Deeper Than Words

Trauma has so many different roots and forms. Looking up synonyms for trauma, I found words like pain, damage, disturbance, hurt, scars, wounds and shock. Some people will retreat inwards, into silence. Others will want to talk, to emote. Some will experience trauma bonds, wanting to relive what happened.

I recently read about the experiences of some of the 705 people who survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 – and how they reacted and responded to that disaster over the years ahead. Disassociation was common – feelings of unreality about what happened and feeling disconnected from those memories. Some shut out the memories to a greater or lesser degree as they were able. Some threw themselves into living life to the full, into activity. Some found that as time went on, later events in their lives revived the memories, and with them the trauma.

Tradition and the customs of the day played their part too – counselling and therapy were far less common then than now, and so there were limited opportunities for the average Titanic survivor to share or express their trauma.

Nevertheless, however common therapy may have become, expressing trauma verbally can still be a struggle. Words can fail to capture the scale of what has happened, or the depth of emotion. This is where visual arts can be very helpful as an alternative, maybe drawing how you visualize your feelings. There’s no need for detailed representations, people can use simple lines, motifs, colours or symbols. These can help think through whatever has happened, or perhaps understand your own response. They also set those feelings down “out there”, on a sheet of paper, no longer in your head alone. This can feel like a release. It’s usually best that art is used this way with the support and care of a therapist.

Music, too, shares this non-verbal expressive power. Hearing or playing melody and rhythm can say more than words. One Titanic survivor was Eva Hart, who was just 7 years old when she escaped the sinking ship, on which her father died. While growing up, she took up music as a haven, a way to distract her mind and focus on something. She enjoyed singing, and occasionally sang on BBC radio as a professional soprano, as well as teaching music to local children while a young woman.

Creativity of many forms can ease trauma, whether as an expressive outlet – usually as part of supported therapy – or as time apart, a refuge. A survivor of 9/11 shared a while ago how she has immersed herself more and more in art since that day. Obviously responses to trauma depend on many elements – age, experience, personality, and the trauma itself. Surviving a famous disaster like the Titanic or 9/11 will be very different from surviving personal, hidden abuse or illness or relationship breakdown. But in other ways most trauma may be alike, and music and art – as well as drama and dance – open up new spaces, for thinking more, or for thinking less.

Maybe you have ideas or responses to share in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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