamed community member might transform and regain their placement (Horowitz, 1985).  These mythical instructions usually involve sacrifice, suffering, and heroic deeds that demonstrate their total transformation from alienated-stranger to community prototype illuminating the most heartfelt aspects of the communal archetype (Stein, 1983) (Stein, 1994). The possibilities of redemption and transformation however lie entirely in the mind of the shamed person and except for the spiritual leader of the community, few outsiders can help.  Like other physical diseases, what is possible in prevention is not always possible in treatment.  And like the most virulent of physical diseases, the pathology of shame in sociocentric society gets much worse. 

Because shame occurs in the mind of the person, the causative event for the shame may be different in depth, quality, and texture for different individuals experiencing the same occurrence. This is why it can’t be shared or externally ameliorated (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991). Nor can it be predicted based solely on the external event. Mortal shame occurs when the effected person believes that there is no recourse, no return from that place of alienation that they find themselves in (Wurmser, 1981) (Nathanson, 1987).  Mortal shame creates a unique combination of extreme panicky, piercing psychological pain that can be physically debilitating because it directly threatens the sufferer with immediate psychological death (Gilligan, 1996). The pathology of this condition is the disintegration of the superego, the part of the psyche that directs the self towards integration, love, selflessness, service, and heroism (Erikson, 1959) (Schore, 1994).

The disintegration of the superego occurs in mortally shamed persons when the person believes that the quality of their self (I Am) has been denounced as defective by the community that gave it life and preserves its existence (Nathanson, 1987). Mortal shame that damages or destroys the superego is not about a mere mistake that can be atoned for (Kaufman, 1996). This shame only occurs when the mind believes itself unworthy to continue as part of the human structure that it calls home (Nathanson, 1987). To be mortally shamed is a fate far worse than death; in death, we live in the remembrance of others through transmission of our existential identity across generational time and space. In mortal shame, we are forgotten, cast out of the historical narrative so that existentially, we never were and never will be. These are the conditions involving shame that should red-flag the practitioner of peacekeeping and stability operations missions. Behind mortally shamed persons’ overwhelming psychological pain is the possibility for overwhelming physical violence. Without the connectivity of the individual to the community archetypes of goodness and adulation via the (now disintegrating) superego, most aspects of physical control over violent rage disappear (Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). 

As difficult as this is so far, its gets even worse, especially for the peace operations and stability practitioner working to rehabilitate the sociological structure of relationships, communication and meaning.  Shame follows a “moment of exposure” to an alienating event such as “betrayal, treachery, or abandonment” (Nathanson, 1987, p. 4), events that are all too common in the midst of communal violence. The individual shaming ideations involve the creation of a deep awareness of personal defectiveness that “reveals aspects of the self of a peculiarly sensitive, intimate and vulnerable nature” (Nathanson, 1987, p. 4). These personal defects of a peculiarly sensitive, intimate and vulnerable nature are often linked to specific psychological issues. “What one is ashamed for or about clusters around several issues: (1) I am weak, I am failing in competition; (2) I am dirty, messy, the content of myself is looked at with disdain and disgust; (3) I am defective, I have shortcomings in physical and mental makeup; (4) I have lost control over my body functions and my feelings; (5) I am sexually excited about suffering, degradation and distress; (6) Watching and self exposing are dangerous activities and may be punished” (Wurmser, 1981, pp. 27-28). 

Because shame is created by feelings of irretrievable alienation that prevent the afflicted person from sharing their pain with others, their condition naturally inhibits the reconciliation of other base emotions like love, grief, terror and fear that accompany the ongoing communal violence (Gilligan, 1996) (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  As the mortally shamed person finds himself alone and unable to interrelate with other loved ones as a release for the emotion generated by the ongoing communal violence, extreme dissonance occurs between the id-ego and disintegrating superego inducing the onset of uncontrolled rage (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  Against the painful needs of the id for love, affection, inclusion, belonging and attention, the superego continues to generate powerful psychic pain of shame, turning away from the very needs that are pressuring the id and tearing apart the ego’s sense of self.  This internal conflict constitutes a war within the mind of the mortally shamed and without possibility of resolution, leads to deeper psychopathologies towards eventual psychological death (Gilligan, 1996) (Herman, 1992).

Violent communal conflicts create roles of victim and perpetrator that are often intermingled within one village, one family, or even one individual. In the psychological and physical discourse that follows each violent convulsion, victim-perpetrators exchange roles in a physical cycle of violence fueled by a complex psychological defense of their sociological structure of being.  An example of this cycle of violence begins with survivor guilt of a victim. The victim subsequently attempts to alleviate shame (for the failure to protect) by the pursuit of heroic sacrifice-vengeance that the victim-turning-perpetrator pays as his price to redeem his lost place outside his family archetype (or his family’s lost place within the communal archetype). The importance of this explanation is that the central driver of communal violence is psychological and emotional, not utilitarian (as in inter-state conflicts). Incidents of looting, dismembering, disemboweling, burning prisoners, raping and torture are all part of the twisted heroic-vengeance attempt to restore individual honor to family and family honor to tribe (Christian, 2012). In this cycle, the victim ceases to be a victim by victimizing the perpetrator. This cycle of violence can be seen in the devolving behavior of the victims-perpetrators of nearly every violent communal conflict.  

In the aftermath of death, loss, dismemberment, betrayal, abandonment and the accompanying effects of shame and rage, the peace and stability operations practitioner can expect the survivors to potentially express four general responses: withdrawal, avoidance, self denigration and the denigration of others (Elison, et al., 2006).  While some victims follow only one response, others will follow several, or all of them.  The father who allowed his home to be invaded and his beloved children to be killed for the entire village and community to see is himself attacked by powerful emotional responses. These emotional and psychological responses would be more painful than any imagined physical pain, consisting of guilt over surviving, shame over not protecting his family, pain from loss of love, fear over loss of purpose in life, terror from his imaginations of the suffering of his babies to name a few.  His shame over his impotence in failing to protect his family and home would preclude his sharing his other pain with extended family and clan.  The practitioner should be able to predict that left untended; the victimized father would withdraw from neighbors (especially if they were suspect, witnesses or bystanders in the killings), avoid confronting the loss of his family, and find himself caught between his superego’s denigration of himself for the failure and his id’s enraged demand that he redeem himself by heroic acts of sacrifice and vengeance. 

In conflicts such as Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia, these psychological pathways to violence created extreme communal bloodletting to a degree that created impotence on the part of the peace and stability operations practitioners.  What the intervening practitioners may find confusing is the discovery of those members whose defenses have withstood the psychological assault of victimization. “The pathogenic … effects of shame can be …inhibited, or redirected, both by the presence or absence of other feelings, such as guilt or innocence, and by the specific social and psychological circumstances in which shame is experienced” (Gilligan, 1996, p. 111).  Logically, there will always be some members of a traumatized society that do not suffer many or any of the symptomology of the community. They will be the first to reorganize physically and psychologically, most likely by rejecting not the pain of loss, but rather the object of that loss; family, neighbors, and friends in a process of peritraumatic dissociation (Lensvelt-Mulders, et al., 2008) (van der Kolk, et al., 1996). Free of any burden of the now destroyed community, they now constitute an individually self contained social unit of one, purporting to speak for their community. In reality, they speak only for themselves and will, if allowed, thoroughly flourish in the influx of aid and donor dollars that flow in the conflict zone, disconnected and untroubled by the pain and loss around them. Their very ability to so quickly reorganize the social construct of their ego reality suggests the tenuousness of their former connection with the traumatized community.

