Collective trauma: Moving beyond denial
It is not just individuals who can develop a victim mentality; groups of people can also fall into this mindset. Collective victimhood occurs when groups of people experience disturbing traumatic events or injustices. For instance, members of a population could develop a sense of victimhood if they are prevented from fulfilling their basic needs or have suffered great loss in a war. In some cases, victimhood can even be passed down from generation to generation.
When it comes to collective experiences of victimisation, psychological healing cannot be fully achieved by dealing with it on an individual basis. The denial of past injustices and the harm that has been inflicted is not the answer.
People need to come to terms with what has happened in the past and ensure a culture of remembrance. Mourning is integral to the process of remembrance, allowing people to confront the wounds of the past, metabolise what happened and arrive at new beginnings. If traumatic experiences are not addressed, it will be very hard to reach any form of resolution.
Trauma not only isolates, but also shames and stigmatises. Therefore, for a society to function in the future, it is essential to recreate a sense of community. If the survivors of an atrocity are to restore their belief in humanity, their connections with the larger community must be rebuilt. By creating the feeling of belonging within a group, individuals will be able to restore their trust in humanity. Embarking on this process of reconciliation is the only way to make it happen.
Reconciliation to repair fractured relationships
Reconciliation is the process of restoring relationships by addressing feelings of grief, pain and anger. It involves acknowledging past suffering, changing destructive attitudes and behaviours and providing a platform for healing. Both parties must be willing to face the true ugliness of what has happened and understand why it occurred. The injured party needs to feel reasonably safe that the hurtful behaviour will not occur again.
This can be a lengthy process as both sides need to build trust and a non-violent relationship, as well as learn to live cooperatively. The goal is to establish peace, justice, fairness, healing, forgiveness and productive relationships within and between communities. Reconciliation is distinct from forgiveness, as it is a public process of restoring broken relationships, while forgiveness is a private process of inner healing.
Providing a safe space for survivors to feel heard can facilitate the rebuilding of relationships. Reconciliation requires an examination of the harm done, an investigation of accountability and an understanding of both parties’ narratives. It can build bridges between opposing parties and lead to a collective healing process that includes forgiveness.
To break the cycle of victimhood, people need to embark on two different journeys. The first one is directed inwards towards self-discovery, thus helping them reconcile their personal suffering. The second one applies to mass injustices and is directed outwards, involving reconciliation.
Along these journeys, individuals can shift from being passive victims of their circumstances to active victors capable of effecting meaningful change in their lives.