Collective Trauma in Honduras
It’s January 1st, 2021 – a new year that is arguably the most anticipated new start of our generation. As I scroll through social media, I see funny, albeit sobering memes depicting where we were 365 days ago and where we are now. One year ago depicting fresh, excited people – claiming “our year!” And today, tattered, ragged, and dirty looking like we just experienced a horrible car accident or spent months stranded in the desert. While we still have a long ways to go in returning to “normalcy,” we hold on to the hope that this year will bring some of that.
In 2020, as a planet, we experienced collective trauma. Dr. Leia Saltzman explains “Collective trauma is an event, or series of events that shatters the experience of safety for a group, or groups, of people.” I need not mention all of the horrors we have experienced this year, but I’ll name just a few – the fear of an unknown virus infecting us and our loved ones, the isolation and lack of connection with others, the loss of loved ones spending their last breaths alone in a hospital, loss of jobs, food insecurity, incredible injustice by people meant to protect, and polarization among our nation and the Church.
Wow, that is quite the list and even reading it may require you to pause reading and take a deep breath before moving on. What I see, as a Social Worker, is an incredible year of widespread disconnection and lack of felt-safety. A year of differences, traumas, and every person coping in their own way. You see, we were created for connection – which I believe is a large part of why 2020 was so difficult for us all.
Yesterday, on the last day of 2020, I had the wonderful privilege of meeting with a missionary Social Worker in Honduras. We discussed this idea of trauma and collective trauma. She shared that every single person in Honduras has experienced trauma, no matter how young or old – not what we call acute trauma (i.e. a car accident, theft, or single act of violence) but complex trauma. Here’s a definition of complex trauma from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:
“Complex trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect. They usually occur early in life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and the formation of a sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Many aspects of a child’s healthy physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability.”
Everyone living in such an impoverished country characterized by corrupt government and gang involvement has experienced complex trauma. This Social Worker shared with me that every single person she has administered the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey to has experienced 7 or more of the 10 ACEs. I highly encourage you to look up the ACEs study if you’re not familiar, but these ACEs include: abuse, neglect, divorce of parents, domestic violence, substance abuse by a family member, mental illness of a family member, or an incarcerated family member. As stated in the definition, complex trauma significantly impedes a child’s ability to function throughout their adulthood if not given a safe environment where they can grow and heal.
The situation for many in the developing world is so desperate because they have experienced a lifetime of 2020. A lifetime of let-down, tragedy, disappointment, trauma. Just this year, on top of the generational trauma the people of Honduras experience they experienced COVID-19, food insecurity, inability to work, isolation, and TWO major hurricanes devastating their country. The complex trauma and collective trauma is insurmountable. The hopelessness seems overwhelming. As the American Church in 2020, we have gotten just a glimpse of the complex trauma and collective trauma our neighbors have experienced their entire lives in the developing world.
Does the year of 2021 bring hope? Not really. True and lasting hope doesn’t just come from a new year. What does bring hope to us all is the Good News of Jesus Christ. He is so good. He has carried us through this year; he has carried us through this life; and he will bring healing to us as we move forward. It is by his grace we have been saved and we can rest knowing he is sovereign. As you move forward into 2021, remember where you have been, what you have seen, and who has saved you. Look to the empty grave and live in the freedom, comfort, and joy of our Savior.
Wherever you are in the world, we pray this for you: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope,” (Romans 15:13). We are hopeful for this year as we continue to work toward keeping kids in families in Honduras because of so many very generous donations the last couple of days.
“For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”