Psychological Pathways to Violence & Suicidal Terrorism

How many military or civilian interventionists understand the importance of reestablishing the chain of sociological family structures in the midst of ongoing violence? How many understand that the breakage of the family sociological structure (physically & psychologically) is the essence of the violence being perpetrated in the conflict zone? When interventionist organizations arrive in a conflict zone setting, what do they think about needing to accomplish?  Armed people to disarm maybe; aid stations to establish; or food and shelter distribution points to organize. What they often see are traumatized people who are withdrawn behind faces that no longer show expression, gratitude or hope; they are helpless.

…it is not the feelings themselves that constitute the trauma; it is the overwhelmed ego, the surrender to the total helplessness and hopelessness that makes the situation traumatic. This special feature of the adult’s trauma state, the psychological ‘closing off’ or the affective anesthesia can be felt paradoxically as a liberation to which one surrenders… (Elsass, 1997, pp. 52-53) 

This anesthetized state of the survivors of violent trauma who have closed themselves off from the first responder’s attempts to restore some semblance of order is frustrating for both military-civilian personnel. Interventionist responses to the detachment and absence of emotion of traumatized population ranges from assigning blame to them for their condition to suspicion that they are collaborating with the perpetrators. The often intuitive sense amongst peacekeeping and humanitarian practitioners of danger emanating from the victimized population they are working to support can be overlooked by political pressures or administrative efficiency. The surviving victims of repeated, prolonged trauma attempt to communicate through a fog of psychological pain, rage and hopelessness (Gilligan, 1996). The verbal and non-verbal signals they send to the peacekeeping and humanitarian practitioners can predict early signs of their recruitment and use by provocateurs of continued sectarian violence. Such victims turned perpetrators enter a psychological pathway to participation in violence and terrorism that can be recognized by observant interventionists:

Family members and close acquaintances of the terrorists noticed that as the violent death of a family member or other societal trauma wrought a deep personal impact, the ‘soon to become’ terrorist underwent a psychological crisis in which feelings of unresolved grief, anger, depression, psychological trauma, and guilt for not having done more to save the family member became obvious (Speckhard & Akhmedova, 2006, p. 5).

As the first members of the traumatized family, clan and tribe cross lines into violence that would never have been previously considered, others follow, mesmerized by the possibility of emotional expression and psychological relief from otherwise unendurable pain.

What was previously unthinkable now becomes a viable and considered option. Grief and trauma over the loss can further open the doors to considering following the same path. The traumatized individual seeks meaning. The bereaved seeks reunion. Both are in search of respite from psychic pain; respite that death can offer (Speckhard & Akhmedova, 2005, p. 133).

Connecting Failed States to Traumatized Communities

Out of suffering emerges the strongest souls, seared with scars - Khalil Gubran[xxiii]

Foreign Policy Magazine’s 8th annual index of the 60 most fragile states in the world provides insight into the largest threat facing human development in the coming century: the collective of failed or failing states.  The editors note that this “entrenched problem [is] one the world is far from figuring out how to fix” (Foreign Policy, 2012, p. 86).  The article’s contributors suggest that failed or failing states are caused by combinations of external intervention, demographic pressures, factionalized elites, brain drain, group grievance, inequality, poverty and economic decline, refugees, failed legitimacy, amongst other reasons. But these issues are more symptoms than causes, and their use to describe why states fail amounts to rhetorical tautology. They fail because they are poor and they are poor because they are failures.  To break out of the tautological circle of explanations requires our realization and acceptance that there are deeper forces that underlay the failure of states and the breakdown of their societies within.  This assertion is posited on the assumption that societies that fail do not want to fail; that the societies that fail are in a condition that is deteriorated from a historical normative standard; and finally, that societies that fail do so because they are unable to adapt to changes that are affecting them[xxiv]. This statement is self-evident with the presumption that a failed state is presupposed to have been previously successful and its failure serves to contrast the majority of states that have successfully adapted to the same external changes that cause others to fail.  Because of the growth in sovereign ownership by societies within states over the past half century, the internal underlying conditions of societies must be held to account for social and state failure rather than mere luck of resources or historical circumstance.  It is time to begin opening Pandora’s Box to understand why societies and the states that they represent ultimately fail.

Societies and states fail when they are unable to meet their underlying human needs (Burton, 1987) (Center for Global Development, 2007) (Elsass, 1992) (Fukuyama, 2004) (Krasner, 2004) (Rubenstein, 2001) (Staub, 2004) (Toft, 2010). Said differently, states fail when they are unable to adapt their sociological structures to meet their physical and psychological needs consistent with available resources or the ensuing environmental, climatologic, social or political forces affecting their current organization. Healthy societies, like healthy people, have the capacity to adapt to change and to trauma. To the contrary, failed states consist of societies whose sociological structures have been damaged or destroyed by extended violence and loss. Or they consist of societies whose internal large group identity structures are divided over meaning, status, distinction and affirmation. The latter afflicted societies are often led by cultural prototypical leaders who are waging a vicious campaign of self cleansing of unwanted traits and characteristics in a futile attempt to shed psychic pain of humiliation, degradation, shame and self-loathing.  However bad it seems at first, if there is still sociological structure, mediation and reparative processes are still possible to resolve the underlying causes that are driving the conflict.

The former category is the direst type of case. They are failed societies of a failed or failing state that is suffering from all of these afflictions. The family-village-tribal sociological psychological structures they contain are in danger of dying psychologically and physically.  They are unable to stop their ‘societal self-mutilation’ as the physical pain is the only thing left they can feel.  The Albertine Rift from South Sudan to the South Kivu and encompassing the lake and border zones of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, the Virunga National Park, Rwanda, and Burundi, consists of a dense cluster of failed or failing societies. With population densities ranging from 500-2500 humans per square mile, deforestation, resource eradication and an absence of any indigenous or political state sociological structures have left massive populations in fierce competition for minimal physical survival (Draper, 2011).  The inability of the state governments to extend their authority and social organization beyond their immediate capitals has created a wild lawless multi-state no man’s land ruled by warlords and militias that use violence as a primary negotiator for access to dwindling natural resources (Spears, 2010).  When the humanitarian or peace operations practitioner-interventionist enters the conflict zone of a failed or failing state, they see symptoms of a sick society that has yet to be diagnosed.  Most of these symptoms are visibly present such as:

  • Presence of child soldiers & warlords
  • Refugees & broken families
  • Starvation
  • Withdrawal
  • Rage         
  • Vacant compliance
  • Psychosomatic physical ailments
  • Ethnic & cultural violence
  • Absence of government presence
  • Extreme overkill of the ‘other’
  • Violence without motive
  • Dependence on aid workers
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Promiscuity
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Depression

These symptoms are but a few examples of societies whose sociological structures are broken and no longer meet their physical or psychological needs.  The symptoms reflect extensive trauma caused by extended violence and loss; failing boundaries of individual and group identity; and extraordinary shame and humiliation that result from alienation of self and group from reality.  Were an individual person found with such symptoms in an urban center of Europe or America, he or she would be incarcerated for mental health treatment or jailed if they had committed a violent act. But in this case, the ‘patient’ is an entire society that is dangerous not only to itself, but to anyone who would try to intervene and assist. Where in civilized societies, social workers, medical personnel and law enforcement officers are provided training to subdue ill patients without undue harm to them or those around them, modern humanitarian and peace operations practitioners often blindly wander into the conflict zones of emotionally or mentally ill societies with little or no training in what to expect or how to react. When they fail, as they must given the lack of preparation and training, they will of course blame the patient-cum-society. As Dr Herman writes, “most people have no knowledge or understanding of the psychological changes of [traumatized human beings]. Social judgment of chronically traumatized people therefore tends to be extremely harsh. The chronically abused person’s apparent helplessness and passivity …entrapment in the past …intractable depression and somatic complaints, and smoldering anger often frustrate” those working to help them (Herman, 1992, p. 115).  The practitioners’ ability to observe and analyze individual and collective behavior in zones of extreme violence allows him/her to capture and track behavior patterns necessary for intervention, mediation, negotiation and facilitation of basic needs.  A level of detachment is required to serve as a defense against unchecked empathy that would overwhelm the psychological reality of the practitioner of peace operations faced with indescribable violence and abandonment of human compassion. 

