Climate Crisis and Collective Trauma in Global Community

By Steven Hughes

Steve Hall Safety Consulting

June 2021



Right now, humanity as a species needs to develop myths that support the development of maturity, wisdom and agency to face into causes and effects of climate disruption and ecological collapse. Without this, our lives and planet will become wastelands, literally and metaphorically.”

― Sally Gillespie, Climate Crisis and Consciousness: Re-Imagining Our World and Ourselves

For several years the Steve Hall Safety Consulting team has offered education in the formation of peer debriefing teams in the social service field. These teams provide assistance to front-line staff and first responders who have experienced an upsetting stressful situation or crisis event. The debriefing process is a supportive intervention that mitigates that impact of the event and supports that natural healing process of “bouncing back” to a healthy state of well-being and resilience. Debriefing is a psychosocial intervention based upon active listening and empathic support – it is not psychotherapy or counselling. In this article we will see that debriefing support for individuals and communities has a potentially larger role to play.



Sally Gillespie, the author of Climate Crisis and Consciousness: Re-imagining our world and ourselves (2020) documents the global impact of climate disruptive stress on our global community. In the last thirty years the world community has been bombarded with news reports and scientific studies ringing the warning alarm, that as a species we need to act!

We are witnessing mounting stress levels associated with climate change and its impact on our ecosystems around the world. Recently, climate stress has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have witnessed the rising temperatures greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, resulting in glaciers melting and rising sea levels and coastal flooding; deforestation of old growth forests and rainforest devastation, and large-scale forest fires; dying coral reefs and aquatic biomes; and a growing extinction of animal and plant species. The mental health of environmental advocates and scientists and general population are affected by this pandemic wave of environmental stress. Programs on mindfulness, embodied healing modalities, and stress debriefing programs can help support these eco-psychological communities to support resilience and manage the rising levels of anxiety and depression related to the future deteriorating quality of life on Earth.

During the last 25 years, research has documented the presence and impact of post-traumatic growth (PTG) as a transformational process in an individual’s personal growth and well-being that had been potentiated by a traumatic experience. Tedeschi & Calhoun (1995) first articulated the qualities of PTG and has since developed a growing research pedigree.

We have witnessed the phenomenon of post-traumatic growth to occur with some individuals following a crisis event. In our work in the mental health field, we have seen it manifest as a deepening of one’s vocational calling. The archetype of the “wounded healer” describes this quality. Tedeschi and colleagues (2018) elaborate on how a trauma or a crisis event can serve as a catalyst that triggers the growth and expansion in one or more of the following domains:

  • Greater appreciation of life

  • Enhanced sense of connectedness with one’s family and social circle

  • Envisioning new possibilities for one’s life

  • Increased personal strength and self-agency

  • Positive spiritual change or a deeper connection to nature or a greater sense of meaning and purpose in one’s life


It should be emphasized that not everyone experiences PTG following a trauma or distressful life event. Nor should PTG be construed as a goal to achieve. Individuals experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often struggle for many years in their recovery. In recent years, mindfulness-based and embodied healing modalities have harnessed the healing potential of “self-directed neuroplasticity” and as a result, many trauma survivors are recovering and regaining a healthy state of well-being (Graham, 2016). At the very least, climate stress can serve as a wake-up call for all of us to act and mobilize our healing for ourselves and the collective.



Rebecca Solnit’s book – A Paradise Built in Hell (2010) is an examination of how communities can come together in the wake of a disaster that releases trauma on an entire community or geographic region. This is an example of PTG at the community level. Post-traumatic growth has the potential to be a font of energy to mobilize our collective healing for our wounded planet.

“The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local” (excerpt from the book description).



Solnit (2010) elaborates further …

“The paradises built in hell are improvisational, we make them up as we go along, and in doing so they call on all our strengths and creativity and leave us free to invent even as we find enmeshed in community. These paradises built in hell show us both what we want and what we can be” (p. 312).

In the last decade there has been new pathways of research on “collective trauma” and “intergenerational trauma” (Hűbl & Avritt, 2020; Fisher, 2021). These synergizing fields of trauma inquiry take a “big picture” and systems perspective in lensing trauma as not merely an individual psycho-physical pathology that requires medical and psychiatric treatment; but rather, that trauma is envisioned as a psychic wound that impacts the individual and concurrently imprints the psycho-socio-spiritual field of a community, region, country, and extending to the interconnected nature of all of humanity (Nelson, 2018).

The time is NOW for all of us to harness our consciousness and make wise decisions about our collective future. Our collective healing journeys will generate a tipping point in healing our planet and realize a pathway to a harmonious and healthy future for humanity and all species.



References

  • Fisher, Janina. (2021). Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A workbook for survivors andtherapists. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing and Media.

  • Gillespie, Sally. (2020). Climate Crisis and Consciousness: Re-imagining our world and ourselves. New York, NY: Routledge.

  • Graham, Linda. (2013). Bouncing Back: How regulating your emotions helps you become more resilient in stressful situations. Novato, CA: New World Library.

  • Hűbl, Thomas & Avritt, Julie Jordan. (2020). Healing Collective Trauma: A process for integrating our intergenerational and cultural wounds. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

  • Nelson, Roger D. (2019). Connected: The emergence of global consciousness. Princeton, NJ: ICRL Press.

  • Solnit, Rebecca. (2010). A Paradise Built in Hell: The extraordinary communities that arise in disaster. New York, NY: Penguin.

  • Tedeschi, Richard; Shakespeare-Finch, Jane & Taku, Kanako. (2018). Posttraumatic Growth: Theory, research, and applications. New York, NY: Routledge.

  • Tedeschi, Richard & Calhoun, Lawrence. (1995). Trauma and Transformation: Growing in the aftermath of suffering. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.



International Transformational Resilience Coalition

The International Transformational Resilience Coalition's mission is to promote and support comprehensive preventative initiatives in North America and internationally to proactively build psychological and psycho-social-spiritual resilience for climate change. We help individuals, organizations, and communities learn skills, use tools, and adopt practices and policies that prevent them from harming themselves, other people, or the natural environment in reaction to climate-enhanced traumas and toxic stresses, and use them as transformational catalysts to find new positive sources of meaning and hope in life that increase personal, social, and ecological wellbeing.

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