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We live in a world that is deteriorating rapidly, and as a result, all of humanity is affected, and until recently it hasn’t been either safe or acceptable to talk about what happened to us in the past or how it’s affecting our present.  But it does affect our present, if it’s never been talked about, processed and understood, hopefully in light of the Baha’i Writings.

The House of Justice supports the idea that traumatic events have to be dealt with, in quotes such as:

Regarding your question about methods of healing which involve temporarily re-experiencing or remembering events, these are complex medical matters and as stipulated in the Teachings, believers should seek the best medical advice which is available and follow it. Experience seems to suggest that the healing process can often be a lengthy and stressful one requiring the close guidance and help of trained professionals. Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past. The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effective­ness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1992)

There’s a movement in mainstream Christian Churches, to become “Trauma Informed Congregations” but I haven’t seen any mention of this in Baha’i circles, so thought I’d add my contribution to the dialogue.

Traumatic Events

A traumatic event is an incident that causes physical, emotional, psychological, or mental harm. The person experiencing the distressing event may feel threatened, anxious, or frightened as a result. In some cases, they may not know how to respond, or may be in denial about the effect such an event has had on them.

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter someone’s sense of security, making them feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world.

According to national experts convened by SAMHSA, trauma results from events or circumstances that are experienced by an individual as harmful or life threatening and that have lasting adverse effects on mental, physical, social, emotional or spiritual well-being.

While many individuals experience traumatic events without lasting harm, trauma can place a heavy burden on individuals, families and communities. Trauma-informed supports can help.

What Causes Trauma?

It could be caused by abuse of any kind, including this list put together by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, in pages 24-25 of their “Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence

They have told us:

As the patterns of behavior constituting domestic violence are often embedded at an unconscious level of presumed acceptability, both culturally and experientially, it may be helpful to enumerate in detail a range of the behaviors that are characteristically seen in domestic violence in the United States. Several of these behaviors may characterize the pattern of a particular individual and may vary widely in the degree of severity to which they are acted out. While intended to assist Bahá’í communities to have a more consistent understanding of domestic violence, it should be borne in mind that the following list is not exhaustive:

 Physical abuse, which is non-accidental physical injury resulting from such actions as:

  • shaking
  • hair pulling
  • slapping
  • hitting
  • shoving
  • blocking
  • kicking
  • choking
  • inflicting burns
  • stabbing
  • or other acts causing physical harm, even of an apparently insignificant nature, or endangerment, such as abandoning in an unsafe place.

 Sexual abuse, which ranges from:

  • harassment is unwelcome sexual attention, including, but not limited to:
    • sexually suggestive “looks,” innuendoes, language, touching
    • coercion to dress in uncomfortable ways
    • unwanted exposure to pornographic or sexually suggestive material
  • sexual molestation
  • assault
  • rape
  • incest
  • forcible or uninformed involvement in the creation of pornography.

Such behaviors in relation to children are especially abhorrent. They are as reprehensible in a marital relationship as in any other relationship. 

Economic abuse, which may include but is not limited to:

  • fraud
  • coercion in financial affairs
  • withholding money
  • preventing the abused party from:
    • getting or holding a job
    • opening a bank account
    • pursuing an education
    • obtaining routine or specialized medical care
    • obtaining assistance from a relative, friend or social service agency.

 Destroying or damaging property, or threatening to do so. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • throwing things
  • breaking, burning or defacing things
  • punching holes in doors or walls
  • hoarding trash and prohibiting the abused individual from disposing of it
  • creating dirt, disorder and filth in the living environment.

Neglect, which involves failing to meet the reasonable needs of a dependent, such as:

  • an underage child
  • a disabled family member
  • an elderly parent

Neglect often incorporates aspects of other kinds of abuse.

Abandonment or desertion, which occurs most devastatingly to children, immigrants and the elderly 

Emotional and verbal abuse, which is a repetitive pattern of behavior denigrating the abused party’s sense of self worth, such as:

  • name-calling
  • belittling
  • sarcastic comments that continually “beat down” self-esteem
  • humiliating, rejecting, or ignoring the abused party in private or in public

For children, this may occur in a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incidents that convey to children that they are:

  • worthless
  • flawed
  • unloved
  • unwanted
  • endangered
  • only of value in meeting another’s needs.

For adults, this may be a relationship where the offender continuously:

  • degrades or belittles the abused
  • accuses them of being stupid, unattractive, a bad parent, unfaithful or any other similar fault

This can be considered an indicator of domestic violence or the potential for domestic violence. 

Corrupting is a special category of abuse most often involving children or youth that involves teaching them that “right is wrong and wrong is right,” such that they are unable to distinguish the difference or to have normal social relationships, and may be particularly relevant in cases involving sexual abuse. 

Stalking, or persistent unwelcome attention. Stalking generally refers to repeated harassing or threatening behavior, such as:

  • following a victim
  • appearing uninvited at a victim’s home or place of business
  • making harassing phone calls
  • leaving written messages or objects
  • vandalizing a victim’s property

These actions may or may not be accompanied by a credible threat of serious harm. 