The societal self-mutilation characteristic in extreme communal violence is a special indicator of a failed society. A central need provided by the sociological structure is the psychological need for awareness and sustainment of the existential self – the identity of the person – without which, he or she cannot maintain their participation in the mental commune of humanity.  This identity is extracted from the group, primarily the family and provides the bearer (psychologically speaking) with a sense of worth or self esteem.  Self esteem can be said to be the power that generates vast creative endeavors, as well as equally vast destructive madness when denied or withdrawn.  Psychological identities that are laden with traits considered shameful and humiliating expose the bearer to expulsion and alienation; the loss of all love, belonging and acceptance. So powerful is this need in sociocentric society that even the mere thought of such a condition creates sharp pain in the mind (psyche) of the individual and excites a willingness to act alone or in concert to avoid the slightest hint of alienation and the resulting shame, humiliation and expulsion.  The change in group acceptance of elements of individual and group identity are often the key to extraordinarily violent expressions of alienation avoidance by societies marked by complex intercultural, inter-ethnic identities.  The re-introduction in a society of racial color as an indicator of slavery in the historical narrative for instance, can set off a chain reaction, where looking in the mirror at one’s face creates a self loathing because of the perceived shadow of color (Cross, 1998).  The suddenly shamed and humiliated viewer, unable to accept their own expulsion outside the community might suddenly (and subconsciously) be ‘called into a position’ of need to psychologically cleanse in their community what cannot be physically cleansed from their own face[xxv]. This example of identity conflict is meant to illustrate the power of alienation, shame and rage that characterizes the need for overkill of the ‘other’ in extreme communal conflict. 

Intractable Cultural Conflict: Generational Transmission of Trauma

There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience – Polybius

The landscape of the failed, traumatized society is only partially culturally relative.  The meaning and communication created and transmitted in a sociological structure is particular to each culture, as is its subsequent damage.  But much of the trauma sequelae amongst humans is not.  The violence or extreme change to the sociological structure of a community damages their ability to maintain their place in constructed reality. How and to whom they communicate; who and what they trust; who and how they express love, affection, warmth and belonging; where to find safety, security, and sanctuary; what memories are valid from the past to an uncertain future. Practitioners will find variance in the emotional and physical expressions of the population ranging from what Herman calls a “peculiar, seething state of ‘frozen watchfulness’” to “helplessness and the futility of resistance” to violent rage (Herman, 1992, p. 100). The differences in how individual members of a society react to the loss of the reality that their undamaged sociological structure provided them is dependent on many factors, but there are a fairly finite amount of expressive reactions that range from passive to violent, and from minor to major in intensity.  Each member, each family of the damaged society can be expected to react in a manner depending on the pre-event structure of their family’s psychological underpinning. 

In societies damaged by extended violence, the accompanying trauma “erodes the structure of personality already formed” for the adults and “deforms the personality” of the children (Herman, 1992, p. 98).  The significance of this is found in those failed states that undergo continuous generational violence that includes the societies’ children, especially in locales such as Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, or Angola to name only a few. The child in these societies of extended trauma is forced to adapt to the needs of immediate survival against death, dismemberment, starvation, and physical-sexual-emotional abuse by the affected adults in their own society (Odejide, et al., 1998).  Their adaptation to abuse and trauma sets the conditions for them to alter the sociological structures of life to meet their particular pathology:

The pathological environment of childhood abuse forces the development of extraordinary capacities, both creative and destructive. It fosters the development of abnormal states of consciousness in which the ordinary relations of body and mind, reality and imagination, knowledge and memory, no longer hold. (Herman, 1992, p. 98)

The abnormal state of consciousness that the child(ren) creates are defenses to overwhelming fear, anxiety, abandonment, terror, loneliness and hunger. The reality abandoned is of theirs and other’s pain, death and requirement of cultural existential meaning outside of immediate survival (Kupelian, et al., 1998).  When their altered states of reality for body, mind, reality and imagination, knowledge and memory are combined with the further traumatization inherent in their use by adults as child soldiers, the future stage is set for the anarchic state of warlord domination found in the worst of the failed states (MacMullin & Loughry, 2004) (Albertyne, et al., 2003). 

Violent sociological structures that have defaulted to base systems of physical survival such as those in southern Somalia, the Congo, and Darfur suffer the mass traumatization of thousands of children in violent abuse followed by displacement, internment in refugee camps or forced employment as child militia soldiers (Borchini, et al., 2002).  Based on both qualitative and quantitative data thus far gathered, a good case can be made for the coming of a perfect storm of sociological structures in intractable violent conflict as the progeny of extended trauma and violence continue to replay their past.  The adult survivors of a childhood spent in extended trauma of abuse and learned violent practices would not have formed integrative adult personalities that one could even recognize as distinctly compatible with organized society (Gilligan, 1996) (Derluyn, et al., 2004).  By this I mean that the adult survivor of this level of childhood trauma would remain in the psychological-immediate as a place of sanctuary (Elsass, 1997) (Gilligan, 1996). They would resist mental projection of future ideations outside of that necessary for physical defense against enemy competitors (Bayer, et al., 2007). Such future projections would subject these adult-children to concepts they are unprepared to face. 

Some of these ‘dangerous’ ideations might include historical memory of murdered parents and family, atrocities they may have either watched or been forced to participate in (Oloya, 2011). Other ideations sure to cause the adult survivor of extreme childhood violence a great deal of anxiety might include their existential identity beyond that of a child given what we know about the levels of abuse, violence and trauma[xxvi] (Bremner & Marmar, 1998) (Lensvelt-Mulders, et al., 2008). The possibilities of these survivors-turned-perpetrators imagining or working towards the development of a healthy, adult identity would be resisted as such projections would require them to revisit earlier trauma, laden with guilt of participating and surviving (Bremner & Marmar, 1998). All of these dangerous ideations of normal, healthy human community life would necessarily be kept carefully compartmented from their daily reality of survival (Albertyne, et al., 2003).  This compartmentalizing would require them to maintain simple and manageable concepts of body, mind, and the relationship between self and other (Bhugra & Becker, 2005). The complexity of the sociological structure they tolerated then would be supportive of this simplified psychological basis of need. Complex sociological constructs of multiple identity definitions based on economic, spiritual, family, and historical factors would be far too threatening for their subverted deformed personality development and aggressively avoided (Elsass, 1992) (Herman, 1992).  Communication and cultural expression would naturally be delimited to a lower common equation that could be mastered and controlled by the fearful adult survivor of a violent failed society (Albertyne, et al., 2003) (Bayer, et al., 2007).

Those survivors that were still able to intelligibly interact with newly arriving practitioner-interventionists (be they aid workers or peace operations personnel) would likely be the least traumatized, least affected[xxvii]. The most affected would logically not be able to bring themselves to interact with practitioner humans who represented such a divergence from the reality they had created as a survival mechanism so many years earlier (Gilligan, 1996). These adult survivors would naturally tend to resist the development of sociological structures that were based on trust and cooperation, foreign as those concepts must be to those adults who survived a horrific childhood only through their ability to employ cunning, subterfuge and violence in order to eat, find shelter, and avoid predators (Elsass, 1997).  Peace operations practitioner attempts at recreating or reorganizing healthy communal society in failed areas inadvertently create multiple competing societies against these psycho-socially deformed groups of survivors.  Anchored around the Albertine Rift in Africa for instance, vast overpopulated areas of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are home to these competing societies (Kelly, 2010).

