Archives for : unbearable knowledge

What is trauma? How does therapy cure?

Trauma is knowledge of the unbearably real. Trauma is a breaking of faith with all that one held sacred. Trauma is too much too soon. Trauma is “knowledge as disaster,” as Maurice Blanchot put it. The survivor of an environmental disaster captures the meaning of unbearable knowledge when she says

While it could be argued that it’s not a bad thing to become more knowledgeable, it is, I think, certainly a bad thing to become knowledgeable in the way that we’ve become knowledgeable. It’s like a person who’s an agoraphobic. If you’re terrified to go out of the house, you don’t live a very good life. (Erikson 1995, 197)

If trauma is knowledge, then what exactly is it knowledge of? That everyday life is a conspiracy to make the world seem safe enough to live in. Trauma is the result of an experience that makes it impossible for the traumatized to use social conventions the way most of us do in order to relieve anxiety, even dread. An example of such as convention is the statement “just you wait, everything is going to turn out ok.” Well, sometimes it doesn’t. Robinson Crusoe put the lie this way.

How infinitely good . . . providence is, which has provided in its government of mankind such narrow bounds to his sight and knowledge of things; and though he walks in the midst of so many thousand dangers, the sight of which, if discovered to him, would distract his mind and sink his spirits, he is kept serene and calm, by having the events of things hid from his eyes, and knowing nothing of the dangers which surround him. (Defoe, p. 163)


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