Using coercion and threats to intimidate or terrorize and control the behavior of the abused party. This may include:

  • threats of abduction or loss of custody of children
  • injury to family members or to pets
  • in cases of immigrants, may include threats of deportation. 

Isolating the abused party from family, friends or social contacts. This may evolve into a pattern of self-isolation on the part of the abused party to appease the offender, out of shame or out of a growing inability to relate to people with more normal lives.

  • Minimizing or denying to the abused party or to others the impact or existence of abuse.
  • Blaming the abused party for causing the abuse or of being responsible for the behavior, personality or character of the abuser.

Events that Lead to Trauma

An event will most likely lead to emotional or psychological trauma if:

  • it happened unexpectedly
  • the victim was unprepared for it
  • the victim felt powerless to prevent it
  • it happened repeatedly
  • someone was intentionally cruel
  • it happened in childhood

Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by single-blow, one-time events, such as:

  • a horrible accident
  • a natural disaster
  • a violent attack

Trauma can also stem from ongoing, relentless stress, such as:

  • living in a crime-ridden neighborhood
  • struggling with cancer.

Other examples of traumatic events include:

  • death of family member, friend, teacher, or pet
  • divorce
  • physical pain or injury
  • illness
  • war
  • natural disaster, such as a flood, tornado, or fire
  • terrorism
  • moving to a new location
  • parental abandonment
  • witnessing a death or other traumatic event
  • prison stay

Commonly overlooked causes of emotional and psychological trauma include:

  • falls or sports injuries
  • surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life)
  • the sudden death of someone close
  • a car accident
  • the breakup of a significant relationship
  • a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience
  • the discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition

Childhood trauma increases the risk of future trauma

Experiencing trauma in childhood can have a severe and long-lasting effect. Children who have been traumatized see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. When childhood trauma is not resolved, this fundamental sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.

Childhood trauma results from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety and security, including:

  • an unstable or unsafe environment
  • separation from a parent
  • serious illness
  • intrusive medical procedures
  • sexual, physical or verbal abuse
  • domestic violence
  • neglect
  • bullying

The Baha’i Writings show us other aspects of the decline of civilization, which can also lead to trauma when taken to excess; as we see in the following quotes:

…previous to his belief in God and his acceptance of His Manifestation, he had set his affections on the things of the world, such as attachments to earthly goods, to wife, children, food, drink, and the like, so much so that in the day-time and in the night season his one concern had been to amass riches and procure for himself the means of enjoyment and pleasure. Aside from these things, before his partaking of the reviving waters of faith, he had been so wedded to the traditions of his forefathers, and so passionately devoted to the observance of their customs and laws, that he would have preferred to suffer death rather than violate one letter of those superstitious forms and manners current amongst his people.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán, p.155)

In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.60)

This physical world of man is subject to the power of the lusts, and sin is the consequence of this power of the lusts, for it is not subject to the laws of justice and holiness. The body of man is captive of nature; it will act in accordance with whatever nature orders…  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p.119)

The steady and alarming deterioration in the standard of morality as exemplified by the appalling increase of crime , by political corruption in ever widening and ever higher circles, by the loosening of the sacred ties of marriage, by the inordinate craving for pleasure and diversion, and by the marked and progressive slackening of parental control, is no doubt the most arresting and distressing aspect of the decline that has set in, and can be clearly perceived, in the fortunes of the entire nation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p.124)

The lack of spiritual values in society leads to a debasement of the attitudes which should govern the relationship between the sexes, with women being treated as no more than objects for sexual gratification and being denied the respect and courtesy to which all human beings are entitled.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as laborers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centered on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children . . . . (Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000)

It must be borne in mind, too, that children live in a world that informs them of harsh realities through direct experience with the horrors already described or through the unavoidable outpourings of the mass media. Many of them are thereby forced to mature prematurely . . .  (Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the World, Ridván 2000)

No Bahá’í husband should ever beat his wife, or subject her to any form of cruel treatment; to do so would be an unacceptable abuse of the marriage relationship and contrary to the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

From these we learn about:

  • the steady and alarming deterioration in the standard of morality
  • the appalling increase of crime
  • political corruption in ever widening and ever higher circles
  • the loosening of the sacred ties of marriage
  • the inordinate craving for pleasure and diversion
  • the marked and progressive slackening of parental control
  • blind imitation of the past
  • the power of the lusts
  • a debasement of the attitudes which should govern the relationship between the sexes
  • women being treated as no more than objects for sexual gratification and denied the respect and courtesy to which all human beings are entitled
  • children employed as soldiers
  • children exploited as laborers
  • children sold into virtual slavery
  • children forced into prostitution
  • children made the objects of pornography
  • children abandoned by parents centered on their own desires
  • children subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention
  • children informed of harsh realities through direct experience with the horrors already described or through the unavoidable outpourings of the mass media
  • children forced to mature prematurely
  • Bahá’í husbands beating their wives, or subject them to any form of cruel treatment

In the next few articles, I’ll be exploring the issue of trauma and how it effects individuals and our Baha’i communities, so please check back frequently.

For more information please see Getting to Know your Lower Nature

How has this helped you understand the factors that lead to trauma?  Were you surprised by the extensive list?  Post your comments below!