Operating with impunity, armed survivors of past abuse like the Mai-Mai Kifuafua[xxviii] exist in numbed states of traumatized existence even as they extend their traumatized condition onto new generations of children.  Unable to reintegrate psychologically into the community sheltered by peace-building operations, they feed off of travelers, aid workers, and the beneficiaries of international aid (Stearns, 2011).  Their presence and actions destabilizes efforts at reestablishing sociological structures based on external reality and inhibits the scabbing and eventual healing of psychological wounds. The sociological structures they attempt to recreate resemble childhood fabrications of immediate defense replete with simplistic formulations of equity and fairness, using half remembered stories as a basis for recreating social belief and spirituality (Draper, 2011) (Neuner, et al., 2012).  Unable to cognitively process any ideations beyond the immediacy of physical survival, the organizing principals of these armed survivor societies remain at based levels of human need. Such sociological ordering cannot establish the psychological foundations of community needed to properly develop out of childhood[xxix].  Cultural psychoanalyst Donald Spence (1982) coined the term ‘non-overlapping translation’ to identify a communication failure based on attempts to communicate across opposing contexts.  Peace operations practitioners that attempt to communicate with these survivor societies on an adult basis of psychological context meet consistent failure.  Similarly, attempts at DDR (disarm, demobilize, reintegrate) of survivor societies are doomed to failure because they approach them from an external perspective of the non-traumatized interventionist-practitioner. Survivor groups like the Mai-Mai Kifaufua can be temporarily disarmed, but they cannot be demobilized or reintegrated like normally constituted militia.  Demobilizing them would be like demobilizing a village from being a village and the inhabitants (re)integrated or sent into the bush to try and live.  The structure of any society is dependent on the development of the humans who populate the imagined spaces of community.  Human development based on love, safety, belonging, and creative purpose supported by learning creates one type of society.  Human development in violence prone neighborhoods where hunger, thirst, disease and the absence of love, safety, or belonging are the norm creates quite a different form of society.  Societies marked by deprivation of physical, emotional and psychological needs are abnormal and artificial, but nevertheless a reality in failed societies.  They continue to extend psychological diminishment and sociological corruption because they are sustained by external communities that extend minimal life-sustaining provisions without addressing the underlying disorganization and mal-development of the psychological sociological structures lost in intractable violence.

Crossing the Trauma Barrier - Reestablishing Meaning in Traumatized Communities

The defects and faults of the mind are like wounds in the body; after all imaginable care has been taken to heal them, still there will be a scare left behind – François de La Rochefoucauld[xxx]

In the introduction to this paper, I compared psychological societal trauma to a physical wound; an injury to the psychological reality of the community. Such psychological wounds have the power to change how large groups of people react to their external stimuli. After 9/11, how many people changed their preference for higher floors in buildings? After the Washington DC sniper attacks, how many people changed their patterns of using open public spaces?   How did the pandemic threat of bird flu change the way people exchanged greetings and their concept of appropriate face-space with strangers?  These few examples illustrate the idea that external changes involving disease, death and maiming can quickly change the nature of how an entire large group views their reality.  The organizing rationale for community is the support of the psychological construction of the self which includes “the image of the body, the internalized images of others, and the values and ideals that lend a person a sense of coherence and purpose” (Herman, 1992, p. 93).  In the presence of communal violence, this organizing rationale becomes subject to breakage as the interactive elements that are meant to be supportive are turned against each other.  In the examples above, a strong, well structured community (county, state, and national) reacted quickly to reinforce communal organization, identify/contain/eliminate threats to the organization, and assuage damaged images of safety and security of the affected membership.  

When the communal violence overwhelms the sociological structure’s ability to contain it, process it, and integrate the losses and terror[xxxi] into the ongoing historical narrative, psychological damage begins to occur. This damage begins with the members’ perception of physical safety and continues with the degradation of their images of themselves, each other, and the coherence and purpose of their community (Gilligan, 1996).  Psychological images of safety, security, creative expression, historical memory, and ideations of archetypal heroism, purity, love, and existential memory are invaded and violated (Eisenbruch, 1991). Standard norms of safe, daily activity are overtaken, broken and replaced by expectation of sudden or jarring recurrence of immediate-past violence at each doorway, around each corner and within the opacity of shadows (Gilligan, 1996).  The imprint of violence and loss cannot easily be erased and the longer the duration, the deeper the imprint until the expectations of recurrence overwhelm the expectations of return to normalcy, to safety (Odejide, et al., 1998).  Those violent external events can actually change the internal reality of group ideations of what constitutes safety, what constitutes danger and how the group reality should change in order to defend against psychological chaos and reestablish routine (Horowitz, 1985).  Imagine some of the villages’ coping mechanisms of the examples above; are they all well grounded in security studies knowledge, or are they more likely to be grounded in hearsay, folk wisdom (Neuner, et al., 2012), and shared thinking (Oloya, 2011) of how to reformat the psychic landscape of what constitutes safety and danger? 

Coping mechanisms change the mental landscape in traumatized societies to provide the group psychological body with an imagined reality of safety (Rousseau & Drapeau, 1998). This is a necessary and normal occurrence that reduces the chaotic possibilities of continuing danger that would override their ability to reconstitute orderly society and meaningful living that is not defined minutely by the specter of death and loss.   The meaning that the military-civilian practitioner attributes to routine events or mental objects in the midst of, or in the aftermath of violent loss may not be the same as that given by those they are trying to help and secure.  The inhabitants may display behavior that the practitioner may find strange and even incomprehensible, along the lines of paranoia, irrational fears, or rage that seems ungrounded to proximate causation.  Their inexplicable behavior is a function of changes to their images of themselves and their society.  As the extreme communal conflict devolves[xxxii], the survivors’ images and ideations change.  Their new, damaged images now include a community membership whose bonds can be dissolved; where death of loved ones and widespread alienation can be sanctioned.  As the organizing value and communal hold on social archetypes nears collapse, violence increases. Elder sociological mediators are lost or marginalized by their inability to contain the conflict and social control decreases.

Driving and or guiding what may seem like bizarre behavior to the military-civilian practitioner are two facets of conflict psycho-social response; trauma and culture. The former we have discussed at length; where the psychological reality of the participants is shaken by the violence or conflict event. Doubt exists where once there was certainty, about who should they trust, what is important, why is it important.  The inhabitants that military-civilian practitioners are working with speak through the former (culture) as a language and a mode of thinking (Geertz, 1975). Thus the traumatized inhabitants may not even be able to articulate even the need to repair the psychological sociological damage as a precursor to rebuilding the physical damage (Foley, 1997). They may only ‘feel’ resistance or pain at opening such discussions with each other and the outsider-practitioners.  They may find it psychologically easier to subvert the practitioners’ intent of the physical reconstruction of homes and villages by transferring and converting resources and funds to local control for future use as they continue their inward struggle to reconstruct sociological reality before physical reality.  As an example, two community centers or schools in a neighborhood are damaged by sectarian violence, and military-civilian practitioners are trying to allocate funding for reconstruction.  Larger questions for sectarian leaders contemplating ceasefires or the possibilities of mediation arise however, primarily along the lines of whether the ‘other’ ever be trusted again. Questions that they cannot avoid target their ability to trust, such as why did they target our children? Should we move our children’s school or our religious site deeper into sectarian controlled neighborhoods?   Finally, how can we accept the physical presence of the ‘other’ (who killed our loved ones) in our immediate proximity when we are unable to make room for them in our minds?  How can the military-civilian practitioners insist that we do physically, that which we are unable to do emotionally or psychologically?  Judith Herman suggests that social trauma that accompanies violent conflict may overwhelm the survivors’ ability to think, decide and adapt to the post-blast changes as victims:

Psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma, the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection, and meaning. Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. (Herman, 1992, p. 33)

The sociological schema of life is broken after each communal attack leaving the survivors unable to reintegrate past expectations of order with their new found reality of fear and anticipation of more violence (Horowitz, 2001). This becomes the trauma barrier. 

