Select Page

 

While some people suggest that our emotional responses to trauma are built-in and that we don’t have a choice about whether or not to have our emotions, I believe the Baha’i Writings tell us something different.

‘Abdu’-Baha tells us our natural emotions are blameworthy and deprive our hearts from the bounties of God:

The natural emotions are blameworthy and are like rust which deprives the heart of the bounties of God.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 244-245)

Our emotions follow thoughts arising from our lower nature, which we put on the hamster wheel inside our heads, ruminate on them as they go round-and-round.  This leads to negative emotions, actions and even illness

For more information, please see:

Letting Go of Anger

Overcoming Anxiety (fear)

Overcoming Depression (sadness, self-pity)

I believe that when we understand the difference between our lower and higher nature; and how to recognize the thoughts which lead to the emotions, then we can identify and acknowledge them, understand what led to them, and know what to do with them.

For more information, please see:

Getting to Know Our Lower Nature

We Are Not Our Thoughts

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

These articles and ebooks help explain how and why our natural emotions are blameworthy; and what we can do to break free.  They are all necessary components to understanding this important topic; and are too lengthy to include here.

When people have been traumatized it can impair their ability to:

  • feel their emotions (emotional numbing, which has long-term negative physical consequences to the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract, and the immune system)
  • manage their emotions (hyper-arousal, which is extremely stressful to both the mind and the body).

Neither response numbing or hyper-arousal) is helpful, and understanding that we have a choice is an important part of trauma recovery for all of us.

Grief

The only entirely socially condoned loss for which people are “allowed” to grieve is death of someone close; but trauma always results in grief, as people have to come to terms with betrayal as well as multiple losses – including loss of:

  • trust
  • self-esteem
  • property
  • safety
  • relationships
  • objects with symbolic value

Grieving is a process, that takes time; and everyone’s process is different.

For more information, please see:

Healing Has its Own Timetable

Signs that someone might still be grieving include when someone:

  • expresses anger seemingly out of context
  • become increasingly irritable
  • starts fighting
  • is often late getting to events
  • unable to complete tasks that were formerly easily accomplished
  • often absent from events
  • clinging to some object or habit from the past
  • preoccupied with seemingly unimportant details
  • increasingly unable to tolerate any kind of change
  • develop inappropriate and angry reactions when anyone suggests that it is time to “move on”.

Other Baha’is, particularly high performance workers, may manifest unresolved grief by:

  • pushing too far, too fast
  • doing too much
  • refuse to take vacations
  • work on their time off
  • manifest a frenetic, driven quality to their Baha’i life, almost like they are running away from something.

This is easy for people to do in the Baha’i community, where

The field is indeed so immense, the period so critical, the Cause so great, the workers so few, the time so short, the privilege so priceless, that no follower of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, worthy to bear His name, can afford a moment’s hesitation.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice”, p. 46-47)

Other common manifestations of unresolved grief are physical symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • muscular problems
  • exacerbations of pre-existing symptoms.

There are other Baha’is who may fall between the cracks because they are doing the job, showing no obvious signs of distress, but who are not at all truly OK. Be on the alert for radical changes in behavior including major disruptions in previously stable relationships.

These reactions may come after a period of apparently normal adjustment has occurred and appear to be happening “out of the blue”. Because there is a seeming disconnect in time between the events entailing loss and the problematic feelings and behavior, it may not be recognized that an event in the present is triggering a trauma from the past, so the grieving component is often unrecognized.

A traumatic loss or betrayal in the present can often open up old wounds that may be only vaguely recognized by the suffering person, so it’s helpful when we all recognize the signs of trauma and can help each other when this happens.

If medication has been the only form of treatment given after a traumatic event, the traumatized person’s sense of frustration, anger, and hopelessness has never been heard and may grow as with each new event and each successive medication they receive instead of compassion, love and justice.

For more information, please see:

Does Becoming a Baha’i Make People Crazy?

Mental Health is at Risk when Love and Justice are Absent

Grief can also be “stigmatized” or “disenfranchised” meaning that sometimes grieving people do not feel they have a right to grieve.

People who have never experienced trauma may feel guilty at even feeling or expressing any sadness or loss of their own because they feel that in comparison to others, they have not suffered enough. It’s not our stories that unite us; but the ways they’ve affected us.

One of the simplest and most useful interventions that can be offered to a grieving person is to

  • acknowledge the existance of grief
  • reframe depression and other negative mood states and behaviors as unresolved grief

Emotions are contagious

Some researchers have found that we “catch” each other’s emotions within one-hundredth of a second.  Panic is a typical example of this contagion but sadness is also contagious, so is anxiety, despair, anger, and helplessness:

If you are sad, and pass a child who is laughing, the child, seeing your sad face, will cease to laugh, not knowing why. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 124)

We perceive that men are carried away by passion and selfishness, each man thinking only of what will benefit himself even if it means the ruin of his brother. They are all anxious to make their fortune and care little or nothing for the welfare of others. They are concerned about their own peace and comfort, while the condition of their fellows troubles them not at all. Unhappily this is the road most men tread.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 80)

Distress and anxiety have waxed great and every flourishing region is laid waste.  O Lord! Hearts are heavy, and souls are in anguish.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p. 57)

This contagious aspect of our emotions can be extremely problematic in our Baha’i communities, because it is almost impossible to get work done, to think clearly, process information and make good decisions when someone’s mind and body is seized by a strong emotion. If others have not dealt with their own trauma, negative emotions can easily feed off each other and gatherings get quickly out of hand.

Our stories may be different, but our emotions are the same.  Understanding this point of unity; and remembering that we’re all one is the only thing capable of counteracting the despair and anxiety that afflict us in these moments:

Only a fostering of the consciousness that “the earth is but one country and mankind its citizens” is capable of counteracting the despair and anxiety which afflict us.  (Baha’i International Community, 1987 Aug 24, Relationship Between Disarmament Development)

Assemblies have an important role to play in conveying a sense of emotional competence, flexibility, and responsiveness that set an example for everyone.  Consider the example of the Universal House of Justice – although beset with all the troubles and turmoils of the world, and charged with the responsibility of leading us into the future, their guidance is always loving.  Some people have suggested that this is the reason there are only men on the Universal House of Justice – that they need to show men in particular, a new way of interacting with others, and being in the world.