Crossing the trauma barrier in traumatized, physically damaged societies begins with the practitioner’s realization that the surviving inhabitants are feeling, thinking and speaking from two distinct but interactive points of reference; culture and trauma.  The psychological and emotional damage suffered by the participants does not distort a universal sociological structure, but one that is bound and constructed by individual culture and group identity.  Crossing the trauma barrier consists of first crossing the cultural barrier which begins when the practitioner sees the inhabitants as they see themselves; hears the inhabitants as they hear themselves; and interacts with the participants using the psycho-cultural linguistics that creates and sustains their reality (Geertz, 1975) (Harley, 2008) (Lindholm, 2008).  This is not the verbal language of the traumatized group (such as Spanish, Arabic, or Pashto), but the meaning of the language’s words, objects, relations, and significance of how it orders values, honors memory and transmits communal identity across time and space.  A cousin for instance, might have one meaning for an Irish family in South Boston and quite another for a family in Missouri.  A soccer game in Quito or Bogota may cause a riot, but one in Atlanta may go unnoticed. A girl’s fifteenth birthday in Syracuse may come and go with a simple birthday party, but in Miami, the same day might entail a Quinceañera at a cost to the family of tens of thousands of dollars.  The practitioner’s ability not merely understand the existence of ceremonies and relationships within the community he/she is working with, but their meaning, significance, and effect on those survivors and the damage sustained by the violence therein is part of what allows him/her to cross the trauma barrier.   

Returning to the analogy between physical wounds to the body and its organs –  wounds to the sociological structure damage the meaning, significance or affect of relationships, ceremonies and memory within traumatized populations (van der Kolk, et al., 1996) (Stein, 1994) (Spence, 1982).  As the meaning of mental objects, emotions, social construction and psychological health is different between cultures, so are the effects of how trauma destroys that meaning.  The destroyed meaning can be heard by the military-civilian practitioners of humanitarian, peacekeeping and stability operations as they try to secure and stabilize the population. The call for relief comes in the words of “Želim da to bude kao da je” [xxxiii]a phrase of intimacy and sorrow that reverberates through every conflict zone we may visit. ‘I want it to be as it was’ is perhaps the one universal cry from those the practitioner would help. The phrase illustrates a primary grievance; a need for relief from psyche pain, distorted reality, easing of suffering shame, guilt, abandonment, grief, and overwhelming helplessness.  This need for relief becomes overpowering to the survivors of communal violence because the psychic pain in sociocentric societies is inhibited from relief by the nature of their sociocentric structure.  The same ethos that arises from the dense, interconnected family life leaves fewer outlets for pain and grief than do those that are egocentric.

When the family is the primary source of belonging, nurture, love, acceptance and individual identity, its loss to violence and dispersion takes with it the natural outlets for expressing psychological anguish.  Alienated from the primary source of positive emotion and psychological expression, shame arises from the subconscious awareness of loss of belonging. This exacerbates the individual’s situation dramatically because shame is a natural inhibitor of shared emotions such as love, anger, grief and anguish (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991).  Shame inhibits the expression of emotion because “nothing is more shameful than to feel ashamed” (Gilligan, 1996, p. 111); the smaller the perceived reason, the greater the shame and the deeper the psychic pain of unrelieved anger, grief and anguish (Gilligan, 1996).  This is the vicious cycle that leaves the victim isolated and the practitioner helpless to maintain security and stabilize the community.  What must change for both is the public illumination of communal pain; victims must be publicly authorized to grieve. Outlets and forums for the public expression of outrage and shame-inhibited rage must be created by the practitioner that is not beset by the powerful emotions dominating the remaining community.  

The publicly authorized, even encouraged, expression of debilitating emotion in an open forum of surviving community members allows for the reestablishment of lines of reality. This occurs when loss by loss, individual victimization is narrated in survivors’ accounts using a process of public storying within the extended community.  This public storying of collective trauma creates what Vamik Volkan (2005) calls a Chosen Trauma, a shared mental-object of victimization that survivors use release bottled up pain and horror of loss that is too traumatic to integrate individually. The chosen trauma becomes a mental-object of loss that combines trauma and grief in a shared exercise that replaces the former ‘good-reality’ (before the losses) with the ‘bad reality’ of the chosen trauma event. This new shared mental-object of chosen trauma encapsulates the pain, grief, mental anguish and debilitating loss of relationships that have created a destabilized reality for the surviving members. While this is a terrible replacement for the lost former ‘good-reality’, it is absolutely necessary because some reality is better than no reality. Even a painful reality can be built upon with love, compassion, caring, and loving memorialization of their loved ones’ existential identity.  Without a floor of even painful reality, there is nothing upon which to build psychological and physical monuments of memory.

This is the meaning that is reestablished in traumatized communities; what was lost, how terrible was that loss, the depths of grief contained in the mental object of the chosen trauma, and the eternal effort to memorialize that loss to future generations.  The failure to create this structure of healing dooms to failure any attempt by the military-civilian practitioner at reconstructing the outer physical facades of a damaged society.

Relieving Sociological Trauma and Rebuilding Society

 The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering – Ben Okri[xxxiv]

Violent communal conflict destroys two types of infrastructure; the physical and the sociological. Where the physical destruction and need is obvious, the sociological is not.  The house may be destroyed by shell fire, but the loss of wood, stone and glass are not what the family grieves for; they grieve for what the lost home represented – love, belonging, trust and safety.  Because the conflict is communal, there must be betrayal.  Because there is betrayal, there is a violation of trust, expectation and of community. Families, villages and communities construct an ideation of sanctuary at each level of sociological organization.  This ideation is founded on mutual trust or expectations of safety from theft, murder and annihilation from within that sanctuary of home and village. Mutual expectations of communal trust and safety create structures of communication and pathways of community interaction; a sense of the familiar and of being at home:

To be home means to be able to circulate in the homeland with impunity and safety. To be at home means to be in a place in which the other appears as a reflection of oneself. “Home is, therefore, the association within a homogeneous group and the association of that group with a particular physical place.” (Adelman, 1997, p. 3)

The community interaction in turn establishes complex processes for the members to exchange love, affection, creation of goods & services, divisions of labor, and the exchange of family members through generational evolution. The combined total of communal interaction and life-supporting processes creates the sociological structure on which the members’ psychological reality is based. 

Their realities are not simple constructions. They are complicated interactions of cognitive processing, emotional imprinting and psychological determinants of happiness, love and existential identity.  Communal violence is not simply the killing of members of a society and the destruction of their homes and possessions. Communal violence involves turning the sociological structure inward against itself in varying degrees of intimacy and varying levels of betrayal. The degrees of intimacy in which sociological structures turn inward are reflected by the relationships of the members attacked to the members perpetrating the attacks. Villages against villages constitute one degree of intimacy; neighbor against neighbor constitute another; and family member against family member as in Mozambique’s civil war constitute the most intimate degree of betrayal of trust, safety and sanctuary (Spears, 2010). The levels of betrayal that sociological structures turn inward are the responsibilities of the members attacked to the members perpetrating the attacks. Socio-economic group against a competing group might constitute one level of betrayal, but the attack by the protectors of society (such as police, military, etc) on those they serve to protect might constitute a much deeper level of betrayal.    

The internal betrayal of the communal trust and expectations of safety and sanctuary damages or destroys the sociological structures of family, village and community in ways and depths that exceed what is possible during the conduct of inter-state warfare. If foreign soldiers from a different political state are running down your neighborhood street, it would be natural to expect (or fear) violence. After all, they are foreign, armed, and uninvited. They have no right to be there.  But armed police and military from one’s own precinct have a right to be in one’s neighborhood, patrolling one’s streets, making arrests, and using violence as needed to ensure the general safety and order of the society.  When those trusted agents of order and security turn their violence on their own community members, betrayal occurs.  And this betrayal breaks a fundamental portion of the unseen sociological structure of each community affected whether they are witness or victim, because the structure is built around the social organization of governance and security.  The community members’ surrender to governance subjects themselves to the dictates of security; from foreign hostility and internal chaos.  When the violence is turned against them by their governance that they have previously surrendered to, the crime of betrayal occurs.  The victims’ betrayal involves more than just their surrender to governance and the dictates of security; their betrayal strikes at the foundation of the sociological structure that they used to construct their psychological reality, secured as it was by the organizations of governance and security.

The crime that undermines the foundations of victims’ psychological sociological reality defies prosecution and the restoration of justice. The neighbor police officer who killed my son can be arrested, but if he were acting with the authority of the organization of governance and security, then his imprisonment is less meaningful. Arresting and imprisoning perpetrators cannot by itself restore the fractured sociological structures and the altered reality that follows because governance and security authorized the acts.  And in so doing, they placed the victims outside of the community in a state of alienation, unworthy of governance and protection.  Their alienation from the sociological structure that defines their reality emerges in discourse and dreams; words and images twist and corrupt their self-reflection of other, to one that appears as twisted nightmare of horrific betrayal (Scheff & Retzinger, 1991) (Kaufman, 1996) (Horowitz, 1985) (Mollica, 1988) (van der Kolk, et al., 1996).  This is the underlying rational for the process of public storying called Truth Commissions.  Such public events are forums where victim and perpetrator record the betrayal and repudiate the attacks on the public sociological structure.  These public forums seek to validate the sanctity of the original communal structure that all had surrendered allegiance to and invalidate the betrayal of the victims by the use of formal violence on societal owners rather than those foreigners for whom it was to have been reserved for.  

Public storying, oral histories, truth commissions, and victim testimonies all serve a function of collective review of the existing, damaged sociological structure (Leffler & Brent, 1992) (Ochberg, 1988) (Stein, 1994). For victims and families to relate their stories, they must first lay context of jinsi mambo, kabla ya vita[xxxv], or how it was before the war (Winslade & Monk, 2000).  This beginning context allows the story teller to express depth of loss, pain and the connection to betrayal.  The collected storying of large multiples of victims and witnesses who relate thier horrific stories of loss, pain, suffering and greif in shared contexts, serves to create a background narrative that binds the story tellers together (Enright & North, 1998).  They become a new, devolved collective of sufferers who exist in a shared alienation of loss. But thier realization of this shared pain is (or can be) the psychologcial vehicle that transforms thier individual alienation into a new commonality of existance.  They may be suffering, greiving, and in physical and emotional pain. However they cannot be alienated within the confines of a bounded group, especially when the most salient point of commonanlity is the most loudly expressed component; pain and loss. If they are not alienated, they cannot be shamed. If they are not shamed, then they can share thier primal emotions of love, anger, grief and terror. This then, becomes a starting point for healing and reclaiming their psychological reality of a broken sociological structure (Herman, 1992) (Kaufman, 1996) (Elsass, 1997).


So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family that it remains the measure of our stability because it measures our sense of loyalty. All other pacts of love or fear derive from it and are modeled upon it – Haniel Long[xxxvi]

I have infused my explanations of trauma and conflict with quotes and anecdotal stories about family, alienation, shame, rage and the breakdown of sociological and psychological reality to demonstrate what is really being destroyed by extended violence. Hopefully, this is a tentative step towards reorienting humanitarian and peace operations practitioners from their current focus on the physical to a focus on the psychological sociological wreckage wrought by extended trauma and violence. Washington Irving writes that the tears found in traumatized societies are not signs of weakness, but of power: “they are messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love”.  But there is blindness in the ability for most government interventionist organizations and their staff to comprehend the power of the grief behind the tears and the danger that lies behind the loss of love and family. This blindness continues despite the reality that they, or rather we, are most likely the only other humans capable of bringing stability to chaos.  Our awareness of the power of trauma however, becomes actionable only when it is politicized for us. But it is politicized only when political institutions articulate the military and social security threats posed by the violence. Until then, we remain as bystanders; awkwardly trying to shield embarrassed eyes that are privy to scenes of intimate ferocity. Unarmed with the knowledge of what is happening and why, we embark on a process that transforms us into unwitting bystanders whose un-involvement creates the very authorization that we would resist offering.   Because we cannot comprehend what is happening beneath the vacant or hostile stares of the inhabitants; or gauge the relative psychological and emotional dispositions of perpetrator and victim; or that we don’t understand the sociological, economic, and cultural structures that are broken – we hesitate. This initial hesitation by the humanitarian or peacekeeper quickly becomes a blueprint for non-effective action with exculpatory explanations that eventually lay the blame evenly on the shoulders of both victim and perpetrator (Ofer, 1994).  The error of the humanitarian and peacekeeper is not in their hesitation when faced with the violent events that are unfolding in front of them. The first sin of the interventionist is to wander into that conflict zone uninformed, unaware of the structures of conflict and the dynamics of communal violence. But the second sin of the interventionist is to witness with averted eyes. 

Perhaps it is necessary to place the topic of social trauma pathology and intervention into a historical context of practice so as to answer the question of so what. Why is this topic important for the interventionist?  And if this topic is so important, why hasn’t it been incorporated into standard practice for western interventionist planners, operators and donors?  To begin, the difference between a military occupation and a civil-military intervention under the United Nations Charter’s chapters six and seven (stability operations, peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace-building) was historically one of intent. The intent of an occupation was to subdue remaining resistance of the conquered population and establish a governing structure amongst the survivors of a nature that is non-threatening to the conquering power.  Historically and contemporaneously, issues of humanitarian support to the population were/are tertiary considerations to maintaining control, protecting the occupation forces and preserving the natural resources necessary for reconstruction of a new political-social order that conforms to the demands of the conquering party.  The evolution of the standards of normative behavior expected of conquering powers has created what has been called the “Pottery Barn” policy effect by the international community: ‘if you break it, you bought it’.  No longer can the conquering party cut and run if their actions create dangerous destabilization of a fragmented society.  Nearly by default, a conquering power is obliged by the international community to clean up the social mess in the aftermath of the fall of that political-social order, despite that fact that the former regime may have ultimately been the progenitor of sociological structures in ruins.  Despite this increase in social responsibility, interventionist powers have not fundamentally deepened their capacity to repair and treat broken sociological structures traumatized by violence and suffering from a disestablishment of its psychological support base. 

The conditions of civil-military interventions today bear little resemblance to those undertaken even a half century earlier. Interventionist personnel, whether public, private, armed military or unarmed civilian, operate in the light of internet media powered by millions of cell phone video cameras linked to You-Tube style websites that turn the brilliant and the horrifying into viral emanations of public knowledge.  At the same time, the nature of the violence that national, regional and international governance structures are intervening into has changed; from interstate political-military conflicts to internal state conflicts involving sociological fracturing with strong elements of destabilized or collapsed large group psychological identity. The mixed remains of past empires have left behind divided and contentious cultural populations that, combined with simmering failures of colonial state constructions, have left a series of failing or failed states. Assembled in strife and maintained with force, these failed social constructions are presenting themselves Frankenstein like, with increasing frequency to the global consciousness for recognition and repair.  

As authoritarian regimes fall, the legitimacy of their existing ethnic, cultural, communicative and psychological group identity boundaries are subject to renegotiation and vulnerable to collapse.  Within states like Yugoslavia, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mali, and others, a type of violence emerges from this renegotiation and/or collapse that intergovernmental and humanitarian interventionists are unprepared for.  This type of violence is not new. The internal communal conflicts that raged in China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh over the past century have provided us all the forewarning needed to understand the coming change in the nature of violent conflict.  Modern peacekeeping missions still tend to model their operations structure on templates designed for conventional warfare between political states.  This type of posture often frames the participants in roles better suited for organized political states than for disputant communities of a single state. The worst conflagrations of human violence, suffering and loss occurred not between organized states and their military systems waging total war on enemy political systems, but rather within formerly contiguous structures of large group identities and their attendant civilizations. Samuel Huntington (1997) made famous the phrase, a clash of civilizations.  It is easy to understand his mistake when you think about his western based viewpoint.  A closer look at the changing nature of violence in the twenty-first century will lead one to the conclusion that the coming clash is not between civilizations, but rather, within them. 


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End Notes

[i] The U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual: U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3–07 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009).

[ii] Military and civilian government and non-government personnel (to include contractors) engage traumatized communities when conducting humanitarian operations, counterinsurgency missions, stability operations to include village stability operations, peace keeping operations, peace building operations, and reconstruction of societies damaged by violent conflict.  The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations focus is on conflict prevention, crisis response, and stabilization activities. The U.S. Agency for International Development is lead agency for the United States in providing development and humanitarian assistance. The Department of Defense conducts the bulk of interaction with traumatized villages, provinces and tribes as it conducts peace enforcement, peace keeping, stability, and reconstruction operations in a number of violent conflict zones worldwide. Both State and Defense conduct operations by, with and though local partners, non-governmental humanitarian partners (NGOs), intergovernmental organizations such as the UN, AU, EU, NATO, OAS, and the Arab League.  All of these organizations’ personnel who are assigned to interact with, plan or program for these missions are subject to the issues described in this paper.

[iii] An external event is one that is not already within the interior psychological structure of the individual; it is a new event that penetrates the defensive mechanism from without. An internal event that creates a psychologically traumatic reaction would fall into the category of psychosis and penetrates the individual’s defensive mechanism from within.

[iv] Erik Erikson’s model of psychosocial behavior illustrates a useful stage of integrity versus despair, often in later adult life where issues of meaning and purpose create the possibilities for disruption of the relationship between the individual and the society where renunciation and disdain evolve from mal-adaption to malignancy. I correlated this idea with psychiatrist Mardi Horowitz’s conceptualization of a “shattered schema” (Horowitz, 2001, p. 92).

[v] I use psycholinguistics to refer to the changes in how the inhabitants of conflict societies process severe stress and trauma into the verbal and non-verbal communication between family members and between families. Using psycholinguistics in the study of traumatized conflict societies means to examine how the meanings of words, sentences and phrases are changes (or new ones created) to account for the damage to their sociological structures and the prolonged absence of basic psychological and physical needs. Similarly, the behavior dynamics refer to the changes in normal body posturing, gestures, non verbal communication and meta communication that reflects the presence of damaged sociological structures and unmet psychological and physical needs. Trevor Harley (2008) provides a basic sketch of some of these processes in his text The Psychology of Language. It goes without saying that in keeping with Whorf’s principal of linguistic relativity, the practitioner must first gain a sense of the normative linguistic communication style and content in order to fully understand the process of how trauma and violence has degraded or altered the host community’s communication (Foley, 1997).  These psycholinguistics along with behavior dynamics informs our initial and subsequent analysis of the population and their psycho-social condition. When we walked into a refugee camp in Chad that was filled with 300,000 refugees from Darfur (Christian, 2005), we found scenes where children endlessly (and compulsively) replayed the acts of violence and depravity that they had so recently experienced; scenes that would one day be replayed in later stages of their development as either victim, perpetrator or witness without effective intervention.

[vi] Eugène Ionesco (26 November 1909 – 28 March 1994) Romanian and French playwright and dramatist

[vii] From Khaldun’s Muqaddimah, written in 1377.

[viii] French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) described the process by where creative activity plays an important role in the development of collective consciousness, a concept that Georg Jellinek (1895) referred to as a ‘mass psychological function. In societies tightly bounded by family and geography, this collective consciousness becomes a ‘mechanical solidarity’ from intense mutual similarity (Gellner, 2006).

[ix] Jung’s use of archetype was to describe organizing principals and motivating drives of the individual personality and its relationship to environment and people, eg: mother-caregiver, father-safety, self as existential persona and the like.

[x] Microsystems in this context would be individual families, exosystems would be villages and clans, and macrosystems would be tribes and ethnically and/or culturally bounded social structures.

[xi] American author, living in Sag Harbor, New York

[xii] Elisabeth Wood conducted extensive ethnographic research into the sociological and psychological underpinnings of the civil war in El Salvador from 1991 to 1992 in Usulután.

[xiii] Subsequent psychological or emotional conditions resulting from the initial event, in this case, the victimization created by famine, communal violence, or natural disasters.

[xiv] The presence of guilt presupposes the existence of human relationships; “guilt is distress that comes from hurting other human beings” (Baumeister, 1997, p. 305). Members of sociocentric and egocentric communities possess relationships and the capacity to feel guilt. Similarly, members of both are capable of feeling the distressing effects of alienation.  Shame is the distress that comes from feeling oneself alienated, and therefore both sociocentric and egocentric persons feel shame and guilt. The difference for this example is that the locus of control is based on one or the other for the two social structures. 

[xv] As might be imagined, there is a great deal more scientific literature on egocentric societies, their inhabitants and behaviors than for sociocentric societies.  As such, I used a combination of extrapolating and experiential review to fill in the descriptive blanks for sociocentric thought, behavior, and ideations.  It helped that I grew up in a large sociocentric Québécoise family (9 siblings and 68 cousins on one side alone). 

[xvi] Such as schools, clubs, part time jobs, sports teams, volunteer associations, etc., each with their own standards of behavior, rules and rewards.

[xvii] To be clear, the sociocentric person has an identity, feels the pull of both Id and Superego and struggles to balance their demands just as the egocentric person does.  The sociocentric person can and does hurt the members of their own inner group (family, village, tribe, etc) and feels guilt just as the egocentric person does.  The difference is one of degree for the former and one of primacy for the latter.

[xviii] The point here is not to elevate a sociocentric father’s grief above that of his egocentric counterpart, but rather to be prepared for a level of debilitative grief that the practitioner may not understand without the psychological framework of sociocentric psychology.

[xix] The ego is the central balance between the pleasure seeking id and the righteous serving super-ego. For the ego to be overwhelmed by trauma, both the id and the super-ego have suffered blows and are in danger of failing; the id fails to demand pleasure in love, happiness, sex, joy while the super-ego fails to value honor, sacrifice, responsibility, and compassion.  The two animating forces of the ego then, are suddenly quiet and reality becomes distorted. 

[xx] The process is described differently by many psychologists, but the essential point is that psychological defenses are overwhelmed or broken through by mental stimulus leaving the mind (or psyche) in a state of trauma, helplessness, hopelessness, listlessness, anesthetizing depression, and so on. 

[xxi] Scheff & Retzinger refer to shame as a “master emotion” that can either inhibit the resolution of other painful emotions or amplify yet others into uncontrolled emotional rage (1991, p. xix).

[xxii] Feelings of guilt (such as remorse) are accompanied by humiliation, an aspect of falling self esteem.  The difference is that the person still feels entitled to be in their primary group; they have violated standards, but they can and will atone and the balance will be restored.

[xxiii] Poet and writer Gubran Khalil Gubran (January 6, 1883 - April 10, 1931) was a Lebanese-American immigrant born to a Maronite Catholic family from the historical town of Basharri in northern Lebanon

[xxiv] See Arnold Beisser (2006) for a discussion on the possibilities of societal change without engendering violence. Beisser suggests in the Paradoxical Theory of Change (in Gestalt Therapy Now, Theory, Techniques, Applications) that it takes 100 years or three generations for societies to successfully adapt to change without destroying their historical narrative or group identity. 

[xxv] Howard Adelman’s (1997) paper explores the psychological processes that lead to horrific violence in ‘Death and dismemberment: the body politic and genocide in Rwanda’.

[xxvi] For example, Derluyn, et al, (2004) found that of 233 children they interviewed, “77% saw someone killed…, 18 6% saw their own father, mother, brother, or sister being killed. 118 children (39%) had to kill another person themselves; 7 (2%) killed their own father, brother, or another relative. 184 of the children (61%) lived in the Sudan under very difficult conditions; 49 of them (27%) had to drink their own urine. 193 children (64%) were forced to participate in fights” and the list of individual and collective traumatization continues seemingly without end.

[xxvii] This is not to characterize their experience as either less worthy of understanding, but simply that if their personality was sufficiently organized around socially constructed concepts that they could interact across cultural barriers, they would be the lesser affected members.  The fact that the violence in such places continues despite the best efforts of the international community suggests that there are many more adult survivors that the practitioner-interventionist never sees that continues to subvert the reestablishment of sociological structures to meet the healthy psychological needs  of the society.

[xxviii] One of a growing number of armed communal groups, themselves survivors of communal, interethnic, intercultural violence leading to a breakdown of traditional sociological structures of community in favor of armed warlord societies. The Mai-Mai Kifuafua is led by Colonel Delphin Mbaende, Didier Bitaki, and Colonel Akilimali, with an estimated militia force of between 500 to 1,000 members. They operate in southern Masisi territory and consist of mostly Hunde and Tembo tribal peoples - (Voice of America radio interview April 7, 2010.


[xxix] MacMullin and Loughry (2004) point out that even when studying the psycho-social effects of child soldier trauma on the surviving children of these damaged societies, very little is known about their relationships with parents, family or their ability to reintegrate into any society, much less one that is still gripped by violent militias populated by children-adults of extended violence. Opiyo Oloya’s (2011) exploration of  Acholi children’s return to their native villages in northern Uganda brings out a possibility that the damage to these sociological structures is greater than the western based UN research is crediting, because of their inability to cross the psycho-cultural barriers of meaning. The survey instruments used by MacMullin and Loughry use questions that are culturally and meaningfully neutral with respect to the Acholi cultural psychological systems of meaning within their life cycle. Even from their paper, the reader gained awareness that the authors had not first conducted a psycho-historiography of the Acholi tribe to determine normative standards, sociological structures of being and psychological needs meant to be subsequently filled before using their western based Likert scale survey instruments.

[xxx] François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Prince de Marcillac (15 September 1613 – 17 March 1680) was a noted French author born in Paris in the Rue des Petits Champs.

[xxxi] Communities integrate the trauma of violence, tragedy, and loss into their historical narrative as “Chosen Traumas and Chosen Glories” (Volkan, 2001), where they become major markers of large group identity, cohesion and generational memory.  When the level of violence and trauma exceed the community’s ability to process trauma, the historical narrative begins to falter as trauma begins to affect memory and cognition.

[xxxii] Communal conflict devolves when it breaks down into its lowest individual form. Communal violence may begin with one sub-ethno-cultural group fighting another, but the longer the violence and loss continues, the greater and deeper the trauma.  Eventually the violence ‘devolves’ from a two sided communal affair to a many sided chaotic melee when it reaches into the individual family as in Southern Somalia, Southern Kivu and the Albertine Rift zone. 

[xxxiii] Bosnian-Croatian

[xxxiv] Poet and novelist Ben Okri was born in 1959 in Minna, northern Nigeria, to an Igbo mother and Urhobo father. He grew up in London before returning to Nigeria with his family in 1968

[xxxv] Swahili

[xxxvi] Haniel Clark Long (March 9, 1888 – October 17, 1956) was an American poet, novelist, publisher and academic. He is best known for his novella, Interlinear to Cabeza de Vaca (1936).


About the Author(s)

Patrick Christian is a doctoral candidate (ABD) researching the psychological foundations of sociological structures in conflict and is in transition to US Africa Command's Joint Special Operations Task Force – Trans Sahara with duty in Mali. He was a Policy Advisor in OSD-Policy and an adjunct faculty teaching African Civil Wars at the National Intelligence University.

Patrick has extensive experience in the practice and research of intra-state violence, civil war and tribal conflict. He has led field teams conducting combat advisory missions, tribal engagement and counterinsurgency operations in Caquetá, Putumayo and Los Amazonas Colombia; Puerto Francisco de Orellana in Ecuador; Darfur Sudan; Bilate and Ogadin regions of Ethiopia; and Baghdad and Taji Iraq. He has served as the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Ethiopian Special Operations Department, and the Colombian Army’s 6th COLAR Division as well as served as the United States Representative to the African Union Ceasefire Commission in Darfur Sudan.

Patrick has trained US Army Special Forces, US Navy SEALs, and USMC Advisory Groups in combat advising, tribal engagement and psycho-historiographical profiling of tribes in conflict.  In 2011, BrownWalker Press published his first book, a Combat Advisor’s Guide to Tribal Engagement, available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble booksellers.  His latest peer reviewed paper on psycho-historiographical profiling of tribes in conflict can be found at Routledge, Taylor and Frances’ African Security Journal, 2013, Volume 6, Issue 1; 03/2013; 6(1):1-37. DOI:10.1080/19392206.2013.759457.



Thanks for this superb piece. Winston Churchill said, “the wars of peoples will be more terrible than the wars of kings.” These have a bottomless-pit of psychological trauma inducing affect on populations that does appear to differ from previously interstate wars.

The VSO is a conceptual framework that I have been trying to implement in a range of environments. But I'm frustrated at the incessant need for Western organisations to look at the issue through their linear constructs and over indulgence in social engineering. Which doesn't make sense because in our own society, whenever someone has gone through a traumatic event, psychological intervention is very often prescribed as part of the healing process. Yet, we never think about this for societies that have experienced such intense violence; instead we roll out a template with a logical sequence of ingredients, without thinking about the population's state of mind.

I have a photo from an assignment in Sri Lanka during the civil war. There foreground has these two young girls, laughing while in the background is an adult with his hand on his head and a deeply traumatised expression on his face. It could say that there is hope that this young generation can rebuild but those that do will be faced with the damage of the current and older generation who bear horrendous psychological scars.

Excellent stuff